Crazy as a bat.
Axel & Pixel is a weird game, there’s no denying. It’s a mix between an adventure, a pixel hunter, quick-time events, and even driving games. While not doing any of these elements perfectly, this Frankenstein-like patched-together combination of genres with a crazy presentation is a dictionary-worthy and bizarre game.
[image1]Even the story is a messed up, convoluted, and nonsensical mess. Axel is an artist who lives in the middle of arctic nowhere with his dog, Pixel. One day, an imp decides to make their lives hell by nearly destroying their home and running away. For unclear motives, the duo decides to chase down the little demon in a journey into insanity.
In fact, by the time you complete the final level, ‘insanity’ will be the only word you can use to describe Axel & Pixel. Most of the game won’t make much sense, but it still looks very cool at the same time. A cubist’s dream, levels are comprised of single, large panels that are themselves montages of a variety of objects, sometimes drawn and static, sometimes including realistic-looking pictures. Every one of these panels provides a mission to be completed, which is rarely clear at first glance, due to how convoluted the levels are.
The point-and-click nature of the game quickly becomes a pixel hunt, the random "click everywhere ’til it sticks" sort of exploring. This randomness is remedied somewhat by the no-fail gameplay, which is pushed along by a time limit that is extremely forgiving and nowhere nearing a challenge by any means. Some puzzles are more obvious – common jigsaw puzzles, music puzzles, and even the now clearly obligatory Pipe Dream clones.
[image2]In between certain panel exploration puzzle levels, Axel will find special brushes which he uses to paint various vehicles, like a monster truck and a hot-air balloon. They work as platform-like racing games, reminiscent of golden oldies like Excitebike and River Raid, but they are sadly nowhere near as fun due to how unwieldy the controls are. In one specific case, you have indirect control of a sailboat cruising down a river with only the pushing power of an electric fan at your disposal. The faster the boat goes, the harder it is to keep it safe from hazards, which obviously becomes a pain if you are going after high scores.
The scoreboard works as an overall measure of your performance as you progress, discovering the various scattered items hidden in the stages like dog bones and attaining high scores in the platforming sections. The only reward you’ll earn by attaining a high score is an Achievement, and maybe a nice painting if you manage to perform certain tasks. After all, Axel is a gifted artist, right?
By the time you’re done with Axel & Pixel, you will likely brush it aside for the same reason you started: how nuts and off-the-wall it is. It’s difficult to tag it as just an adventure game, but as a mixed genre game, it can’t help but to be finally tagged as an average game due to how unevenly each section has been sewn together. Sure, the art style is awesome to look at, but levels are mostly too distracting and it’s too hard to find the actual puzzles. The occasional button press quick-time events also suffer from not being clearly labeled – sometimes they’re just not visible, so there’s nothing to react to.
Coming in at 800 Microsoft Points, Axel & Pixel is difficult to recommend. Even though it’s got loads of personality and it fully embraces its own craziness, it fails to be a sturdy combination of different game genres, and is just not fun enough to justify hunting through all those pixels.