Fresh and Dreamworldly
Braid released last summer and was praised for a few reasons, one being its art style and graphics. If Braid’s graphical style was a main factor as to why you liked it, I’d definitely consider Axel & Pixel. Even though the game contains absolutely no dialog, it still manages to be both funny and entertaining proving that creativity can still be viable in today’s gaming world.
Now, let’s not beat around the bush – Axel & Pixel is a point and click adventure game. You are using a pointer to either maneuver Axel (an artist) or his dog, Pixel, around the screen to complete various tasks. Very early on, a troll steals a key from Axel and that is when the adventure officially starts. Throughout the game, the troll is behind many obstacles managing to slip away every time Axel gets close.
Having said that, the next point is that Axel & Pixel is not your average point and click game. Yes, you are moving a cursor around and clicking at various objects to complete tasks in order to move on to the next. It sounds formulaic, but I assure you it is not. A lot of what you have to do in the game centers around puzzles. At one point, I had to literally solve a jigsaw puzzle that the troll shot a missile at in order to progress and at another; assemble a pipe system to drain water out of an area. All the puzzle solving stays fresh, having new ideas with every new chapter.
A few other gameplay elements do add some variety to the game. There are some vehicle sections involving hot air balloons, cars and sail boats. Each one is controlled differently, but the objective is generally the same in that you must get to the end of the level without destroying the vehicle. One other gameplay element is integrated into the chapters and only requires you to push the buttons shown on the screen as quick as possible.
As has now become standard, in Axel & Pixel there is a hint system present that is easy to access (Push Y at any point). I only used it a few times, but it can be troublesome because it doesn’t generally tell you how to complete some puzzles which frustrated me a few times. My other gripe stems from the somewhat short length, but it’s still a good value for the $10 asking price.
I mentioned the art style and graphics earlier, and that is important because Axel & Pixel is beautiful. Really, at one point I even said to myself “You know, this game belongs in a painting.” I wasn’t kidding either, as everything is just masterfully designed and overall very nice to look at. The charming look also goes hand in hand with the humor found in the game. While Axel never speaks, the hijinks that he and his dog encounter tend to be flat out funny at points. For example, a sequence seeing Axel getting bit by an enemy, kicking the enemy, and then being attacked by an even larger enemy. I was quite shocked that a game with no dialog could keep me laughing as much as Axel & Pixel did. The musical score is also very nicely done, leaving me with a feeling of being in some sort of wonderland.
Apart from the 24 main chapters, there are 3 mini-games which are just the vehicle sections mentioned earlier, except that they run infinitely, and are intended for you to rack up the highest score possible. A nice distraction, yes, but I don’t see many people continuing to play those after they’ve acquired the achievements in them. Multiplayer may have been a nice addition in this area.
All in all, I would say Axel & Pixel is a great Xbox Live Arcade game. I was interested in it from the moment it was first announced, and after playing it I can now see why 2K decided to get behind it. The art style and graphics make for a sort of dreamworld atmosphere, and the gameplay mechanics stay fresh for the length of the game. While Axel & Pixel isn’t too terribly long, it’s still worth every penny for the enjoyable experience that follows.