Axel & Pixel [Xbox Live Arcade]
It wasn't until Braid was released that indie games really made their mark on consoles. Since then, it has felt like the industry has held its collective breath, waiting for the next hit out of nowhere. So far, it hasn't arrived. The Xbox Indie portal, with few exceptions, is a mess of unfinished shovelware and massage applications that would make even the iPhone App Store shudder, and it's obvious that anyone with a substantial title is pitching it to publishers instead of putting them on Xbox Live. 2K Games' Axel & Pixel is an example of that idea, and bring a stylish point-and-click adventure to the Xbox Live Arcade. Silver Wish Games have created something magnificently unique on the Xbox Live Arcade, bursting onto the scene with a whimsical, imaginative adventure.
Axel is a French painter, Pixel is his loyal dog. After falling asleep to a mysterious record played by a creepy rat, the duo are whisked away into a dream world, and must find a key to escape. It's not a metaphorical journey, there's no character development or plot twists, it's just a straightforward adventure. The only change as the game goes on is the scenery, which cycles through the four seasons during the 24 levels. Each board is less of a "stage" and more of an "interactive painting." Characters and backgrounds are a blend of stunning photorealism and simple cartoons, creating a contrast that is nothing if not awe-inspiring. Technically, the gameplay can be most easily categorized as a point-and-click adventure, but it doesn't play like most of its contemporaries. Additional elements, like quick-time events and traditional puzzles, help create more diverse portions.