|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SoftMax||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Namco Bandai Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 13, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Let me give an example of how A&P holds back and thus comes off as borderline mediocre. Now, some of A&P's characters look very, very nice. They look three-dimensional, and are colored and shaded in this visceral, "unclean" way that makes them look just a little bit dangerous. I found myself using the zoom feature several times to get a better view of them. But the two main characters, on the other hand, were either made early on when the project had a different, simpler visual style, or they were purposely kept cartoonish in order to appear nonthreatening. I feel like I have seen the protagonist and his dog many, many times before; their common features and predictable behavior can be found in any children's Saturday morning cartoon.
Which means the main characters are completely overshadowed by the weird shuffling beasts that do things like drink crude oil, or sit and glare and make hostile grunts, or wait for me to pet them so they can turn into a butterfly. Some of the creatures look so unique that I can't easily point out anything similar to them. Maybe some obscure 70s psychedelic album art? The only reason I can think of, concerning why the makers didn't want the hero and his dog to look as outlandish and unique as the other denizens of the dream world is because, well, that would just be too disturbing, wouldn't it?
But aren't all the best fairytale dramas just a little bit disturbing?
As for the music, it's really good - that is, on the rare occasions when it comes out from its hiding place! Much of the game's audio concerns the goofball sounds coming from Axel as he mumbles, stutters, and gibbers incoherently. Much of the time I simply drowned out A&P's audio, which was a real shame because there were a few rare occasions in which Axel would shut up, the music would kick in, and I really did feel like I was traveling through a dream world. Otherwise, I can't imagine that the play-testers had their speakers turned on, because Axel sounds like he needs to be medicated.
The story is sparse, but that's perfect for a game like this. The chapters are divided by Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, which provides a sense of structure to the narrative and gives a feeling that the stakes are increasing as the journey continues. Although I do wish that Spring had a few more strange creatures and some more weird plant life, and even though Winter was bleak, dark, and mechanical, I wish it had gone to even further extremes. The last boss brought to mind a primal frost giant from Norse mythology, or Dante's idea of Satan partially frozen in a massive lake of ice. A very nice touch, though it was hard to enjoy the scenery thanks to Quick-time Events!
If you are going to download A&P (and it is worth it if you like point-and-click adventures, and can stomach a few tiresome mini-games), then I suggest you take it slow. The game is short; you can finish it in less than four hours if you don't stop to admire the scenery, but there's no reason to run through it. Instead, play a little bit here, a little bit there. Maybe play one stage per day right after you wake up; start your day with a "gamer's rush" to help you through your tortuous eight hour workday. A&P would be nice in doses... because I definitely don't recommend dedicating one large chunk of time to it.
Kyle B. Stiff
CCC Freelance Writer