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Wot I Think: McPixel

A Wee Bit Silly

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SOS’s McPixel successfully made its way through the Steam Greenlight process, and even advertised itself on The Pirate Bay. I’ve weed and vomited and pushed and farted and made out with Obamaed my way through every level of this splendid madness, and can tell you wot I think.

While playing serious, “important” games, running a business, and chasing after the naughty, I count it as pure joy that there are the McPixels to play too. This absolutely ludicrous, completely unfair, and utterly daft game has the internal consistency of a Liberal Democrat politician. And I love it.

Here’s the premise: Er. Collections of 20 second minigames each require you to stop a bomb from exploding. Well, I say “a bomb”. It might be a person. Or a dog. You’ve got to stop something from exploding, and you have one or two clicks to do it in. Importantly, objects that can be interacted with aren’t usefully distinguished from those that can’t, and it goes to some exceptional lengths to ensure there’s no internal logic whatsoever. If something similar worked before, you can be certain that this time it won’t this time. So perhaps there’s a burning fuse and a duck sat in a tree. Well, clearly you should just click on the sparks on the fuse and just pick those up. Next time you see a burning fuse, you’d obviously be an idiot to try to pick it up, because the answer blatantly lies in drinking a beer and then pissing on someone.

Displayed in vast, chunky pixels, the animation most immediately reminds me of Digitiser cartoons. The majority of your interactions are kicking people or objects, with again no rhyme nor reason as to what this achieves. Kicking a bomb might be the only way to get it out of the window. Or it might make it explode on the spot. Kicking a person might cause them to fall on top of something useful. Or it might cause your foot to get stuck in their bottom, whereupon you’re then sucked inside them.

Solving a puzzle correctly gets you a white blob, and if you solve three correctly in a row, you get to play a bonus level. Fail at any point and they’re all wiped out. In my first play through of the game’s initial 72 levels (it gets up to 100 once you unlock a final section in each chapter) I achieved reaching a bonus level precisely twice. And both times stared in blank confusion at what I was supposed to be doing. And loved it.

In fact, so spurious and unpredictable are the “correct” “solutions” to each mini-challenge that on replaying the game, I still have absolutely no idea what to do. Any chance of remembering the correct action is lost in the muddle of having tried each three or four times before getting anywhere, and with there being no rationale to why whatever eventually worked, worked, it’s nigh-impossible to remember the right way. Replayability!

Let’s take a particular puzzle as an example. There’s a zookeeper, a tall giraffe, a smaller giraffe, and a hypodermic needle on the ground. So, how do you stop the explosion? “Er, what explosion?” you may well ask. Good question! So maybe I click on the needle to pick it up, and then click it on the taller giraffe. I do that, and the giraffe turns pink with colourful spots, and then the zoo explodes. Try to inject the zookeeper and McPixel will instead just pointlessly kick him. Maybe click directly on the taller giraffe? That makes McPixel tickle him until he vibrates into a frenzy, then explosion. No, obviously the right answer is to inject the smaller giraffe, causing the larger one to bend down, reveal it has a stick of dynamite in its mouth, and the swallow it. This causes the giraffe to balloon out into a mad sack of yellow on the ground, and everyone is saved! People and animals internalising explosions and turning into mad sacks is quite a common end to levels in McPixel. (Of course, if you’d just kicked the smaller giraffe, the taller one would have reacted by lowering its head and not swallowing the dynamite, all killed.)

Sometimes the solution is immediately obvious. There’s a fire on the floor of a train carriage, and a fire extinguisher nearby. So, obviously you pick up the extinguisher and put the fire out, right? No, idiot. That leads to holding the extinguisher over the fire until it explodes. What you’re supposed to do is click on a just-visible trapdoor elsewhere on the floor, revealing a fiery pit below, into which McPixel wees. That puts the fire out, explosion averted.

Let’s do one more. There’s a rooftop. With you is a man in a hat, a TV aerial, a hole in the tiles, and a cow with the stick of dynamite up its bottom. Shoving the aerial in the cow’s arse does cause it to develop a television screen on its side, but doesn’t avert the explosion. Putting the aerial down the hole doesn’t help either. But putting it on the man’s hat does! Lightning strikes him, burning him to a crisp, which for no explicable reason means the cow-bum-based dynamite no longer blows up.

The key to why this works is because getting a level “right” is no more or less fun than getting one “wrong”. It’s the joy of clicking on stuff and seeing what nonsensical thing happens as a result. Sometimes an incorrect solution can lead to an extended animation of increasing ridiculousness, more entertaining that whatever doesn’t cause an explosion. And while preventing an explosions means the level is marked as completed, it’s not really finished until you’ve turned the icon gold, meaning you’ve found every incorrect solution too.

As I go back to replay this as I write, I just got three golds in a row, leading to the ultimate bonus round! A broken-screened mash of many of the levels, overlapping each other in a completely incomprehensible way, rotating like a broken television. I clicked on something recognisable – the zoo’s archway, causing a big brown horse to glide across the screen in two places at once, then zoom in far too close on his face as the words “A HORSE” appeared, before the entire jumbled insanity exploded. I hooted instead of laughed. I don’t think I’ve made that noise before.

It’s £4 on Steam, and that’s a fine price for the silliest fun I’ve had in ages. And I’ve just noticed the Free DLC section which has a bunch more levels. It’s freeing to have all logic removed, to have all fairness abandoned, and just be asked to embrace anarchic idiocy.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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