Developed by Pencil Test Studios, the spiritual successor to the highly revered Neverhood has finally released after a long wait, punctuated with several delays. Puzzle game Armikrog is now available to buy on the Steam store – and unfortunately it has been received with very mixed feelings.
Critically, a large number of people are reporting lots of bugs in the game; complaining that the overall presentation feels unfinished, and some people are even alleging game-breaking glitches are preventing them to finish the game. It’s all a bit of a shame really. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a long wait, I (along with thousands of others) had high hopes for Armikrog, and so coming across this blanket of negativity was disheartening.
It’s a good job that I didn’t heed the multiple warnings of “don’t play this game” then, because for me Armikrog was nothing but delightful to play.
Armikrog tells the story of galactic explorer Tommynaut and his trusty dog-like companion Beak-Beak. In a spate of bad luck, Tommynaut’s ship crashes on a mysterious planet and the pair find themselves trapped in a mysterious place called Armikrog. It’s your job to help Tommy and Beaky escape and find their way back home.
First off, the art style is simply sublime. The game is entirely clay-modelled stop-motion animation, and from the backdrops to the characters, everything is incredibly detailed and a joy to watch. Each character is meticulously animated down to facial features and expressions, and the painstaking work that has clearly gone into creating the intriguing and foreign lands of Armikrog is plain to see; it truly is a work of art that should be celebrated.
One of the major complaints about the game is its short running time. If you know what you’re doing, you can complete Armikrog in under three hours. It’s a shame it’s such a short experience; as enjoyable as it is, we could happily spend thrice that amount of time with Tommynaut and Beak-Beak exploring strange rooms and cracking difficult puzzles, but the first thing to know about stop motion animation is that it takes a hell of a lot of time to create. Even one minute of footage can require hundreds, if not thousands, of different stills – and in the instance of claymation, it means each one of those millisecond frames needs to be manually modelled with the utmost precision. Once you take into consideration the sheer amount of time and consideration that has gone into the game’s visuals alone, the three hour running time actually seems rather impressive. To give it some context: a 90-minute Wallace and Gromit film, one of the most famous examples of claymation, took five years to make.
Back to the game itself. The gameplay is very much your bog-standard classic point and click, but is very basic in its mechanics. There are no text prompts on screen, Tommynaut doesn’t have an inventory of items for you to peruse and you’re given minimal hints. It is very easy to miss something or not be quite sure what you can interact with, which can be quite frustrating. That said, the areas that you can explore at any one time are fairly small, so if you do get stuck and it comes down to trial and error, there are limited options. Some kind of visual indication of interactive areas would have been helpful, but the starkness means that the incredible visuals of the game always remain the key focus.
The puzzles are a mixed bag. From the minute you’re thrown into the game, you’re expected to know what to do, so it takes a bit of clicking around, wondering “what the hell” until you figure out what you can interact with. After the first room is out of the way, you’ll likely sail through the game a bit smoother as there are plenty of recurring elements that you’ll be familiar with. I admit that I had to resort to an online walkthrough a couple of times for some of the puzzles, but for the most part they are fairly straightforward as long as you pay attention to your surroundings. It feels very much old-school at times; there’s something incredibly gratifying about playing a puzzle game that requires you to make use of good old pen and paper. It makes hearing the twinkly sound effect of a successful solution feel that bit more rewarding.
Speaking of sound effects, the audio in the game is excellent. The original soundtrack is perfectly orchestrated, with tracks that change depending on the environment and the current on-screen action. The characters are very well-voiced too. The script is very well written with plenty of humour thrown in, and there’s some big talent on board too – most notably Bill Hader from Napoleon Dynamite fame. It’s a shame that there isn’t more dialogue in the game. There are a few wondrous cutscenes that are fully voiced, and Tommynaut or Beak-Beak occasionally make some comments during gameplay, but for the most part, they’re pretty silent. What they do say is very witty, but it just leaves you wanting more.
Oh, and it has its own theme song too. Any game that has a theme that manages to get itself lodged in your brain for days afterwards is surely doing something right.
Whilst Armikrog may be a short experience, and it may not be the most realised or polished game ever made – for example, the menus are pretty sparse and your in-game cursor is just the standard system cursor – these things don’t detract from the overall experience of the game. Visually, it’s a feat of artistic excellence, and for fans of point and click, it offers a pure and challenging experience with puzzles that will take you back to the heyday of the genre. It’s very difficult not to be charmed by Armikrog. It’s heartwarming, glorious and funny, and it’ll leave you desperate for more.