From the moment I first saw Armikrog my expectations were incredibly high. Can you blame me? The game was designed by the creator of Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood, and even came with the same wonderful claymation aesthetic. Hell, as I started playing the game I was blown away immediately thanks to the incredible theme song. Whilst the game looks the part and is certainly laced with oddities though, the gameplay never managed to live up to my expectations.
Armikrog casts you as the duo of Tommynaut and his canine-like companion Beak-Beak, who crash land on a strange planet whilst out searching for supplies. Once landed, they’re pursued by a chaotic beast who wants to… well… eat them. They manage to escape, but only into a strange building that’s full of oddities, puzzles and the beginning of their strange adventure.
I must credit the developers for the game’s opening as it had me really excited for what the world was going to bring, though unfortunately the tale never really developed much further outside of the intro. I had hopes of a banter-filled adventure for Tommynaut and Beak-Beak, but there’s barely any real interaction between the pair. They’ll acknowledge certain things, sure, but it never really draws you into their personalities or the history they’ve obviously shared together. It’s a shame, especially since the zany world meant that the possibilities for them are endless – Armikrog just never seems to embrace its zany side and instead leaves things feeling a little flat.
The game plays in the style of a point and click adventure, with the player moving a cursor across the environment and clicking to either move around or interact with the environment. The big difference between this and other point and click adventures is that you’re able to switch between both Tommynaut and Beak-Beak on the fly, each character being able to interact with specific objects in different ways. It’s an interesting mechanic and it’ll make you explore each area of the environment a little more carefully – whilst it’s obvious that Beak-Beak can crawl through small passageways and that Tommynaut can pull levers, sometimes it isn’t always as obvious who can necessarily interact with what. I liked it though and it was cool to make them both work together to solve a puzzle, even if I was often simply resorting to moving the cursor over random objects and hoping for a sign of interactivity at…
Whilst the game does feature some neat puzzles, sometimes they were a little too vague. It felt like the developers tried to be clever and imaginative by trying to make them live up to the bizarre world they inhabit, but rather than feeling charmingly zany like the game’s world they instead felt oddly obscure. Some puzzles were just plain boring too – I didn’t really enjoy lining up boxes together to copy a pattern, nor did I enjoy moving a giant furry creature to open a door.
When the puzzles did require a bit more of a thought process, I often found myself resorting to trying every possible solution until it worked. Whilst this could be a credit to the game’s puzzle design and my lack of puzzling flair, sometimes I found that the aforementioned obscurity of the enigmas left me scratching my head a little too often to really enjoy. It was satisfying when I solved something through pure brain work though, even if it didn’t happen too often – in fairness though, maybe I’m to blame here and not the obscure nature of the game…
One thing that helped out with the puzzling was the accessible nature of the game. Rather than having a full blown inventory to explore and try to use against objects in the environment á la every other point and click adventure out there, Armikrog will automatically use required items with objects just by clicking them. It makes the game easier, especially on the mouse-restricted consoles, but it can streamline the process a little too much. It’ll be appreciated by some (myself included), but puzzling point and click enthusiasts may be put off a little by the simple nature of it all.
Whilst the puzzles didn’t always pack a punch, the aesthetic style and world of Armikrog always looked utterly fantastic. I’ve been a fan of the claymation style in all forms of media, and it’s used superbly here.
There’s a lot of creativity on show with the way the world looks – no matter where you are in the game, there’s always something incredibly bizarre to look at. The character design is great too and it was always interesting to see who might show up next. Some lacked any real context (take the Ants who’ve took on the form of Presidents for example) but I found the randomness actually added to the zany charm of the game. I never got bored exploring the world – it felt like a rare treat, especially since you don’t really see that many claymation games getting released.
A lot of the game’s cutscenes were hand drawn rather than made of clay, something I found frustrating given that I’m a big fan of the clay world. It’s not that they’re bad by any means, I just want clay! They were narrated in a baffling language that you can’t understand early in the game, but eventually get the opportunity to later on. My only problem with this was that I didn’t end up feeling invested enough in the story and its characters to worry about not understanding what was going on – it didn’t have the same allure of the Al-Bhed alphabet from Final Fantasy X for example, and not always fully understanding what was going on ended up being something I was simply willing to accept.
The sound design of the game was a little disappointing, especially given that the game set the bar incredibly high with the amazing opening theme song. Most of the time there was simply ambient noise, and sure, that can work well in games, but something as bizarre as Armikrog would’ve benefitted from having tunes that lived up to the crazy world it takes place in.
The voice talent is decent, though I found the quality to be a little lacking – it often sounded like characters were speaking in a huge, empty room. I noticed the voice acting would randomly cut out on a couple of occasions, though it didn’t happen often enough to consider it too much of a pain.
Armikrog starts with a bang, though the roughly five hour adventure slowly whimpers away with its lack of creativity – from a gameplay perspective anyway. The world is fascinating and wonderful to look at, but the puzzling often either felt boring or a little too obscure to fully enjoy.
Whilst Armikrog is certainly not a bad game by any means, I never felt fully engaged in what was going on. Fans of the creator’s previous works may be intrigued to give it a try, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t live up to your expectations.
Developer: Pencil Test Studios
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release Date: 23/08/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux