FWD Progress 10-16-2009: Axel & Pixel Hands-On

Balloon BoyI was so distracted by the odyssey of Balloon Boy, er…Attic Boy yesterday afternoon that I didn’t get back into Brütal Legend at all. I’ll probably keep typing up impressions as I play through it over the next few days.

On tap today is a dentist appointment at 11:30. I don’t mind the cleaning process at all and right now I’m really looking forward to getting the old choppers scraped off. I had to postpone the appointment a couple of times because I had a nasty cold. What I do dislike however, is the fact that Hygienists feel the need to lecture people on oral care every time they go in. I know they’re just doing their job, but I already floss daily, use alcohol free mouth wash and I quit smoking about 5 years ago. Read More…

When I get back from that costly hour of discomfort and bad soft rock radio, I plan on sinking a few more hours into Brütal Legend before spending some quality time with my beloved Xbox LIVE Arcade collection.

Not Much has Changed in Military Madness: NectarisI’m towards the end of South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only is there plenty of South Park personality, but it’s a pretty fun take on tower defense as well, with a nice mix of fixed path, path creation, environmental and action play.

Sticking with the strategy theme, I’m going to sludge through some Military Madness: Nectaris. I used to love the old TurboGrafix 16 version and played through it again when it was released on the Virtual Console service. The new version is nothing more than a cosmetic facelift - I hesitate to use the term upgrade, it doesn’t look so hot - so I was a bit disappointed. The game plays more like a puzzle game than a true turn-based strategy title because your selection of units and their positions are pre-set.

Speaking of sludge, I’m trying my best to wade through Lucidity. It’s a beautiful-looking and sounding game, but the gameplay is, in a word, boring. It is being billed as a puzzle-plat former, but plays like Lemmings if Lemmings was a bad game. It’s very simplistic and next to impossible to master because the pieces you use to guide your narcoleptic avatar through levels appear randomly.

After that, I will make some time for Axel & Pixel. This point-and-click puzzle-adventure game certainly has a unique look to it that will likely polarize gamers. I only played the first level yesterday, but it seems like the gameplay is pretty standard. The game is quirky, kind of trippy and I’m looking forward to playing through the rest of it. I’ll update this post later today with more detailed impressions.

I’m also chipping away at reviews for the PSP minis version of Tetris and Critter Crunch on PSN and I hope to have those both early up next week. Nathalie is working on a review of Sudokufor PSP minis for me, which should also be up early next week.

[3:17 PM] Well, I played Brütal Legend some more and my opinion has firmly set in that it’s a middle-of-the-road game that performs poorly, but has an excellent and cohesive sense of atmosphere. Even after unlocking the side missions, there is very little to do in the game world and it unfortunately feels very empty. At this point, I can only play it for an hour or so without getting bored, which is unusual for me in an open world or sandbox game.

The main missions have been rather generic and boring as well and I find myself more interested progressing the story rather than actually playing the game itself. I’m simply not having fun while playing it and as much as I love the art and atmosphere, I doubt I’ll ever pick up the game again after finishing it and checking out the multiplayer for an hour in order to write up my review.

[4:15 PM] I played the first five or six levels of Axel & Pixel and it has really, really grown on me. The point-and-click levels have been pretty standard so far and involve a lot of pixel hunting and trial-and-error. These levels require you to interact with the objects on them in a certain order to proceed by simply moving your cursor around and pressing the A button.

A Scene from Axel & PixelThere doesn’t seem to be any way to actually fail these levels, but apparently the game is keeping score as you go based on the time it takes you to solve each level and the amount of hints you need to do so. The gameplay really reminds me of Zack & Wiki so far and I can see it getting much more complicated as I progress. I’ve encountered a few types of collectables that seem to be obtained by doing bonus tasks in each level and I know that obtaining all of these will most certainly be a challenge.

I also played a level that tasked me with assembling a puzzle made of shapes that resemble the Tetriminoes from Tetris. The last level I played through in my first real session of Axel & Pixel saw me piloting a hot air balloon through a cave using controls similar to the classic PC game Lunar Lander. One of three minigames was unlocked from the beginning and this saw me driving an off-road type vehicle across a rocky plane. This game was similar to Trials HD or Stunt Rider from Thrillville: Off the Rails, but much more bouncy.

The art and music really make this game stand out for me and though they are nothing alike, Axel & Pixel reminds me of Braid in that respect. The levels are all teeming with life and the contrast between photorealism and hand drawn art makes this game look like no other. Art style is, of course, subjective but for me the presentation of Axel & Pixel is charming and endearing. The music is calm and pleasant and the characters in the game are brimming with personality though they never actually speak.

I’ll be spending much more time with this game in the near future and I hope to have a full review up shortly after I finish it.