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Axel & Pixel Review
Axel & Pixel is a side-scrolling, point-and-click adventure game developed by Czech enthusiasts Silver Wish Games and published by industry behemoth 2K Games (under the indie and budget centric 2K Play subsidiary). It’s gameplay may not spark revolutionary luminaries, but the accomplished hand-drawn levels and it’s cheerful, simple message is a testament to the potential of eastern European games. Creating an ephemeral yet poignant experience that is especially welcome on the Xbox LIVE Arcade service.
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Setting of Axel & Pixel
You play as red beret wearing painter Axel, navigating his way through his own dreamscape after waking in this realm with his portly dog Pixel. Stepping outside their cosy home, you find an antagonistic rat-like creature actively trying to harm both Axel and his trusted best friend Pixel after stealing their house keys.
Once outside, you find a lavish expanse of painted features and photographic backgrounds that comprise this dreamscape, making the player aware of the impending level design and its quant beauty. Also on display are the childish and superbly captured creature designs that make the gameworld that much richer. From Braid’s impressionistic take on aesthetics, to Machinarium’s hand drawn artful masterpiece, Axel & Pixel nestles quite comfortably between and amongst the two.
Your goal is to reclaim the keys to your door, while navigating the four seasons of a calendar year and circumventing the freezing of Axel and Pixel as winter comes to an end. All the while you will be collecting hidden paint brushes, dog bones and elements of a painting that Axel will no doubt paint once back in the real world.
I find it pleasantly surprising that yet another Czech made game can capture my attention and plaudit’s so soon after Machinarium and to a lesser extent Samorost. Amusing still is that 2D point-and-click games certainly seem to be par for the course in the Czech Republic and I hope to see more wonderfully simplistic and creative takes on the genre in the future.
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Aesthetics of Axel & Pixel
As mentioned earlier, the pleasing hand drawn elements inter-spliced with the photographed backgrounds and playful creature designs culminate in a sea of tranquility, often with a reticent but gentle haunting quality to the overall thematic scheme.
Given the artistic licence and story permitting ability to use all four seasons, the game becomes an ever changing and engrossing amalgam of each different one, culminating in winter after starting with the melodious nature of springtime. This adds a further dimension to the game, insofar as both replicating and becoming analogous to the pressing degradation that Axel & Pixel are encountering in their dream, wherein the world is starting to decay or at least freeze and take a sorrowful twist from earlier.
The remarkable beauty and character held within each separate level is heightened by the melodious and often superb ambient soundtrack. This helps to quantify the atmosphere with a deliberate musical pastiche and rich environmental sounds. Whether they come from creatures, bugs or even the fantastical dialogue between Axel and the dream world presented to him.
The use of whistling, an undefined language between Axel and Pixel, the incessant goading of the antagonistic rat and many more of the sounds all coalesce to create this deep and penetrating sound-scape, to directly compliment the stunning visuals.
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Mechanis of Axel & Pixel
Being a 2.5D point-and-click game gives the mechanics a solid base to work from. We all know about this kind of mechanic and find it easy to explore (games such as Monkey Island, King’s Quest, Discworld, Full Throttle and Samorost provide a pertinent catalogue) and Axel & Pixel’s core dynamic doesn’t change much in the foundations of what we’re used to.
While this limited interaction is slightly negated due to the overarching cheerful current running through Axel & Pixel, it is the mini-games and quick time events (QTE’s) that mix up the gameplay enough to keep the players attention.
Although the QTE’s are often disguised in the landscape and appear without warning, they are easy enough to figure out and don’t intrude too much on the game itself, providing sufficient change ups to the clicking frenzy you’ll have navigate.
The mini-games come in several forms and provide some user input and a sense of interaction that the adventure style doesn’t necessarily have without them. You will pilot a hot air balloon through a cavernous area, sail through an oily stream while avoiding whirlpools and, in a manner befitting the Trials series, you’ll drive across some bumpy terrain in a motorised buggy.
All this serves to break up the monotony and provide some pressing momentum to the superlative and controlled aesthetic of the other levels. While the QTE’s are rare and often flow well into the gameplay, the jutted and separate mini-game levels seem out of place and could very well be divisive for many players.
The ability to play these mini-games from the main menu is welcome however, and you can test yourself to not only get the hi-score achievements, but to compete on the leaderboards with other players of the game.
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Axel & Pixel for the Xbox 360
Definitively, Silver Wish Games has produced something worthy of anyones time and appreciation, even if the Xbox 360 is the only platform for its existence as of now. Not only does the audio compliment the graphical style perfectly, or the easy going level design and laid back approach to an antagonist and necessary story elements, but it creates a synergy between pleasant interaction and meaningful humanism.
Axel & Pixel is an excellent venture into modernising the point-and-click adventure, its lush visuals and intelligent sounds create a playful and memorable experience rich in simplistic beauty and one that will no doubt leave you smiling.
Recommendations - Machinarium, The Secrets of Monkey Island, Samorost, Braid