Axel & Pixel may be an adventure, but it's a real stretch calling it an adventure game. This freshman effort for Xbox Live Arcade from Silver Wish Games is a pixel hunt masquerading as a point-and-click adventure, with virtually no challenge to any of the levels. Cute protagonists, quirky art, and surreal settings provide humor for a little while, but your smile vanishes when you realize that all you ever need to do is find onscreen hot spots and activate them in the correct order.
Axel looks like everybody's favorite teen wizard after a few years of hanging out at poetry slams. Call this Harry Potter: The College Years.
What most impresses you right away about Axel & Pixel is that it is weird. The story begins in a cabin deep in a snowy mountain range where artist Axel lives with his dog Pixel. They're sharing a warm and fuzzy moment in front of the fire when an evil red rat cranks up an old Victrola. This is apparently some kind of magic record player, however, as the tune it blasts out sends the duo to a surreal dreamland based on the seasons. In order to get back home, Axel and his canine pal have to chase this dastardly rat through a couple of dozen levels that progress from spring to winter. As usual in adventures, progress is constantly halted by various barricades, forcing you to use your noggin to clear the way forward.
Or not. Each scene is incredibly simple to figure out because all you need to do is move a sparkly cursor around in search of objects that can be manipulated. As this cursor lights up and changes into various icons whenever you roll over something interesting, you'll find that this isn't exactly difficult. Each level consists of just a single screen whereby you hunt around for a few minutes, figure out the order in which you need to activate everything, and then push on to the next screen in search of a showdown with that annoying rat. Three tips are available on demand in each level as well, if you happen to get stuck (you won't). It can be kind of interesting to see what Axel and his four-legged friend need to do to clear the way forward, although you never feel involved in the action. You're more of a spectator than a player, sitting back and hitting buttons to yank the characters around like digital marionettes. So even though the game is clearly geared for the younger set, it has a hands-off quality that kids will likely find off-putting.