Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Axel & Pixel

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Developer: Silver Wish Games
Publisher: 2K Play
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2009
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

0:00 In describing this game, Crispy Gamer Managing Editor Elise Vogel said "it looks like they're trying to go for a Braid aesthetic, but I'm not sure about the puzzles." Ambivalent praise at best, but we'll see how it goes...

0:01 A quick logo and I'm treated to an incredibly odd title screen, where a huge tree monster snarls behind a black picture frame that has a swirling vortex. A crudely drawn painter, complete with red beret, is holding on for dear life to avoid being sucked in. Oh, and there's a dog. I press A and the pair is sucked into ... the menu screen. Let's "Play Story."

0:02 Gentle string music over a snowy field with a humble house. A hawk swoops down and picks up a rabbit in its talons. Inside, the painter puts down his paint and sits in a comfy fur-lined shair. His brown dog hops onto his lap. A rat scurries in and cranks a phonograph on the floor, pleasing the artist. A title card reads: "Spring, Chapter 1, a ray of hope." Loving the surreal, paper cut-out animation style.

0:03 Outside now, the snow has started to thaw. Then: chaos. An icicle falls on the dog! A huge bee crashes into another and flies off, startling a red wolf, who throws a rock that drops another huge icicle on the house. A third icicle falls across a gap that I have to cross. The artist makes cute surprised noises as all this happens. I can't process this much surreal imagery so early in the morning!

0:04 A menu box tells me the situation. "Axel & Pixel awake in the dream world. The Evil Rat holds the key back home -- help Axel and Pixel catch him before winter returns and freezes this dream over forever!" Oh, so the red thing isn't a wolf? Hmmm... I wonder which one's Axel and which Pixel.

0:05 I control a "magic cursor" with the thumb stick. The game tells me to click stuff and basically see what happens. I click an ice-prism shard, adjusting it and changing the angle of a reflected beam of sunlight. But "The Ice Giant is blocking out the sun!" as the game informs me. "Help Axel to move him and bring Spring to the Dream World." Oh, so the painter is Axel. I would have guessed the opposite.

0:07 I click the door to my house and it falls off. Wow ... sucks to be Axel...

Axel & Pixel

0:08 Clicking yet another icicle crystal makes Axel break out an easel and draw a sketch. There are seven more "beautiful vistas" throughout the dream world, apparently.

0:09 I try the direct route, clicking the Ice Giant himself. This causes Axel to make a snowball. "React quickly and press the correct buttons to defeat the ice giant." As the game prompts me on screen, I press B to throw a snowball, X to dodge an attack, A-B to throw, Y to dodge, B-X-A to throw; and he's down. That was ... incredibly easy.

0:11 So now I can move that crystal again, which melts the icicle on the bridge. I click an ornate crank and Pixel (that's the dog, for those of you keeping track) jumps in a treadmill that rolls out the bridge. The animation is especially vibrant on Pixel. The music is nice and calming too. It's elegant is what it is.

0:13 So the bridge doesn't stay unrolled for long... I have to click a latch on the other side just as it's finishing, or it rolls back and send Pixel flying from the treadmill. For a puzzle game, there's a lot of timing required for these puzzles.

0:14 So we amble across the bridge automatically. I try climbing the mountain to get to the rat king, but he steps on my fingers and I fall back down. Awww.

0:15 Totally by accident, I find that the right trigger zooms in on the high-def environments. It's hard to overstate the beauty of the hand-drawn art. Really exquisite.

0:16 More random clicking turns what was a gate into a makeshift ladder. I climb after the rat, who scampers off to the next screen, where I follow. Five Achievement points for a "good start."

0:18 Chapter 2: "In Bloom." A ridge overlooking a river with a gentle waterfall. There's a fishing pole, but when I try to get to it the huge bee scares me back. Hmmm ... where did I put my huge bee repellant?

