There are a number of iconic adventure games that spring to mind when reflecting on genre’s heyday, from brilliant LucasArts titles to the numerous Quest games churned out by the Sierra game factory. Hidden amongst all of these was a little-known but adored game called The Neverhood.
A beautifully hand-animated claymation adventure, it was less complex than its contemporaries, but had more wit, charm, and personality than most. Now, the core Neverhood team is back with a spiritual successor, Armikrog – another hand-crafted adventure hoping to recapture the magic of its beloved predecessor.
The first thing you will notice when you load Armikrog is its stunningly unique aesthetic. Completely sculpted in clay and hand-animated, it’s beautiful to see in motion. The skill and artistry on display here is nothing less than awe-inspiring. Every scene is lush, detailed, and filled with personality. The effort that’s been put into making Armikrog the best-looking game possible is obvious.
The second thing you will notice when you load Armikrog is some horribly mixed audio, complete with hollow, echoing voices that have not been levelled or equalised. Sadly, this lack of polish is found throughout the three or so hours it takes to complete the game, and every misstep leaves an ugly boot print that all but destroys the fantastic work created by the talented artists, animators, and actors.
Armikrog sees you playing as Tommynaut, an astronaut of sorts tasked with securing a supply of the element P-tonium in order to save his dying planet. Accompanied by Beak-Beak, a blind, shape-shifting talking dog thing, Tommy crashes on a hostile world, and soon finds himself in the titular fortress.
There really is not any more to the story than that, which for a narrative-driven genre seems utterly bizarre. It seems that in focussing on the game’s presentation, the dev team was forgot to create an entertaining adventure game.
In fact, it’s fair to say that as an adventure game, Armikrog is an abject failure: there is not a single gameplay element that has been well executed. There isn’t even a custom mouse pointer – the pointer in the game is the default system cursor.
It’s jarring seeing it moving over the stunning art beneath, but the issue is not purely one of aesthetics: the cursor doesn’t respond to the game world in any way, which reduces the entire game to a game ‘click and hope’. There’s no indication that anything is interactive at all.
This leads to the second issue, which is the absence of a viewable inventory. Picking up an item will instantly put it in your stash, but unlike other adventure games, it is from that moment onwards hidden from your view. Items are simply automatically used when you click on the game element that requires them.
This affects the game in two fundamental ways. First, it forces a reduction the complexity and variety of the puzzles. Second, it reduces the entire game to a pixel-clicking chore. And that’s the crux of the issue with Armikrog: it has brought back the absolute worst aspects of the genre, and somehow made them worse by omitting basic functionality.
As a result, we’re left with a shallow game filled with inane and simplistic puzzles, some of which are even repeated! For a game that clocks in at little over three hours long, that is unforgiveable. Switching control between Tommynaut and Beak-Beak does provide some variety in play, but in most cases only cements just how shallow the game elements really are.
Armikrog is beautiful. It is also very funny in places. Both Michael J. Nelson as Tommynaut and the always-amazing Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs) as Beak-Beak nail every line and provide not only brilliant comic moments, but the only entertainment in the game. But in every other sense, Amikrog is a tedious clickfest. It has style literally moulded into every scene, but not even a metric ton of hand sculptured clay can give it any substance.