Does Armikrog’s claymation keep its form or collapse into mush?
As a child, I was a keen watcher of Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers and James and the Giant Peach, so I instantly fell in love with Armikrog’s stop-motion clay figures. I mean look, just look. The outlandish characters, creatures, and world are breathtakingly charming and whimsically weird, which is to be expected from the creators of Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood games. The same wacky aura permeates every on-screen room and line of dialogue read by Michael John Nelson as Tommynaut and Rob Paulsen as Beak-Beak. The narrative is deceptively simple when compared to its complex tone. We follow an alien explorer and his little dog-like companion after they both crash land on a madcap planet named Spiro 5. The pair takes shelter in a nearby fortress filled with mind-bending puzzles, and its up to you to help them escape.
This point and click adventure attempts to take console players back in time, to a genre that has almost become extinct on the platform. The mid to late 90s saw an influx of this band of adventure gaming, titles I remember fondly: Broken Sword, Discworld, and Grim Fandango. These names hold great nostalgia for me, at the time they felt novel, compelling, almost as though they held some enchanting mystery. However, over the years that mystery seemed to fade, and the genre became extremely rare, despite its continued prevalence on PC.
I am boring you with my reminiscence for one very simple but important reason: This is the way Armikrog made me feel. As soon as Tommynaut sprang his oddly shaped head out of his downed spaceship, I had flashes of those past games, a memory punch that almost knocked me out cold. If you grew up playing these classic titles, or have ever been a fan of them, then I am sure you will share my merry trip down memory lane. This feeling of nostalgia both aids and hinders Armikorog in what it attempts to achieve.
This game is a re-release of last year’s PC version, arriving in 2015 with a whole lot of bugs and glitches. Thankfully for console players, these issues have nearly all been taken care of. Now when switching between Tommynaut and Beak-Beak the cursor changes color, making it easier to determine who you are in control of. Despite all the fixes, some problems still occasionally arise. Upon completion of a puzzle or when awkwardly situated, sometimes the controls become a bit finicky. For example, I clicked on a doorway repeatedly, yet Tommynaut would not respond to my command and leave the room. This can often make for a fiddly experience, and its difficult to determine what exactly is clickable and what is simply scenery.
Point and click aficionados will find another big drawback with my next gripe: the inventory system. It’s not that this system is cumbersome to cycle through or that you can only hold a fixed number of items, no. The problem is actually rather simple—there is no inventory system. You read it right. Some may like the more simplistic approach of picking up an item before clicking on the appropriate door, machine, or puzzle to use it. However, in my opinion, it actually makes things harder, seeing as you have to remember what you have scavenged from the environments. Talking of remembering, when playing Armikrog you will either need to have a very good memory or have your smartphone handy. A prerequisite to solving some of the game’s puzzles is finding fragments of the answers with which to decipher the solution. In the old days one would need a pen and paper handy, but luckily in 2016 a great many of us have access to cameras that produce instant photos. This old-school method can either draw players in, making it a more immersive experience or alienate them, causing gamers to feel like it’s just too much work to complete a puzzle.
We have talked about quite a few of the weaknesses, now let’s get onto the strong points. The music is definitely one. A host of catchy tunes will escort you on your brain-stumping journey, making resolving a hard query a harmonic treat. The characters themselves are perhaps the best feature. Even though they may be lifeless lumps of clay, they feel so charismatic and vigorous. I can feel the love that went into making their kooky personalities, especially Beak-Beak. This zany K9 has the ability to venture off on his own to reach places and items Tommynaut can’t. On these escapades, the screen transforms into a murky black and white world since this little fellow is colorblind. This alone makes him distinctive, yet it goes even further still. To retrieve an item Beak-Beak consumes it and then regurgitates it upon returning to his comrade.
Armikrog is quite possibly the most attractive game I ever played, akin to a demented Wallace and Gromit. Its goofy characters generate an exceptionally unique enterprise rich in personality. However, these good looks, charismatic voice cast, and ear-pleasing score can’t overcome the lack of features one would expect from the genre, this combined with a short running time, bugs, dull narrative, and recycled puzzles all dampen what could have been a superb return to a brand of games that is begging for a renaissance. Hardcore adventure game fans will still enjoy themselves here, but poor players dipping their toes into this genre for first time will be left scratching their heads, not from the puzzles, but due to the lack of fun found herein.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Wii U, Mac OS; Publisher & Developer: Pencil Test Studios,Versus Evil; Players: 1; Released: August 23, 2016; ESRB: E for Everyone +10 ; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Armikrog given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.