0:19 I try wading down into the river, but it's too cold (as indicated by a subtle shiver from Axel). Clicking randomly, I bloom some flowers on a tree across the way, which attracts the bee out from my path. Yay for random clicking!

0:20 My fishing expedition brings up a big leaf, which I combine with a large flower to create a hang glider, which I then use to fly across the river in a big loop-de-loop. This is all done relatively automatically, and while it's fun to watch, it's not incredibly engaging. Anyway, Pixel is still on the other side of the river. Oh, but there's a boat here! I click it, and Zel hops in and ... right back out. I need a paddle, I guess?

0:22 More clicking on the tree gets more blooming, until it's beautiful enough to sketch. When I click the sleeping bee, he wakes with a start, knocking a paint tube over to me. Seven more of those will let me color my sketches. Neato.

0:23 More random clicking gets me a paddle, and I go get Pixel. He barks twice, then gives me a big lick on the face. D'awwww!

0:25 I follow the rat over to Chapter 3: A Splash of Dew, where I need to somehow inspire a snail to pull a rope to lift a cauldron with my dog in it. You heard me.

0:30 Lots of random clicking later, I finally figure out that a tasty leaf is all the inspiration the snail needs. Along the way I made Axel slip off a cliff with a huge backflip. During his fall, a well-timed press of A gets me a second paint tube.

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0:34 I crank down a ladder and we're off "To Foreign Shores," which is the name of Chapter 4. I kick a rock away to find a bone, which gets added to my inventory. Then I pick up an axe and chop down some wood and a leaf from a flower. I fashion them into a crude boat, but I need something to hold up the leaf sail. Hmmm ... maybe if I turn off the water supplying this water wheel ... then climb inside the tank to reach a branch ... which I chop down into the river. Now let's turn the water back on...

0:40 Oh, hmmm, the water isn't reaching the water wheel now. Luckily there's a big piece of piping just sitting there, waiting to complete the water path. That breaks the big pinwheel that's going to power my sailboat, but luckily my twig can fix it. Quite an elaborate construction ... too bad the solution wasn't nearly as elegant as the artistic design.

0:41 In the next area, the rat destroys a giant, snake-adorned pyramid with a big missile. I have to pick up the Tetris-shaped pieces and rotate them back into place. This is made much easier by thick outlines showing which shaped piece should go where, and red outlines on the pieces that indicate an edge. Still, it does take a modicum of guessing and checking to put it all back together. It's mildly diverting, I'll give it that.

0:45 So instead of just destroying the pyramid again, the rat king decides to fly his missile straight off the screen this time. Odd.

Axel & Pixel

0:46 Oh, hello GIANT PHOTOREALISTIC SNAKE THAT JUST POPPED OUT OF THIS CAVE I CLICKED. Ye gods, this game is messed-up.

0:47 There's a paintbrush atop the pyramid. I climb up and grab it, then use it to draw a hot air balloon that takes us down into a cavern for Chapter 6, Hot Air Loons. It's an action section! I use the shoulder buttons to make the balloon ascend and descend, avoiding the ceiling, floor and obstacles as I go. It's pretty forgiving as I slightly jostle the ceiling a few times, but then I get greedy going for a floating bone and run aground. "Do you want to play again?" Sure...

0:50 I got farther this time, but got held up on an extremely narrow passage. This is surprisingly tough for a game that's been so easy so far.

0:53 I largely ignore the floating bones this time and make it through without a scratch. The Spring season is complete, earning me 10 more Achievement points. The rat rockets out of the cavern mouth, followed by our balloon, which falls apart.

0:54 Clicking a dragonfly makes him take Pixel away. Well that wasn't very nice.

0:55 OK, I literally can't keep my eyes open anymore during this early morning play session, so I'm calling it quits a bit early. I didn't sleep well last night, so this isn't the fault of the game. Then again, maybe it is ... this game isn't exactly fast-paced...

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Basically just to stare at the pretty art. I might appreciate the gameplay a bit more when I'm more awake, but I doubt it.

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