Armikrog is a new point-and-click adventure from Pencil Test Studios, a game developer / animation studio with ties to Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood. In the game, you control a… well, a man-like creature of some sort named Tommynaut along with his dog-like sidekick Beak-Beak. Your planet is dying and you need to find P-tonium for it, but shortly into your search your spaceship crash lands on a planet, and soon enough you find yourself in a strange fortress called Armikrog, where you have to solve several puzzles to escape.
The interface for Armikrog is very basic, even minimalistic. Everything is controlled with left mouse clicks. The world is presented through a series of scenes, and you click where you want Tommynaut to move, and you click where you want him to do something. The interface doesn’t show you where the hotpots are for each scene — even if you hover the mouse over them — and that can make life confusing, because Tommynaut reacts the same way to a hotspot where he can’t do anything yet and something that isn’t actually a hotspot. The interface is also missing features like an inventory screen to show you what Tommynaut is carrying (you just have to remember) and double-click exits so you can instantly move to the next scene (which means you get to watch Tommynaut walk a lot).
Worse, there is no manual or tutorial for the game, and you’re just given a short musical number to learn who everybody is. That means you just get dumped into the game without any hints about how to play, and given the alien nature of the world and the lack of interface help, this is a recipe for confusion and frustration. As an example, if you click on Beak-Beak, then Tommynaut stands in place and you start moving Beak-Beak around. You need to do this in a few places so the pair can work together, but I only discovered it belatedly after I got stuck on a puzzle and started clicking on everything hoping for some — really, any — sort of response. Being able to change who you’re controlling is something the interface should make clear.
The puzzles in the game aren’t great, but at least they have some variety to how they work. Some of the puzzles involve you finding inventory objects (usually levers so you can open doors), others task you with sliding tiles or rotating cylinders in the right way, and still others require you to figure out a code of some sort. The main problem with the puzzles is repetition. There’s an audio puzzle involving a crying baby and a mobile that you have to solve three times, there are a handful of similar sliding tile puzzles that you have to solve to open doors, and Tommynaut spends an endless amount of time puttering around in an electric car, where you have to rotate tracks to give him access to new areas. Armikrog is a pretty short adventure (most people seem to complete it in about 5 hours), so it’s disappointing that Pencil Test Studios wasn’t able to come up with more unique puzzles.
Since Pencil Test Studios is more about animation than games, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Armikrog at least looks good. The game uses claymation for all of its action, and just like the Aardman productions of the same sort (such as Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep), the focus is on humor and whimsy rather than serious drama. Unfortunately, Pencil Test wasn’t able to infuse any of its characters or locations with life, and so while there is a lot of appeal to the strange creatures and colorful locations you encounter, the action is DOA. I didn’t find myself caring anything about Tommynaut or his troubles, and it was only when I read up on the game after completing it that I discovered that Beak-Beak is supposed to be blind. How bad is the writing for a game (or lack thereof) when something like that isn’t obvious?
And so, overall, I didn’t enjoy Armikrog very much. It’s more confusing and frustrating than fun, and since there’s almost no dialogue or story, there isn’t anybody to root for (or against) or care about. As a result, the game was a fairly boring slog through repetitive puzzles, and I was actually happy that it was so short. That allowed me to put it away more quickly. Armikrog has some appeal because of its animation style and alien landscapes, and maybe there’s something here for fans of Earthworm Jim or The Neverhood (both unplayed by me), but I’m guessing for most people Armikrog is a game to skip, even if its price comes way down.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Versus Evil
This review is based on a digital copy of Armikrog for the PC provided by Versus Evil.