The cardinal sin of adventure games is the “MacGyver”, where players are forced to piece together two unrelated objects to solve a problem. While making gamers think outside the box is always a welcome addition, attaching rubber chickens to pulleys or crafting mustaches out of cat hair feels like translating Morse code backward.
“McPixel”, a WarioWare-esque parody of MacGyver, earns its namesake by tossing you into multiple bomb sites where the only way to defuse it is randomly experimenting with everything and anything nearby. What sounds like a rather frustrating experience turns into frantic fun with a simple stroke of genius; success and failure are equally rewarded.
In the very first level, you’re presented with this scenario; a hot dog with a lit fuse sits next to a condiment cart and a vendor, while a pair of sinister red eyes glistens in the fauna. Attempting to add ketchup to the hot dog prompts our intrepid hero to slam it into his face, while investigating the red eyes reveals a reefer-toking alien that chortles at your misfortune. By feeding the time-sensitive sausage to the alien, he will “defuse” it, while complaining about the lack of mustard.
Defusing the bomb is the surface goal of McPixel, but it quickly becomes obvious that your true task is triggering every golden moment of slapstick comedy. In fact, it’s the only way to see every level in the game; bonus rounds filled with clever pop culture references and even more obtuse solutions are unlocked when you witness every gag in a specific chapter.
Boiled down to its core, the gameplay is very simple; you just keep clicking nearby objects and beings until something wacky happens. Those looking for a deeper experience are setting themselves up for disappointment. That’s hardly a knock against the game; it knows what it is, and it excels at exploiting expectations. You’ll often be presented with what appears to be an obvious solution, only to discover that the illogical path is the only path.
Unfortunately, the rapid pace makes it all too easy to burn through the game in a matter of hours (An opening disclaimer recommends spacing out the experience over several sittings), and some of the later levels introduce pixel hunting that serves to only frustrate instead of entertain. Additionally, the final bonus round was clearly designed to leave fist-sized holes in monitors, much to the creator’s delight.
Even with its few niggling issues, McPixel constantly fires on all cylinders, delivering a hilarious spin on a tried and true genre. Sos Games have proven that if you add the right dash of humor, losing a game can be as rewarding as winning.
McPixel is available for $9.99 on Steam. Review code provided by Sos Games.
Originally published for Press X or Die on July 27, 2012.