I’ve never done drugs. But this is what I imagine you see when lying around an opium den, puffing on a long, skinny Lord of the Rings-looking pipe.
Axel and Pixel, a painter and his dog, live in an isolated cottage in the wilderness. When a strange creature arrives and steals Axel’s key, the pair must work together as only man and his best friend can to win back the key and escape the dreamworld.
Axel & Pixel is a point-and-click adventure title, but that’s not important. I’ve rarely said this about a video game, but the gameplay isn’t really important either. What is important is the art and style. The bizarre, grotesque, dada, gothic, and psychedelic artwork of the dreamworld is the game’s single biggest draw. Gameplay truly does come as secondary in this title. If you play this game the “right way” (yes, there is a right way to play this, like there’s a right way to play Scribblenauts) you’ll take an easy pace and enjoy the scenic route. The quick time events and pointing-and-clicking were not in the forefront of my experience, much like the act of walking through a museum fades into the background when your mind is devoted to appreciating the artwork surrounding you.
To match the leisurely pace, this game is extremely forgiving. You have up to three clues to use on each chapter. When you elect to use a hint, a lightbulb is displayed on the object you need to click to progress through the level. Considering that most any confusion can be solved just by dreamily sliding your cursor every-which-way on the screen until an item lights up as clickable, you shouldn’t have to use many hints. Anyone who doesn’t pick up the achievement for using fewer than 20 hints should be questioned.
Besides the pointing and clicking you have rightfully come to expect from point-and-click adventure titles, you’ll be maneuvering through a few puzzles and tapping buttons in rhythm with some quick time events (although these events have nothing to do with quickness; the button prompts come slowly). The game takes place across four seasons (Axel must find his key by winter, or suffer some unknowable fate) and twenty-four chapters. Each chapter tasks you with making your way to the other side of the screen. How you do that is for you to find out.
Axel & Pixel is going to net you a few hours of playtime, depending on how long you want to play the three included minigames (which aren’t very robust). After you complete the story, there really isn’t a reason to return and do it all over again in terms of gaming, unless you’re a completionist and want to collect all of the paint tubes and dog bones for a few achievement points. You may find yourself returning to levels later on, however, just to peer at the artwork one more time or show your friend that weird, groaning turtle/tank hybrid with the yellow teeth.
Let me let you in on a little secret no other gaming journalist is going to tell you: Metacritic isn’t everything. If you’re big into art and design, you may get more out of this game than you would out of a surefire hit like Halo: ODST just from appreciating its weird aesthetics. If you enjoy experiencing titles like Rez, or a trippy quasi-game seems up your alley, download the trial and see what you think. If you’re only interested in a traditional gaming experience, you may want to look elsewhere—like into your soul to see just what you’re made of.
Axel & Pixel scores 8 opium dreams out of 10.
Axel & Pixel (2K Play/Silver Wish Games) is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points ($10).