September 18, 2012
This was one of the things my girlfriend suggested while I was playing through Sos Sosowski’s McPixel. It’s a bizarre game, but not all that far off of the point-and-click adventures that it parodies. If you’ve played many games from this genre you know how obtuse the logic can be, and McPixel gleefully uses it to create a series of fun, frantic challenges. Even if you haven’t played any point-and-click games before, the game’s goofy sense of humor and absurd puzzle solutions will have you saying “Just one more round.” well into the night.
McPixel works like most point-and-click adventures, but it makes itself fun by trimming away all the fat. There’s no item inventory, no side areas, and no dialogue. Instead, it is divided up into a single screen with a few items you can interact with. You’re given twenty seconds to figure out what you should click on or if you should use certain items on certain things. You’ll rarely use more than five seconds on these puzzles, as you only get one shot at each of them before having to move onto the next one. Kicking the yeti in the crotch didn’t work, so you’re off to the Eiffel Tower to figure out what to do with that guy with the dynamite under his hat.
The solutions are rarely what you expect, in one way or another. For a lot of the stages, I found that I’d have to use an item in a way that I wasn’t expecting. In one area, I had to put an item into a specific garbage can, and in doing so lured the guy with the bomb into burying himself inside of it. It sounds like it’s trying to be wacky on purpose, so when I settled on picking the most goofy solution I could think of in a given area, I found that something as simple as throwing the bomb away worked. The game is pretty good at keeping you on your toes, as the answer to each of its puzzles is buried in trial and error.
If you’re rolling your eyes, thinking back to hours spent using items on a dragon in Shadowgate, you have nothing to worry about. Most of the fun in McPixel comes from screwing up, as Sosowski’s deranged mind has come up with a bunch of silly ways for things to go wrong. At one point I was on a boat with a man, woman, and a fishing rod. Unsure what to do, I started fishing, and ended up reeling in a giggling old man holding a stick of dynamite. At another point, I grabbed a boombox and jumped into a pool, electrocuting myself. It all sounds stupid and juvenile on paper, but it all works really well in the strange world the game creates. It’s got a South Park vibe to it, so if you’re into that kind of humor, the game will tickle you.
Failures also work toward your total completion of the area, too, so you do need them. The game only considers a round totally complete once you’ve seen each of its screw-up conditions, so you’re encouraged to go back and see everything that could go wrong. When each round is totally complete in a chapter, you’re treated with a bonus round that gives you a few extra screens. The bonus areas are all built around famous movies, cartoons, and games, and are easily the best levels in the game. Given that it’s really entertaining to see every solution and screw-up for every puzzle and that you’re rewarded for doing everything, it’s really hard to stop playing it.
Whether you’re laughing or shaking your head, you’ll have to admit that you really don’t know what’s going to happen when you click on something or where you’ll go next, which keeps the game interesting the whole time. I ended up playing several rounds until two in the morning when I was passing-out exhausted three hours before that. I just wanted to know what sort of weird situation I would be in during the next screen, and what the screwy solution would be for the puzzle. The game moves from place to place with no set rules. You could be in a graveyard fiddling with a voodoo doll and then move to a Buddhist temple a few seconds later. The game keeps you on your toes the whole time, never giving any one thing the remotest chance of getting stale.
The graphics might put you off, but keep in mind this game was built off of an entry for Ludum Dare, so the initial game was created in 48 hours. Beyond that, the retro graphics just really click with the game. A lot of the game’s absurdities come off in a more innocent way because of the primitive graphics. The crude humor would feel a lot more gross and off-putting if it were done with more realistic graphics, so I feel like the blocky 8-bit style really worked with the game. There’s just something about the art style that keeps things fun and lighthearted, even when you are smearing poo on a wall. I don’t think that’s something that more realistic graphics could improve, to be honest.
The game is pretty simple musically, too. There are a few themes that play while you’re running through the puzzles, but they all sound like variants on each other. The game came with a soundtrack so I did listen to the tracks on their own, but they’re all quite similar. The thing is, I kind of like them. They are very simplistic, but that fact turns them into a background noise that keeps up with the frantic pace of the game. It helps carry you along with the game’s need for quick decisions, and while it’s nothing I would listen to separately, it does fit in well with the retro graphics and silly design.
The downside to getting addicted to the game is that you will blow through it in a few hours. The game warns you that it’s better to be played in short bursts over time, but I just couldn’t make myself put it down. It reminded me of when I ate my entire chocolate Christmas calendar the day I got it and had to watch my brother savor every single piece he ate for the next twenty-three days. You end up going through the game too quickly, and the fun experience ends too fast. I don’t really think that wanting the game to continue once you’ve finished it is a bad thing, though, so consider this as a warning that you should only play in little bursts. There is a mobile phone version of this game, and it’s absolutely perfect for that play style. This game is a blast on PC, but it’s probably still best enjoyed on a mobile device.
I almost had a complaint about how the game wastes the player’s time between stages, but there’s a solution for that. There are a few animations that play at the start and end of every level, and they do get annoying when you’re playing each area over and over again to get all of the screw-ups. I found out by accident that you can right click on your mouse to skip past those scenes and get right into the action, so this game literally never wastes your time. It was a nice touch, and felt almost like clairvoyance on Sosowski’s part when I found out about it. He’d read my mind about something that was going to bug me.
Of all things, playing McPixel reminded me of how silly point-and-click games can be. If you’ve ever shaken your head at how you need to grab a broom at the start of the game so you can solve a puzzle with a sphinx at the end, then this game will crack you up. Beyond it’s crude humor, there’s something about the fact that you have to use an exploding hotdog on an alien that is funny in and of itself for someone who’s played a lot of Secret of Monkey Island or Space Quest. It’s a return to the sillier times of early point-and-click games; an homage to the funny games that have been lost, for the most part, to the serious, brown games of today. Even if you don’t like toilet humor, the idea of just pulling the fire off of the fuse of a bomb will probably take you back to those frustrating but fun times you spent playing Leisure Suit Larry on your neighbor’s computer without them knowing it.
It’s a simple game that draws from the frantic pace of today’s games while showcasing the humor and insanity of the point-and-click games of years ago. It is fun on many different levels, and with an option for free DLC built into the game along with Sosowski’s positive attitudes toward piracy and paying him, there’s not many excuse not to pick it up. Get a couple of point-and-click fans together and enjoy an evening laughing as you try to figure out the game together.
McPixel is available for $7.43 from Sos Sosowski’s site, mcpixel.net. You can save $0.50 on it by submitting a McPixel limerick to him, and I’m not even joking.
PS – The trailer is kinda NSFW, just so you know.
Out Of 5
The 8-bit style keeps the game's cruder elements from becoming gross, and gives the whole game a lighthearted feeling. There's also something extremely satisfying about kicking a blocky man in the crotch for someone who grew up in the NES era.
The game's music helped me feel the game's fast pace, but they all sound pretty similar. I liked them, but some more variety would have been nice.
Click on what you want to interact with, and away you'll go. There's not much that can go wrong with this, but sometimes you will have to click around the environment to find what you need to move on. It happens rarely, but it's pretty frustrating when it does.
Having straightforward point-and-click puzzles is pure bliss, especially when you're rewarded with funny stuff whether you succeed or fail. Having it all come in twenty second levels that have no rhyme or reason only adds to the fun. If you have even a few free minutes, this game will still show you a good time.
McPixel is fast-paced and absurd, shovelling fun down your throat at a breakneck pace. I passed out after my first binge play session, and woke up four hours later needing to play the rest. I couldn't put it down or stop playing it until it was done, and haven't had that much fun in years. It's a steal at any price.