BUY IT FROM XBLA: RIGHT HERE!
PLATFORM: Xbox Live Arcade
PRICE: 800 Points ($10)
ESRB RATING: E
DEVELOPER: Silver Wish Games
PUBLISHER: 2K Play
2K Games is a smart company. They’ve realized how popular downloadable games have become and are helping some indie companies create unique titles via their 2K Play label. Axel & Pixel is the first to be released, and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom will be the second. Both games look utterly fantastic, weird little titles that might have gotten overlooked if they had been put out by themselves.
Axel & Pixel was developed by Silver Wish Games, a small team based in the Czech Repulic, and they’ve created quite a beautiful little adventure game here.
A painter named Axel falls asleep with his dog Pixel after a long day filled with artist’s block and proceeds to have some crazy dreams. A rat in his house has become a little demon here and destroys his house, running off with a key that Axel needs to get back home. The winter has changed into Spring and the world will end when Winter returns, so Axel and Pixel are on a mission. They head off to find the rat who does everything he can to slow them down, the little rat bastard.
This isn’t so much a game as it is an interactive story. While it looks and plays mostly like a point and click adventure title it’s as simple as a flash game. You move the cursor around the screen and press the A button at any highlighted points until you have no more things to select. That’s the extent of the game. There’s no inventory, no choosing what you do at any location, it’s just moving the cursor around the screen and pressing a button when you can.
CHUDTIP- You can’t die, so don’t worry about the dog. Just keep clicking away.
The nature of this dreamlike fantasy world means that you’ll generally be selecting points on the screen with no idea of what’s going to happen. If you pick up an object it will get automatically used when you click on something it can interact with, and a lot of times it doesn’t won’t make any sense to you till you see the animation.
But the game is still compelling, mostly due to the charming humor throughout the game. Axel speaks in a descriptive gibberish, and both he and his dog are incredibly well animated. The game lets you zoom in on the graphics in case your tv is too small or just want to get a better look at the incredible hand-drawn art. The game is filled with unique areas and objects and just watching the duo traverse the landscape is entertaining.
To change up the gameplay there are various puzzles and quick time events (I know, I know) scattered throughout the game, and while they’re never terribly tricky they are pretty satisfying to solve. Well, not the QTEs. The final boss stage is a giant QTE and it’s a bit of a letdown. (Why do we even need a final boss in the first place? Ah, but that’s a question best saved for another time.)
CHUDTIP- Make sure to take care of the rat and his rocket before solving this, because he’ll smash it up and make you do it all over again.
Axel & Pixel is a nice change of pace from the bloody shooters and hack and slash games I’ve been playing, a much more quiet and enjoyable experience.
It feels like you’re walking around a painting. These screens don’t do it justice, check out the website for a better idea of how it looks in motion. Some great animation, here.
The music is appropriately dreamlike and relaxing, and this might be one of the few games that does some interesting things with the surround sound. It frequently makes use of the rear speakers for sounds that happen far off (such as a monster roaring at you from over a hill) and it really helps bring you into the world.
It’s a very short game, beaten easily in a few hours, and doesn’t offer much in the way of replay. You’ll unlock a few minigames that can be played for achievements but even that will only take a little bit of time. In one of them you drive a car which controls almost like a more floaty version of Trials HD, but there are only three levels and they’re easy to beat.
CHUDTIP – Save the boost for jumps, which are always indicated.
This really is a one shot deal.
Just try out the demo to see if this one’s for you. The lack of gameplay might be off-putting for some but it’s such an engaging and relaxing experience that it’s hard to not love every minute of it. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the duo.