The Maw was developed by Twisted Pixel Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It was released on January 21, 2009 for 800 Microsoft Points.

For fans of Xbox Live Arcade games Twisted Pixel Games is a household name. With titles like ‘Splosion Man, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley and the forthcoming Ms. Splosion Man they’re a huge success story. But there was one title that started it all. One that was ridiculously cute with simple but fun puzzle elements: The Maw. In the game players take control of Frank, a cute bipedal alien who has been captured by bounty hunters. Shortly after being thrown into a cell on the bounty hunters’ vessel the craft crash lands on a strange planet. Frank and another escapee, The Maw, must find their way to freedom from the surviving bounty hunters bent on recapturing them.

Here’s what we liked:

Cute n’ cuddly, boys, cute n’ cuddly – If there’s one thing that can draw almost any player in with this game, it’s the cartoony charm that the characters exude. Not only are Frank and The Maw irresistibly cute, the supporting cast of animals and vegetation are also full of life. Each living creature has a believable personality that can occasionally play a part in solving the game’s puzzles.

Hungry, hungry hippos – Technically speaking The Maw isn’t a hippo, but he’d look and act like one if it ate one. That’s because the The Maw is a bottomless pit, and that plays into the story and solving of puzzles. As The Maw eats smaller creatures it grows in size, which in turn allows him to eat more important creatures related to solving a puzzle for that particular level. When he eats an important animal he gains some of the characteristics of that animal, such as breathing fire or floating on air. These new abilities can then be used to clear paths or get to places previously unreachable.

Electro-leash – For the bulk of the game The Maw is directed around via an electric leash powered by a gadget on Frank’s wrist. Frank can use the leash to guide The Maw around, subdue creatures, throw food to The Maw, and hitch a ride with a creature. It’s a simple but powerful tool that’s a lot of fun to tinker with. Frank has one other tool at his arsenal as well: his cute little voice. If The Maw gets too far away from Frank the player can press a button to call for him. The first time you hear Frank call out “Maaaaw!” it’ll put a smile on your face, and you’ll find that you call him even when he’s not that far away just to hear Frank again.

Challenging, not frustrating – Sometimes puzzle games can be so completely aggravating as you blindly search back and forth over the same stretch of level multiple times, trying to discover the clues needed to solve a puzzle. Not here. In The Maw you’re given just enough of a hint to give you an idea of where or how to search for the next answer. It’s not enough to give things away, yet enough to keep players moving.

No HUD – Today’s games are much more about visual cues than an on-screen heads up display. Games like Red Dead Redemption minimize HUD elements focusing instead on visual cues such as sound and color changes to the screen. The Maw doesn’t go quite to that extreme, but its simplicity means it doesn’t have to. There are no logistical cues aside from the occasional popup to press a button to initiate a sequence. It’s a clean, smooth approach that gets rid of dead weight.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

It endsThe Maw is such a charm to play that it’s a little heartbreaking when the game ends. Even with the highly recommended DLC chapters Speeder Lane and Brute Force the game can be finished in a day if you have enough time to devote to it. We suppose it’s a bittersweet thing; it’s somewhat on the short side, yet is plenty long considering the low price.

No cooperative play – With the game’s focus on the two aliens working together it seems obvious that bringing in a friend to help out would have been warranted. How fun would it be to actually play as The Maw while a friend throws you animals to eat? Sadly gameplay is restricted to one player. Hopefully this is something we’ll see if Twisted Pixel ever creates a sequel to the game.

When it comes right down to it The Maw is one of those games that makes Xbox Live Arcade so great. It’s addictive, visually appealing, funny, and bite-sized. For 800MSP (1000MSP if you include the highly recommended DLC) the game provides all of the thrills, laughs, and gameplay that you’d expect from a Twisted Pixel title, all wrapped into a cuddly little package. This is one game that no self-respecting XBLA fan can pass up on.

Score: Buy It!!!