Version tested: Mac
In the 19th century, right, you'd go out to harpoon a whale, but the whale wouldn't necessarily die. Not straight away, at least. It would have ideas of its own, see, and it's surprisingly easy to prosecute your own ideas when you're a whale.
So the whale would accept the harpoon - no choice there - but then you were its prisoner: it was free to go racing across the frothing seas, bouncing you around helplessly in its wake. The energy! This was called the Nantucket sleigh-ride, because it was, well, a bit like a sleigh-ride, and because chances were good that if you'd just harpooned a whale, you probably came from Nantucket. The whole thing sort of reminds me of McPixel.
Or maybe McPixel's more like a stand-up comedy show, actually. One of the mad, hectic, breathless ones. Not all the jokes work and not all the connections make perfect sense, but that's the idea: it's about the force of the thing, the speed of the thing, the inventiveness, the haphazardness, the fact that there's no time to pause and reflect.
Whatever. McPixel's only vaguely like a video game, anyhow, even though it puts up quite a front. Its structure is built of puzzles, and its puzzles are divided into rounds and then into chapters. Each puzzle lasts for 20 seconds, and if you get it wrong, you're on to the next one; you circle back through the current round until you've completed the entire selection.
The puzzles are point-and-click challenges, in essence, stripped down to a few clicks, with each new offering putting you in a bizarre situation with some kind of bomb involved. Your job, pretty much always, is to stop the bomb from exploding. Or perhaps just to find out how many gag endings you can wring from each small selection of in-game objects and characters. Click him, click her, use that with that, use that with him. Boom.
The scenarios are something else: you're hanging out with Homer Simpson and his flaming door mat. You're hanging out with Batman on top of a lighthouse. You're hanging out inside a leviathan with Pinocchio, an old duffer, and a pepper shaker. You're hanging out at a truck stop with a fuse rigged to the gas pump. Regardless of your surroundings, interactions with other characters are often limited to a knee in the nuts - but when an object's involved, there's plenty of bodily violation to enjoy, too. Hand grenades and dynamite are stuffed in various orifices, poison gas is swallowed, men are made to leap on land mines.
This kind of simple, comprehensible bomb disposal solution generally represents the game at its most sensible. Beyond that, McPixel gets really bizarre, with challenges that you can only solve by bloody-minded experimentation. That's because the logic that powers them isn't particularly logical. What's the best way to defuse some explosives when you're stuck on a window-cleaning gantry with a large spider for company? Chances are you don't know off hand: you're going to have to play with the variables and see what happens.
This kind of mix-and-match set-up should probably be a disaster for an adventure game, but McPixel's only pretending to be an adventure game in the first place. In actuality, it's a series of jokey possibility spaces: you mess around with props and cast members and try to root out all the surprises the designer has hidden for you. If you get them all, incidentally, you'll steadily unlock extra content: a level editor, a weird sort of chat-room thingy, a final cinematic sequence and a rhythm mini-game. Not bad.
Approach the game as a weird strain of performance art, then - albeit a lightly interactive one - and you're going to have a pretty good time in this crude, primitively rendered 8-bit paradise. McPixel is zippy, zany, and often quite funny with it. On top of that, it's just plain hard not to enjoy something that is clearly the end product of so much enthusiastic tinkering - tinkering that reaches beyond the game itself and out into the purchasing process, in fact, where you can earn a discount on the overall price by submitting fan-art.
It's not difficult to imagine someone who's played McPixel being moved to create fan-art, really. I might do some myself, come to think of it. Just after I've covered this bomb with ketchup and fed it to an alien, mind. I just want to see what happens.
7 / 10