Axel The Penguin, a bright, saturated, retro themed game that brings back the memories of those SEGA days; it then dumps a difficulty far beyond your expectations into the mix. This game is hard.
Most indie devs these days seem to be replicating those retro classics with their own twists; the levels are influenced by the simplicity of horizontally running platforms, level ups that are concealed within blocks or boxes, and the straightforward methods to complete the levels. Axel The Penguin pretty much fits all of the above, but then it starts to take the cracker.
I mean the above in a friendly, positive way; Axel the Penguin does exactly what I said, it takes the cracker, it tickles the monkey, it ‘as a giraffe, it spits at your fallen body. Okay, that one is probably too extreme of a description, but it certainly feels that way when you’re playing it. It’s not a forgiving game at all. This write up is done from my playing of the early Steam demo.
It is a game that seems to be heavily inspired by games from the era where platforming games were in their 8-bit glory. Although the game it most fits stylistically would have to probably be Sonic The Hedgehog. You’re not a hedgehog though, you play as a penguin, who waddles amongst a 2D side-scrolling world, with platforms, springs, locked doors, etc. In fact, the world looks similar to the Green Hill Zone in Sonic, only more detail has been included.
There are small sprite elements amongst the world that breathe some life into the world, such as the butterflies, the little bunny rabbits, and the hazardous enemies that roam the lands. It’s all very vibrant, pixellated, 4:3 ratio’ed, and quite frankly I’m not surprised; every sprite element within the game has been created with the same 16 colour palette that the late 80’s consoles would have been using.
As a penguin, all Axel The Penguin can really do is waddle, and fire what are apparently “bubbles”, however I saw them more as spitballs every time I played. These bubbles can break boxes, and kill enemies, but it isn’t an unlimited supply. Once you run out of bubbles you need to eat sushi or jump into some water to refuel your meter that is shown at the top right of the screen; although this point isn’t made within the game, so really a sign, or a pop up box would have been welcomed to explain this aspect to the player.
As a result to this limited ammo supply, you end up having to choose wisely when you fire, and although the demo doesn’t really make it much of an issue, you’ll find that there are boxes strategically placed, welcoming your ammo with the intention to waste your supply, making the oncoming situation impossible to pass. I feel the final game will have a lot of moments where you would have wanted to conserve. Thankfully, if you do mess it up, hitting R will restart the level without costing a life, but you can’t use it once you’ve died. The game makes sure it makes you suffer.
The music sounds incredibly like it belongs on the SEGA system, it’s chirpy, it’s got a sense of distorted rock to it, and it is incredibly repetitive, which if I’m honest, in a game like this, just doesn’t work. The repetitiveness of the levels means the music just goes on, and on. Ideally back in the days, the games were designed so that the levels could be completed within a decent amount of playtime. You were never meant to spend twenty minutes on a platform in Mario, and you never rage quit because of those loop-de-loops in Sonic, and in turn, you never had to endure the soundtrack for a huge period of time.
The main thing that stands out about Axel the Penguin is it’s 100% harsh, and unforgiving gameplay. Any mistake, you’re back to the start of the level and tears will stream down your face. Every run has to be done with concentration, and the pressure of knowing you’ve gotten further than before ends up making you more aware of your actions. It’s a clever, yet harsh psychological aspect of the game that I hate and I love. Not only that, but I managed to get to the boss with all 3 lives intact, yet when I got killed by the boss 3 times, it was game over. I was back to level 1. It hurts you. It pulls out your heart just when you start to adore its charm.
The full game is noted in it’s description as having three different endings, I’m unsure how those endings will come about, I’d imagine they’d be achieved by collected certain things, like 100% coin collection, no killing enemies etc. Don’t quote me on that though, just pure speculation.
At the moment, the game doesn’t hold any form of power ups, or any real rewards. At the moment, in this build at least, you just run through the levels, with the choice to collect golden coins floating around. These coins can lead you back to the left of the screen, upwards, downwards, and even through teleporters. It seems like there’s going to be a lot of coins.
I won’t recommend Axel The Penguin if you get angry at games easily. ‘Cause that’s what will happen. You will rage quit this game. However, even after rage quitting, you find yourself being drawn back to it, wanting more, wanting to get further, wanting more of that punishment.
You begin to believe in yourself that you can do it. Then the game stops you in your tracks by proving that you can’t. Then you prove it wrong eventually, and the feeling of accomplishment has never felt more rewarding in itself. It’s a good little game that can drive you to spending hours on it, or it can send you insane. It’s either one. No in-between. Keep your eyes on this hardcore, yet true-to-the-classics indie gem.
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