At its heart, Axel & Pixel is a slimmed down point-and-click puzzle game: you won’t be stuffing an ever-expanding inventory with all sorts of items; you won’t have to have conversations with characters (in fact, there is no understandable dialogue at all, just Sim-like gibberish); and you won’t be wandering backwards and forwards between new and old locations trying to find solutions. I guess you could call Axel & Pixel a point-and-click adventure game for people with a very short attention span who like to at least feel clever at times. Which is why I loved it.
The Xbox Live Arcade game follows the adventures of Axel and his dog Pixel who both get trapped in a mysterious dream world. The only way out of the dream world is for them to pursue a rat that has stolen a key to the exit. There is also an Ice Giant who needs to be defeated and I guess he holds dominion over the dream world, but this is never really fleshed out. That being said, the character design for the giant is magical. In fact, the entire game is unique in artistic style. It may not appeal to everyone, but the blending of real-world photography with cartoon-styled animation and characters, creates a surreal visual experience that I found highly appealing. Each level looks gorgeous and the majority of the time I was progressing through each not to chase the rat, but simply because I was so utterly intrigued by this dream world our heroes had fallen into. It’s beautiful, haunting, and pastoral in atmosphere, and I must admit that for the two and half hours it took me to play through the game, I was entirely sucked in.
Axel & Pixel is broken into four acts that correspond to the four seasons; you’ll start in spring and end the game in winter. Within each act are numerous chapters, and each chapter is a level with a self-contained puzzle that needs solving. There are also three mini-games and occasional quick-time-events that provide breaks from the cognitive stuff.
To solve the puzzles your cursor simply changes as you hover over interactive items. Owing to the art style, however, sometimes it is extremely difficult to make out what is interactive and what is simply background detail. This unfortunately necessitates having to wave the cursor around hoping to catch a glimpse of it changing as you skim over an object that requires poking. This breaks the flow of sequential puzzle solving that the vast majority of the levels are capable of building. That being said, I resorted to this method less than ten percent of the time.
Another potential flaw is that it is often not immediately obvious what it is you are trying to solve. Quite often you’ll begin each level by simply activating interactive objects at random. Eventually, however, the penny will drop and the level opens up before you. In addition, there are two puzzles that require you to do the same action numerous times, but there is no indication that this is required. Fortunately, help is a mere button-press away, so you won’t ever be stuck for too long.