Don’t be fooled by the duck. It might be cute, yellow and fluffy on the cover art for Alexio, but the game is nothing of the sort. This is a mean, spiky little platformer and the duck is just a distraction.
Alexio starts with an incomprehensible warning about how it handles difficulty. What it’s trying to say, but fails to really make clear, is that Alexio handles failure in a way that might piss you off. It’s one-hit-kills in Alexio, with checkpoints spread out about the level, and ten lives which, once exhausted, will send you back to the start of the level, losing all your checkpointed progress.
It also mentions that, in an ultra-old-school-stylee, there is a password system. If you can’t make it through the levels, it encourages you to randomly come up with words to see what happens. It’s more viable than you’d think, as there are only seven or eight letters that the words pull from. Here’s a headstart for you: DUDU, DUCK and PASS get you some things. We’ll be honest, the return to passwords was probably the cutest part of Alexio.
None of this slightly anachronistic approach to failure and difficulty would be a problem if Alexio was any good but, alas, it very much isn’t. More often than not, failure isn’t your fault, and it doom-spirals Alexio into frustration.
Problem #1 is that the enemies in this simple platformer hide. They hide by being camouflaged with their environment, for one. Grass-green enemies hide in grass-green grass, and it’s impossible to spot them before they’ve killed you. They also hide behind environment too, as Alexio has a nasty habit of putting things in the foreground so that enemies can peekaboo. And finally, enemies literally hide, as they spring up from underground. Their projectiles follow all of the above rules. It’s just too difficult finding your opponents.
Problem #2 is that they cheat. They fire from offscreen before you’ve even registered that they are there. Make a jump over to a platform and you will be met mid-leap by a bullet to the face. Remember that this is – mostly – one-hit deaths, so all of these issues magnify.
Problem #3 is that there’s no consistency to how the enemies behave. You can bottom-bounce some enemies but not others. Sometimes it makes sense: a hedgehog or shark probably isn’t going to be receptive a butt to the face. But other times it’s into ‘roll a dice’ territory. A bug can’t be bottom bounced, but a frog can. Why? A zoologist would probably shrug their shoulders. Bottom bounce something that can’t be bottom bounced and you die, of course.
Let’s rattle through Problems #4, #5 and #6. New enemies will often have an annoying and unpredictable ruleset, like killing them causes a smaller – and faster – enemy to pop out, which will instakill you. Controls aren’t fast enough, so ducking (yes, your duck can duck) isn’t instantaneous, leaving you to faceplant a bullet. And you’re often presented with situations that are near-impossible, with too many enemies to viably get past.
There’s more, but you get the point. The overriding problem with Alexio is that it’s a mess. It’s a scattershot series of problems that largely ignores modern design principles. It would be fine or perhaps endearing if the difficulty was dialled down to match it, but instead it is ramped up. The result is a game that is incredibly hard to love.
If we were scrambling around for positives, it would be the power-ups, its shop, and the passwords. The power-ups are littered throughout the levels of Alexio, and they are extremely poorly described. Some textless posters try to describe what they do, but fumble it. But these power-ups give you shields, guns and double jumps, and they at least add a smidgeon of variety. A shop also appears at the end of the level with some transformative benefits, but it’s just a slog to get there. And we’ve already tried to sell the password system, which has a fun Game Genie-approach to bypassing its own levels.
Oh, and Alexio is on a quest for a monobrow. Ha! It gets some credit for that. But that goodwill gets used up pretty quickly as you die ten times over and then restart each of its few levels.
There’s nothing wrong with a deeply difficult platformer. But they have to be fair, and the controls have to be well-oiled. Alexio isn’t even close to nailing either, and the result is about as unsatisfying as a precision platformer can get. Don’t be tempted by the cute duck on the marketing: this one is less fair and more fowl.
You can buy Alexio from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S