By Matt Carey
Point and click adventures are nothing new, but in the world of video games, there hasn’t been to many for a while. Microsoft seem to have been on a mission to rectify that problem this year, what with the release of Secret Of Monkey Island, Wallace And Grommit, Sam & Max (review for Season 2 is forthcoming) and now Axel And Pixel.
The very nature of point and clicks is a hard, scratch- your-brain-for-half-the-night puzzle. Humour is nearly always prevalent, and much time is spent wafting your cursor round the screen like a mad man, or trying to give a bit of cheese to a mouse, only to realise you should have put it in a bucket. Or something. Axel And Pixel aims to redress that balance and lowers the difficulty level, aiming itself primarily at the younger market with its more simplistic puzzles. Certainly, for those that have never experienced this kind of game before, it makes it the perfect title to introduce people to the genre, rewarding trial and error, but not holding back the player.
The story itself is simplistic fare too; the protagonists, poor things, get themselves stuck in a dream- world. Upon leaving the confines of their house, a rather large icicle smashes up their house. Not good. To make matters worse an evil red rat – the vermin that caused said icicle to drop – seems to have some kind of key that will enable you to wake up and escape the confines of the dream. He sneers and promptly legs it. The game is afoot and you and your faithful mutt (Pixel) must traverse from level to level to catch the nefarious rodent. Now, some reading this may think I am summarising the basic story very briefly there. Actually, I’m not. That is all there is to this game by way of narrative. In some ways, given how we used we are to epic Hollywood-esque storylines these days, it’s quite refreshing to play a game that harks back to my youth and doesn’t try to create prose where none is needed. The important thing is the game-play, and the bare-bones story doesn’t get in the way or hinder it. Mind you, at least I don’t have to rescue a princess.
Each level is comprised of several chapters, with each chapter being no more than a screen in size. The object is simply to traverse from the left to the right of the screen in the pursuit of your quarry, without letting the time limit dissipate. Each screen has a number of small puzzles to be solved which will unearth either the way forward, a bone for your canine counterpart, some paint to help you finish your masterpiece, or even a stunning vista to immortalize in graphite. Complete the correct puzzle and a red arrow appears, indicating you may advance to the next screen and the next set of puzzles.
As mentioned earlier, the puzzles aren’t the most taxing in video game history. Irrespective of this, they are at least imaginative for the most part. So, whilst simple jigsaws might be fairly straightforward, trying to work out how to stop a small fuzzy creature with big teeth biting you every time you ascend a ladder will keep you interested. Where other games in this style can prove confusing, especially when there are multiple locales and areas to scour for clues and objects, Pixel And Axel is more forgiving as you always know the answer is on the screen in front of you. And if you do struggle, there is still a set of clues to help you out.
Once in a while, the puzzle solving is broken up by way of mini games. There are three in total and they seem slightly odd in comparison to the nature of the rest of the game. The mini games are designed as a little time to let your brain have a rest before you get back to the main quest, but in truth they can be quite frustrating. The awkward controls ensure that what should be light relief becomes a bit of a nuisance as you constantly find yourself pressing “a” to restart after you have crashed and burned. In fact, this is the only time in the game I had to do anything of that nature. If you do enjoy them that much though, they are available to play again from the main menu once unlocked.
Graphically Pixel And Axel is simply beautiful, offering 2d characters placed in a gorgeous 3d world. The style is certainly unique and is lovingly realised. The sonic backdrop to accompany Axels’ exploits is good , if not spectacular, with Axel himself offering what sounds like French gibberish. It is as though the devs stopped just short of making him go “haw-he-haw-he-haw” with a chain of onions round his neck. However, this is just a small slice of the healthy sense of humour that runs throughout the game. There is never a ‘laugh out loud’ moment, but you will certainly find yourself with a smile on your face at regular intervals.
Axel and Pixel is certainly not the hardest game in the world. It can be sailed through in a couple of hours with little or no problem (for example, I didn’t use one of the generously afforded clues at all). But then, the younger target market may find there to be more of a challenge, especially if they haven’t been introduced to this style of game before. Don’t let this put you off though, as there is plenty here to whet the whistle of gamers of all ages. Sometimes, amidst the realism, the sims, the blood, and the saving of universes from alien invasion games that currently adorn the shelves of Gamestation et al, it’s refreshing to go a little old-school, if only for a couple of hours. Whilst this certainly feels like it would sit well on a console from a couple of generations ago, it makes a very welcome addition to the Live Arcade.
Electro-candy score -8/10 an excellently executed game – leaves a smile on your face.