Max and the Book of Chaos is the debut title by Orenji Games Entertainment. The game is both developed and published by the same team. Even though they are relatively new and the game is even newer, it has a lot of reference points deep in the past. This is no bad thing, though, as plenty of games contain throwbacks in either style or content and turn out as great as the games they are influenced by. So does Max and the Book of Chaos join this illustrious list of games? Well, let’s break it down and find out.
Starting with probably the first thing players will notice, the art-style. The game uses a cartoon aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place in a Cartoon Network show. The visuals are bright and full of life and energy. Characters (and enemies) have a lot of personality, and there are more than a few visual references to other media that are quite fun. Case in point, very early on you’ll see a group of enemies that appear to be invading, possibly from space.
Then we have the story. It’s pretty basic, but a lot of fun. Essentially, an old castle that has been converted into a summer school also houses an ancient and destructive book. Someone manages to locate and use the book (which was ingeniously hidden in the school library… in the janitor’s defense, though, he does point out that it’s a summer school, so it was pretty unlikely the kids there would be doing much extracurricular reading.).
So the book is read and causes all manner of, well, chaos as you might expect from the name of the game. This chaos comes in the form of turning the janitor/ancient book protector into an anthropomorphic pelican man. Oh, and it opens a ton of portals allowing hordes of creatures to enter the school and generally cause more chaos.
In essence, it’s a really classic story, you have a McGuffin (the book), danger (hordes of enemies), an unlikely hero (Max), and a wise mentor that has the knowledge to help the hero on his journey (the aforementioned pelican man). But, even though it is a pretty standard setup, the game scores a few more points with some fun and charming writing.
Music and sound effects are solid, and the music especially is pretty fun. It has some high energy to it, and I always found it consistently enjoyable, which is good because I had to listen to the same themes a lot, bringing me to my next point.
The game is brutal. It feels like a classic arcade game where the mechanics are basic but so much gets thrown at you that you’ll die over and over until you either fluke your way through it or develop enough knowledge and skill for the level to pass it. Then, chances are, you’ll do the same thing on the next one.
Things start off easy enough, but by stage 3 or so the difficulty ramps up to crazy levels. There are 6 different difficulty levels, however, only 2 are available to begin with. And even selecting the easiest one every time, I barely made progress in the game. Part of it was due to the fact that I consistently make mistakes with the buttons and end up jumping when I want to dash or vice versa. But, even if I always pressed the right button, I don’t think I would’ve gotten much further. There is always so much going on, and the screen is consistently covered in enemies and projectiles. It does make things pretty satisfying when you can make it through the stages, though.
To expand on the basic mechanics, as I mentioned, you can jump and dash. You can also walk and shoot. If you hold up on the controller, Max will shoot upwards, which is important, especially as each stage has cages with other students that Max can save if he busts the cage up enough, and they are generally located on the roof. Frustratingly, you have to hold up to keep Max firing upwards which means trying to shoot upwards and run to the side will often result in Max firing upward once, diagonally once and then off to the left or right.
The stages are often timed, and victory is achieved merely by staying alive until the timer runs out. However, there are some run-and-gun stages as well as boss fights. Victory in a level will award stars, and you get coins by killing enemies and picking them up. Both of these currencies can be used in the shop to purchase upgrades.
If you’re a fan of old-school punishing arcade-style games, then you could do far worse than Max and the Book of Chaos. It’s an all-around solid game with a punishing difficulty level similar in ways to Cuphead.
Max and the Book of Chaos Review provided by NintendoLink
Publisher: Orenji Games Entertainment, JanduSoft
Developer: Orenji Games Entertainment
Release Date: July 24, 2020
Price: $7.99, £6.99, €7,99
Game Size: 366 MB
Brutally punishing (if you like that)
Fun art style
Funny and entertaining story
Tons of references to pop culture (especially 90's stuff)
Controls could be polished
Shop is confusing