Armikrog is the latest release from Doug TenNapel, creator of Earthworm Jim, and Pencil Test Studios. It has been coined as The Neverhood’s ‘spiritual successor’ and you can see the resemblance instantly. Many of the original developers from The Neverhood have come together to create Armikrog, a comedic point-and-click adventure game.
What started as a Kickstarter project originally intended for Mac, PC and Linux release only, due to the sheer popularity of Armikrog, Pencil Test Studios were able to reach their stretch goal of releasing to the Xbox One as well.
Armikrog tells the story of Tommynaut and his colour-blind canine companion Beak-Beak as you explore Spiro 5 in search of P-tonium to save Tommynaut’s home planet – Ixen. A grand adventure awaits, however, their spaceship malfunctions and you plummet onto the surface of Spiro 5. Not knowing what dangers await them, they decide to take refuge in a nearby fortress, a fortress called Armikrog, which the game is named after.
Armikrog’s point and click gameplay is fun for a short while however, some of the puzzles are not well optimised for play with Xbox One controllers. Trying to spin a wheel via clicking and dragging with analogue sticks is a task that is more difficult than it sounds. I found that turning off “Smart Cursor” during some of the puzzles made it a lot easier to manage; but still, I was often left frustrated by the lack of any real effort to make it a little easier for console players. Using the triggers to rotate a wheel, for example, could’ve been so much simpler and just would’ve given a more polished feel to the console version of the game overall.
Another example of poor optimisation for console play is the game’s vehicular system. Cable car-esque vehicles called Zipkickers are controlled by pointing and clicking. Sounds obvious when you consider it is a point-and-click game after all, but it would’ve been a more pleasurable experience to control the Zipkickers by simply choosing the paths to take with the analogue sticks.
The story of Armikrog is soon forgotten and the characters feel completely detached from the apocalyptic narrative told through the medium of power ballad at the beginning of the game. Our protagonists don’t offer any of their own thoughts on the matter, let alone hints or remarks at objects in the room that stand out.
Humour and dialogue in games such as Armikrog should go hand in hand, and during the cutscenes they do. The problem is that there simply is not enough character development or dialogue between the two main characters, who are supposed to be best friends and companions. Sure, it’s funny when they do interact, but those moments are few and far between. The dialogue could have been brilliantly witty and plentiful, however most of the time our protagonists are wandering around in silence.
Armikrog is a fairly unforgiving game. If you forget to note something down or you miss a clue you’ll be left frustrated, backtracking to pick out the things that you’ve missed and trying to piece them together. Travelling around Armikrog can be a fairly arduous task, however, the quirkiness of the game makes it quite good fun – at least until the novelty of using an octopus’ tentacle as an elevator wears off.
Several of the games puzzles seem to be an exercise in artificially increasing the length of the game. For example, towards the end of the game you are forced to go through every single tower in the game to decrypt a code that’s hidden in messages that you might not even be looking for.
The game reuses frustrating lullaby puzzles which frankly aren’t fun to play, and the crying baby is a perfect analogy for these stages of the game – I felt like crying too. Adding to the torment, the solution each and every time you are forced to solve this puzzle is exactly the same. Unlike all of the other puzzles in the game, this puzzle gives no instant gratification; instead you’ll have to continue listening to the baby’s bawling and the weird lullaby for a full cycle before knowing that you’ve done it correctly.
Other than the lullaby fiasco, the puzzles in Armikrog are fairly varied, with the exception of a Tower of Hanoi type puzzle that crops up every time you wish to enter a new tower. As mentioned before, the game is unforgiving, however, with trial and error the majority of the puzzles aren’t particularly taxing, rather they just require some close attention.
Using Beak-Beak’s flight ability was a highlight. There’s nothing quite like flying a blind alien dog around in the search for levers to swallow and later regurgitate at the feet of your master, is there?
Armikrog has an unmistakable art style and is visually appealing no matter where you go. Each and every object in the game is hand sculpted from clay. It truly is a labour of love and is a far cry away from the typical games that try and recreate nostalgia through the use of pixelated, neon universes and heavily synthesised soundtracks.
The game’s animation is all stop-motion, something that you’d expect from Doug TenNapel, Ed Schofield, and Mike Dietz. The sheer amount of work put into animating a single cutscene is impressive. Each and every scene has unique, striking visuals. The contrast between Armikrog’s art style, and the graphics and visuals of most AAA games released on Xbox One today, means that Armikrog’s art style feels truly alien.
That’s not to say that the animation on this game is not sleek, make no mistake: TenNapel, Schofield, and Dietz are the masters of creating smooth visuals with stop-motion animation. The sculptures created in-game still show the fingerprints of the modellers that have made them, and each object seems to reflect light in a different way. It’s both polished, and unpolished at the same time, creating a vibrant, weird, and wonderful world to be in. The visuals aren’t the only wonderful part of this game, as your ears are treated just as well as your eyes are…
The game opens with a powerful ballad introducing the main characters, their story, and their plight. I couldn’t help but smile when I first started the game and was greeted with the rocky electric-synth Armikrog theme that reminded me somewhat of Futurama’s theme song.
The soundtrack played in the background while you are taking control of Tommynaut and Beak-Beak is equally impressive. The audio takes a back seat, allowing you to fully embrace the art style and get to grips with the puzzles facing you. Terry Scott Taylor composed the soundtrack, and it’s fair to say that it’s a brilliant one. It is a reminder of the story where no other reminders are given – on this planet, you are the alien, although everything is alien.
The caveat to the brilliant soundtrack is that it sometimes cuts out at random intervals – leaving the fortress seemingly barren and uninteresting. The visuals, as I’ve mentioned, are fantastic, but when you’re walking around a room in silence, it takes away the wonder that a point-and-click adventure game should have – each new room has secrets to discover and the music should be reflective of that at all times. Each tower of the massive fortress has a different soundtrack to it, adding to the character of each location in game, giving each tower a unique identity.
All in all, for what it is – a point-and-click adventure game – Armikrog isn’t half bad. But I can’t help feeling that it could’ve been much better. More dialogue between characters, a couple of hints here and there for struggling players, and add in some console optimisation, and Pencil Test Studios could’ve had a brilliant game.
The art style of Armikrog isn’t often seen at all in any form of media nowadays, and it’s a nostalgia trip to take control of a plasticine hero in a plasticine world. The music is also great and complements the game’s quirky nature.
Fans of The Neverhood will absolutely adore Armikrog, as will fans of point-and-click games. It is a visual masterpiece and the soundtrack is good enough to listen to standalone. However, for the mass market I feel that Armikrog will be too obscure and unforgiving to garner any serious attention.
So, is it more Never-should? I don’t think so. I wasn’t joking when I said that Armikrog is a labour of love. This game was made specifically with the Neverhood fans in mind, and it’s a fitting ‘spiritual successor’. While I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of Armikrog – seriously, those lullaby puzzles – actually solving the puzzles gave me a lot of satisfaction, like any good game should. The puzzles had variety for the most part. It just doesn’t feel like a console game, it felt like I was running a PC emulator on my Xbox One.