Axel is having a tragically awful dream. First his painting is interupted, then a large rat steals his keys and it's all capped by a large chunk of ice crash landing directly on the top of his house. Boy is Axel going to be angry when he wakes up. But before he can do that he and his dog are going to travel through two dozen levels solving puzzles and hunting for that large rat. Well, at least it's not one of those dreams where he's standing in front of an audience in his underwear.
This is the set-up to Axel & Pixel, the strange new point and click adventure game from Silver Wish Games (courtesy of 2K Games). For reasons I doubt I'll ever fully understand, Microsoft decided to upload this quiet little game on the same day as another point and click adventure, Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space. Apparently October 14, 2009 was the day of the graphic adventures, which is fine by me. But just because these two Xbox Live Arcade games share a genre that does not mean they are the same. While Sam & Max chooses comedy, Axel & Pixel takes you on an imaginative adventure unlike anything I've seen before. It's not perfect, but there's certainly enough puzzles to solve to warrant the $10 asking price.
I knew absolutely nothing about Axel & Pixel going in. The faux-box art was intriguing and it had an interesting name, but this Slovakian production had somehow completely passed me by. What I discovered was an interesting point and click adventure, along the lines of Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle and the aforementioned Sam & Max series. But this is not a comedy. While the characters and animations are often cute, there is nothing about the game that is even remotely funny. Instead it's a serious puzzle game where you go from level to level trying to solve all of the puzzles before moving on.
While the puzzles are always different, many of the levels play out exactly the same way. You enter a stage and see what you have to do, then you have to perform several steps before accomplishing your task and moving on. For example, in one early level you will need to build a boat in order to chase the menacing rat. Thankfully much of the boat has already been made, but you will need to move the butterflies, ring the bell, turn off the pouring water, fix the water spout, fiddle with the flowers, find a leave, turn the water back on and sail away. If you can do all of that in the right order you'll move on to the next level, where you'll have to solve another puzzle.
Thankfully not every level plays out with this formula. Some levels have you putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Another level will have you driving over huge mountains avoiding cliffs. In another level you will need to power your hot air balloon around rocks and other obstacles. These diversions are few and far between, but they often come right when you're getting sick of pointing and clicking.
One surprising twist in Axel & Pixel is the fact that you never directly control either character. While the main character and his dog are always present on screen, you play an omnipresent that is somehow able to interact with the background independently from the main characters. For example, you can use your cursor to interact with animals and trees. This is how you change the level and solve puzzles, all while the characters look on and watch what you do. That's not to say that your characters do nothing, there are a lot of times when you'll click on something and either Axel or his dog, Pixel, will rush over and perform an action. But this is not like most point and click adventure games, in order to succeed you will need to use Axel, Pixel and the magical cursor.
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