Publisher: 2K Play
Developer: Silver Wish Games
Release date: Available now
It’s hard to pin the tail on the donkey that is Axel & Pixel. At its heart, it’s a point and click, scene-by-scene adventure game, but it carries elements of timed button press sequencers, puzzlers and action games as well. Perhaps that’s what indie developer Silver Wish had in mind while they were conceptualizing it – a whimsical journey into another world that could offer up all of these styles and still manage to fall into a cohesive package that can hold onto the ball ’til the end.
Yet sports metaphor is the last thing A&P is going to throw at you. It all begins on a cozy winter’s day, where we see Axel, an aspiring artist, trying to work on another masterpiece. His dog, Pixel, is casually lounging, enjoying the tranquility of it all. Then, apparently out of nowhere, an evil rat (all rats are evil, lest we forget) appears and traps the duo in a bizarre dream-like world. Now, Axel and his canine companion must pursue the rascally rodent through 24 chapters of fantasy if they ever hope to make it back home again.
Axel & Pixel‘s core gameplay involves moving your cursor around single-screen levels, performing myriad tasks to get to the other side. This can be anything from collecting wood to build a raft, outsmarting an exceptionally snappy warthog-looking thing or setting a fire by directing sunlight with shards from a giant pair of broken glasses. Little diversions, like racing a balloon through a cave Solar Jetman style or bounding over cliffs in a turbo charged buggy, are interspersed throughout to keep things fresh and can also be played as mini-games after the main quest is completed.
The best way to describe the visuals in Axel & Pixel is to take Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame, keep him awake for about a month, and then give him Photoshop. The environments are organic and imaginative, and the characters, though rudimentary in design, have personality and charm beyond what we see in most AAA titles. Sound work is on the high-end, featuring a surreal, calming soundtrack and voiceovers that keep with the peculiar tone of the game. Grunts, yelps and tweets are all understated and fitting of the animals they represent, and Axel’s gibberish Sim-like speak prevents him from getting too annoying when you’re taking your time with a level.
On the other end, you’ve got a very short game that can be completed in a matter of hours. To make matters even shorter, the level objectives don’t offer much of a challenge, but being a family-oriented adventure game, what did I expect? The driving sequence was a blast, however, and balanced out the slightly frustrating balloon segment, which was the only part of the game that I had to repeat a few times.
All in all, there are far less gripes and quite a few more high points to Axel & Pixel. For 800 MS Points you get a visual treat that’s not only charismatic, but kid and grandpa friendly to boot. If you happen to be more of a Monkey Island/Sam & Max adventurer, this might be a bit too light for your liking, though. Others, like those who’d like to initiate their kids into point and click adventuring, have a great modern teaching tool here.