Back in 1996, a little claymation adventure game by the name of The Neverhood captured a few hearts and became a cult classic among the point-and-click crowd. Although it eventually spawned a sequel in Skullmonkeys, leaving the realm of thought provoking adventure games behind and moving toward the more console friendly platformer may not have been what fans of the original were hoping for.
Recent plans to revive The Neverhood were met with roadblocks, but when the folks at Pencil Test Studios teamed back up with animator Doug TenNapel (Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood), it was like getting the band back together. Not only had they worked together on the cult classic adventure title, but began development on a brand new spiritual successor, dubbed Armikrog.
It’s unfortunate, however, that what came to be is one of the most joyless, forgettable adventure games I’ve experienced in a long while.
Armikrog centers around Tommynaut, a space explorer headed to Spiro 5 in search of the only resource his home planet needs to survive — P-tonium. Accompanied by his wise-cracking dog Beak-Beak, the two crash land on a mysterious tower and must solve a series of uninteresting puzzles before finding a way back home.
For starters, Armikrog has some incredible stop-motion claymation going on, and it deserves a tremendous amount of praise. Bravo to the team involved. Rather than using illustrations or computer generated images, these folks hand crafted each of the game’s environments, puzzles, and characters, out of clay, fur, and other natural materials. The end result is awe-inspiring, but it’s a shame the rest of Armikrog feels so empty.
What begins with an amusing cut-scene, wherein Tommynaut and Beak-Beak work together, communicate, and narrowly escape the jaws of a deadly four-eyed monster, fizzles the moment you’re given control of our unlikely hero. From then on, it’s a never-ending array of poorly controlled slide-tile puzzles (I can’t emphasize just how terrible these segments control on PS4 — using the term cumbersome would be an understatement), block pushing, and brief segments of controlling your colorblind canine in order to navigate uneventful hallways to fetch items ad nauseam.
Most of the puzzles aren’t very enjoyable either, though there were a few standouts that gave me those “a-ha” moments when I finally waded through their vague riddles. One questionable puzzle had me reconstructing a baby’s mobile so that its soothing melody would stop it from crying, but the song played so agonizingly slow that I found myself moaning uncontrollably like Tina from Bob’s Burgers just waiting for it to be over. And I had to solve the exact same puzzle three additional times over the course of Armikrog’s brief three to four hour journey. Another had me fiddling with switches in order to blindly align objects multiple screens away, and let me tell you, running back and forth between them using a point-and-click interface is the opposite of fun.
It’s extremely disappointing that such a short experience is marred by repetitive puzzle solving, especially in a genre that aims to pick the player’s brain in order to keep them guessing. What’s worse is that the puzzles controlled so poorly at times that I’d have given up on Armikrog forever, had it not been for the purpose of this review. And that doesn’t even take in to account the four separate bugs I encountered, all of which required me to shut down my game and reload the last checkpoint. Again, this all occurred in the span of three to four short hours.
If puzzle solving is an adventure game’s yin, then storytelling is its yang. Much like the gameplay itself, however, Armikrog’s story is vapid and forgettable. Throughout the adventure, both characters barely say a word to each other outside of generic attaboys, and most of the plot is exposed through brief cut-scenes spoken in a made up Sims-esque language. It wasn’t until the final moments that these lifeless characters began to flesh out, and by then I was so worn thin from the game’s tedious puzzles and lack of direction that I was just ready for it to be over.
Outside of its absolutely stellar claymation and visual presentation, there’s no reason for me to recommend anyone play this. Armikrog relies too heavily on its aesthetic and sound composition, yet flounders where it really matters most in an adventure game — everywhere else.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PS4 copy of Armikrog that was provided by the game’s PR company, Plan of Attack. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.