Max and the Book of Chaos is a 2D sort of “run and gun” kind of game about the dangers of reading books. As a game, it did what it set out to be, but that’s really kind of it.
Max and the Book of Chaos is about a summer school adventure for Max Raccoon, a kid who has the same IQ as your houseplants, and is for some reason the only kid not captured or turned into a pelican face by an evil book that the janitor hid in the library of the summer school. Turns out the book is an evil dimension rifting book that is hidden away by generation after generation of guardian, with the janitor being the current guardian. But apparently, with his new pelican head, he can’t fight back against the unleashed evil, so he gives Max a gun to blast away foes. Genius.
Gameplay consists of completing timed stages, which are essentially mini arenas where you have to fend off enemies and rescue the other kids that have been put in cages before time is up. You can get power up drops and shot type temporary drops from enemies or periodically to change the firing type of the gun, but ultimately every stage is a single themed location/enemy set and three cages with Max’s summer school friends stuck in them, with the occasional boss fight.
Yes there’s a store, but the upgrades are spotty at best, sometimes don’t even work, and it’s almost impossible to tell what the price of an item is before you have enough to buy one, because the text is pretty much the same as the background for the “not enough to buy” colour. To compound that, the upgrades don’t always actually work. For instance, the “invincible while dashing” upgrade worked for me about half the time, the other half I had a face full of evil minion. You can also only equip one at a time.
The humour is kind of hit and miss in the cutscenes you get, with a big focus on the “miss” part. There were a few gags that were ok, but the rest were bad, even by my standards. Also, it clearly shows that English is not the first language. There are tons of grammar gaffes and horribly translated lines interspersed in the coherent dialogue, and at times felt like the writing was aimed at a very much younger audience, which probably wouldn’t go over well given the surprising difficulty. There’s also some graphical issues and running issues as well, as the game will spawn lots of enemies, and will then start to lag. The graphics themselves also glitch out, as a few times the kids in cages kept flashing between lack of shoes and “shoed”, or legs and no legs.
Max and the Book of Chaos is also really short. There are only really three “worlds” with six stages each (that are supposed to be increasing difficulty) with two that are purely boss fights. Each stage can give up to three stars depending on how many students you save, and you need ten out of eighteen to challenge the boss. I was honestly finished the full game, every stage full star rating, in a little under an hour, so don’t expect particularly long play sessions out of this.
While the core gameplay is passable, if not a little spotty at times, the boss fights feel a little eclectic, which can be a good thing in a game like this, but isn’t really implemented as best as it could be here. Especially the last boss fight. I mean, I’m ok with platforming, in fact I quite enjoy it, but throwing one of the worst platforming sequences I’ve seen in at least 3 years at the end of a game that is essentially isolated rooms of clearing enemy waves makes you question some decisions. AND WHY THE HECK WOULD YOU MAKE THE PLATFORMS BOUNCE FROM THE PERIODIC LASERS?!? WHO THOUGH THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA?!? Combine that with occasionally falling straight through the platforms, and the final sequence was a bit of a nightmare.