There's a common adage that video games and comedy just don't mix, but I don't think it's as straightforward as that. In terms of traditional comedy, the medium fails simply because it doesn't prioritize writing and dialogue in the same way that TV and movies do. However, the unique advantage of interactive entertainment is that it can surprise the player in so many ways beyond wordplay. This is the best kind of video game comedy, the kind where the player pulls off their own gags and then can't believe the results. For a perfect example of how this works, one only needs to load up McPixel 3, a long-awaited return for an indie cult classic that brings the laughs with the best of them.
For those who weren't playing indie games on Steam a decade ago, McPixel is a WarioWare-esque puzzle game starring a pixelated superspy that always gets the job done. Inspired by Will Forte's MacGruber character, the entire game is an over-the-top love letter to hilarious out-of-the-box puzzle solving. You must guide McPixel via point-and-click suggestions towards items that will get him out of a jam before a thirty-second timer expires. Trying to logic out these scenarios is a fool's errand that will often lead to the funniest endings, but finding a way for McPixel to escape unharmed is your ultimate goal.
For example, grabbing a parachute while jumping out of an airplane seems sensible, but sensible is rarely the way to go. You might just need a shovel or a human corpse on your way down. Each screen has a multitude of item combinations to try out, and McPixel 3 encourages exploration by tallying up every ending players find as they go. It also keeps the variety up by batching several puzzles together into a single level and switching between them after a failure. You'll run through five or six different backgrounds before you see a repeat, which adds an important hint of frantic energy to the proceedings.
In the McPixel 3 demo provided to press and purveyors of Steam's latest Next Fest, there is one sequence of levels available, including one extended boss level and one hidden scenario that's even more random than the rest of the experience. There are also some minigames waiting to be discovered, but these are often the least exciting part of the game. It's novel to see the lead character jump into a vehicle unexpectedly, but wrestling with the simplistic controls is a pain compared to the simple joys of watching McPixel kick every character he meets where the sun doesn't shine.
However, this isn't to say that McPixel 3 is a retread. In addition to notifying players of how many endings they have yet to find, there are technical upgrades that bring McPixel a hair's length closer to the next generation. Stages regularly have more than one room, and solutions to gags seem much more complex than those found throughout the 2012 original. In addition, it might just be my imagination, but the trademark hyper pixelated graphics of the series do seem somewhat smoother than before. McPixel 3 isn't going to wow anyone at Digital Foundry, but it does feel more like a fully-featured experience this time around.
While some things have changed since 2012's original, just having a new batch of McPixel levels after all this time is cause for celebration. McPixel 3 retains the chaotic sense of humor that charmed fans of the original and anyone who enjoys bending gaming conventions into a pretzel and cooking them in an air fryer. The short half-hour available now only served to whet my appetite, and I'll definitely be at the front of the line when the full game emerges from the mind of developer Sos Sosowski later this year.
TechRaptor previewed McPixel 3 on PC as a part of Steam Next Fest with a code provided by the publisher. A public demo is available on the game's Steam store page until Febuary 28.