The absurdly cute platformer The Maw sucks in players with endearing characters romping though a detailed, well-animated alien world. The primary disappointment: It's over so soon.
The action follows a small blue alien named Frank who meets the titular Maw aboard a spaceship where they're both being held captive. When the ship crash-lands on an unknown planet, they team up to explore and solve puzzles. Typically, these involve finding new critters to feed to The Maw, a one-eyed purple blob with plenty of sharp teeth and the intellect of a particularly dim puppy. You never have full control over your increasingly large pet, but that actually adds to the charm. You just have to steer him and guide his culinary choices as best you can with the help of an electronic leash. (You may wind up yelling at the screen, "No, Maw, don't eat rocks!")
Maw consumes various creatures to gain their abilities, and new ones are introduced at a steady clip to make each level unique. The format typically involves using the more agile Frank to swing and hop around, then getting Maw to bypass obstacles. Creative solutions include having Maw breathe fire on plants, or float around like a hot-air balloon, dragging Frank along for the ride.
There's basically no dialogue, but the characters are so expressive that words aren't necessary. The Maw is also a no-death game, which is sure to appeal to anyone who was spoiled by the newest Prince Of Persia, or just can't stand seeing such loveable characters lose. Instead, failed jumps or bad timing at dodging laser beams will just push you back and elicit grunts of displeasure from Frank, who then gets up to do it all over again.
Beyond the game: The Maw received the Audience Choice Award at the 2008 PAX 10 showcase of independent games.
Worth playing for: The adorable sound effect when Frank calls for Maw.
Frustration sets in when: Your inability to rotate the camera to point up makes you fail a jump over and over again.
Final judgment: It won't take long to consume, but the taste is sweet.