|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Silver Wish Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: 2K Play||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 14, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Kyle B. Stiff
When I first saw screen shots of Axel & Pixel, and heard the music on the official website, I thought to myself, "This could be art." A&P is a point-and-click puzzle game in which you guide Axel and his dog Pixel through a lush dream world and occasionally play some interesting, but ultimately awful, mini-games. After giving it some thought, I've decided that A&P is artistic, but it's not art, and while it is engaging at times, it's not always exactly fun.
Like most point-and-click puzzle games, you control a cursor rather than the hero. The cursor lights up when hovering over a point of interest, thus keeping a great deal of frustration (and pointless button-mashing) at bay. You can access three clues per stage. Don't be too quick to turn your nose up at them; since A&P is based in a dream world, a good deal of the puzzles defy logic. There are 24 stages, with each stage being about one "screen" with a handful of puzzles. Just when you get into the groove of traversing through this dream world, a mini-game will slap you in the face and force you to remember a bygone era of games back when games actually weren't that fun, but what they lacked in fun they made up for with difficulty. Thankfully, there are only three of these mini-games, or four if you count the final boss.
A&P is fun, but when a game straddles the line between being a relaxing series of puzzles in a world that eschews reason, or mini-games that involve racing, skirting around obstacles, and jumping over bottomless pits, I don't think you can have both. The former gives A&P a unique look and feel, while the latter makes it seem cheap and a little frustrating. Fortunately, the mini-games are short, and none of them are impossible.
Also, I don't know how to break this to you, so I'll just say it: A&P has Quick-time Events, or occasional on-screen button prompts that must be followed. Everything bad that can be said about QTEs has already been said, so I'll just leave you with a warning: They're there. It's not over the top, but QTEs do happen in A&P. Sorry.
Replay value is extremely limited. Silver Wish Games tried their best to add items that can only be snagged within a limited window of opportunity and which eventually unlock something of dubious value, but I have yet to play a point-and-click puzzle game with any real replay value. And so it is with Axel & Pixel. This is the nature of the genre, and not a flaw per se. And really, I doubt whether many of us expect to get more than a handful of hours out of an inexpensive downloadable game.
But what we do expect from a game like this is a fresh experience, something free from the confines of big budget mediocrity. Something that escapes the rule that says when a lot of people invest a lot of money in a game, then as few creative risks as possible should be taken in order to successfully find that lowest common denominator and maximize the game's appeal.
That's what bothers me about A&P. It's a creative game... but it's not nearly creative enough.
If you're a small studio, and you don't have a board of directors breathing down your neck because they're terrified of losing a lot of money, then why hold back? What legitimate reason is there to craft a dream world, but not make it too dreamy? Is it because the studio lacks talented visionaries? That's a problem easily remedied; go to the nearest art college, pay a handful of kids mere peanuts (and the prestige of helping design a video game), and they'll come up with some of the most intensely charming, and subtly disturbing, images that anyone has ever seen. Of course, you need people with experience to act as guides, and also to filter out the nonsense and the garbage, but I think game makers in general, and not just Silver Wish Games, would be shocked at the creative potential available among those too young to censor themselves. A game made like that might just be remembered forever. And as a bonus, the young are notoriously easy to control!