Having played many point-and-click adventures throughout my childhood, The Neverhood was always a standout for me with its quirky humour and claymation art style. I remember being glued with interest by the oddly-shaped hero, Klayman, and the world he lived in; it was unlike any game I had ever seen. I again hope to revisit those reactions of wonder and bizarreness as the spiritual successor, Armikrog, is finally here. From a successful Kickstarter campaign, the team at Pencil Test have crafted a clay-sculptured adventure that targets fans of the point-and-click genre.
Created by Doug TenNapel; known for his efforts on Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys. Armikrog is a charming adventure game about the odd-looking twosome of Tommynaut the space explorer and his dog-like buddy Beak-Beak. The story follows the pair trying to save their homeworld when their space voyage is suddenly cut short. Finding themselves trapped in a massive fortress on an unknown planet, the duo and must endeavour to make an escape. Sadly, the storyline didn’t offer anything fresh and didn’t engage me, but the cutscenes were worth watching.
The game design clearly adopts a lot of elements from The Neverhood. From its gameplay mechanics to the puzzle designs, while not a carbon copy, shows heavy influence throughout. Each room in the game has an underlying purpose or a puzzle to solve which ties the levels together almost seamlessly. There’s a variety of puzzles; each with different moving parts, but none clever enough to truly surprise me. Worse yet, there were some puzzles where it’s up to chance, forcing you to be random to find a solution. One puzzle, in particular, is where you must hook up fuzzy toys to a musical mobile to stop a crying baby. There was an obvious pattern and an obvious solution… but I was wrong! I had to place them into a random order, and hope it would make the baby happy again. Thought provoking puzzles just seemed to be absent from Armikrog, and it baffles me as to why they’d include clearly unsatisfying challenges.
You’ll also quickly discover this game can be nothing more than a simple, tedious clicking-fest. I mean, that’s all you do is click, click and click. You click to move, click to pick up an object, click on buttons, and, at times, click on something random where something might happen or miraculously appear. The biggest downer is the lack of interactive objects to help guide you; nothing is highlighted and no icons appear to indicate anything when you run your cursor over something of interest. Its a tiresome exercise of ‘what do I do now?’ and ‘where do I go from here?’ Most elements of the game aren’t clear or clean-cut and don’t offer direction on where to go or what puzzles need solving. I had many moments of insanity where I clicked everywhere like crazy man hoping something might happen.
Throughout the game, you’ll pick up items to store in your ‘inventory’… that can’t be accessed because it doesn’t exist according to the game! You have to remember what you’ve stored, click on an object in a room and hope for the best. It made me wish the team had adopted more features and an interface designs from successful adventure games from the past; mostly notably LucasArts games. LucusArts pretty much wrote the book on ‘how to make a perfect point’n’click adventure game.’ I mean, why not implement ideas that players would like to use? It surely wouldn’t be impossible to add an inventory or a highlight feature when the player clicks on something. It’s either intentional or lazy design work, and it’s a real shame either way because the experience simply doesn’t feel complete.
Presentation is by far Armikrog’s strongest point – I love the fact the team chose to use classic sculpting techniques, set design and puppet building. If they went the 3D design route, it would have lost the fashioned textures and unique charm that only traditional clay sculpting can deliver. The stop-motion animation is well-executed with smooth movements and dramatic character performances. It’s like a film come to life, but you’re the director making the actions. The humour is very tongue-in-cheek with witty qualities; especially with the fun chemistry between Tommynaut and Beak Beak. Throughout the game and cutscenes, they interact like a well sculptured comedy act. The soundtrack is by songwriter Terry Scott Taylor; it sets the mood and tone of the game quite well with unpredictable melodies and kooky arrangements.
It’s not one of the best point and click adventure games available right now, but it probably is the most visually unique in appearance and style. Sadly, I just didn’t find it to be a fun game; too often finding myself losing patience as I clicked randomly all over the screen most of the time. The good points that stay with me are the chemistry between Tommynaut and Beak Beak; if it were a TV show, I’d be happy to watch it. The environments and character design are also my kind of kooky style. Its just unfortunate the gameplay, puzzle innovation and a functional interface had to take a backseat. It’s a real shame too; maybe this game would of been better remembered back in the 90s instead.