There aren’t many games released today that could be called zany. One thinks of the adventure games made by Coktel Vision – the Gobliiins series and Woodruffe and the Schnibble of Azimuth, Rare’s Conkers Bad Fur Day, and Doug TenNapel’s The Neverhood, which has a spiritual successor for PS4, thanks to a Kickstarter that successfully delivered a PC version of Armikrog in late 2015. The game was hotly anticipated by adventure game fans eager for a bolt of nostalgia, and the chance to show off what the adventure game genre can offer in the 2010s.
In Armikrog you play as Tommynaut, one of three brothers from the Planet Ixen tasked with finding a new energy source for his home planet, which is low on energy power, threatening the whole population. The only answer is P-tonium, and after his two brothers Vognaut and Numnaut disappear, Tommynaut blasts off to Spiro 5 to collect some of the precious crystals, taking his best friend Beak-Beak with him. As he arrives at Spiro 5 however, an asteroid hits his ship and he loses control, crash-landing on the planet, where he is chased by a creature into a large fortress.
Like its spiritual predecessor The Neverhood, the claymation aesthetic of Armikrog is an impressive lure which masks deficiencies in the gameplay experience that ultimately deny it the title of “a good game.” The difference is that in 1996, The Neverhood could be considered an impressive experiment, a otherworldly adventure with impressive cutscenes and a genuinely hilarious soundtrack. But what was satisfactory 20 years ago is now rather deficient.
Both games suffer from a minimalism that grates. A considerable amount of effort went into developing the characters and building the sets, but populating them with characters and objects to interact with was a step beyond the developers. To be fair, The Neverhood at least offered an explanation as to why the world was so empty, but interaction with the other characters – Willie and Big Robot Bill – were still limited to a number of cutscenes. The main character Klayman did not have a voice, and could not offer any comment on the world he inhabited.
It was heartening therefore, to view the intro video developed for the Armikrog campaign and hear that the main character Tommynaut, not only had a voice, but had a companion Beak Beak, who could also speak. Both characters were portrayed by well known voice actors – Michael J. Nelson as Tommynaut, Rob Paulsen as Beak Beak. Disappointingly, like The Neverhood, interaction is kept to a bare minimum, and the characters rarely speak or interact with each other out of the cutscenes, leaving the player to wander round an eerily quiet world in silence.
Silence brought on also by the fact that the soundtrack, once again composed by Terry Scott Taylor, fades in and out at regular intervals. The songs are just as amusing, but it’s a real shame that there isn’t an opportunity to listen to them in full. This is particularly evident when player has to move Tommynaut from one side of Armikrog to the next. And apart from the improvement in screen resolution, this is the one thing that TenNapel truly enhanced. Unlike Klaymen in The Neverhood, Tommynaut at least walks at a reasonable pace.
Playing through Armikrog shouldn’t take you all that long, particularly if you reference a walkthrough, which might be necessary at some points because the puzzles are obtuse, and there are few hits to help you along the way to a solution. What might hold you up are the inconsistencies in the control system – why do buttons only press down when Beak Beak stands on them and not when Tommynaut does? And lets not mention bugs – that is if they’ve not already been patched by the time this article is published.
The bottom line is that Armikrog feels like the beta version of an unfinished game. Some of the rooms in the titular fortress appear strangely empty. These criticisms will hopefully not take away from the experience, because the game does still hold together, but one does get the feeling Pencil Test Studios ran short of money. Hopefully, this is why the game is so sparse, otherwise, they were guilty of following The Neverhood template a little too closely – faults and strengths both. Mostly, it feels as you aren’t playing Armikrog for the story, but for a series of puzzles.