Armikrog. Not a name you’d hear at a Rotary Club meeting, nor a word whispered in a debutante’s boudoir. It’s a name that scrapes the bottom of your shoe like clay caked on your boots after a bender in the Badlands. It’s the name of a point-and-click adventure game, but that’s like calling a rattlesnake a “garden hose.”
This isn’t your dad’s adventure game. This is a trip through a funhouse built with alien puke and populated by characters straight out of your nightmares. It was made from the hopes and dreams of nostalgic gamers who pined for the days of The Neverhood, a mysterious point-and-click adventure game from the enigmatic Doug TenNapel and the lurid backwaters of the 1990s.
With Doug and some of the best claymation animators in the industry on staff, how could a spiritual successor to The Neverhood go wrong? Find out in this Armikrog review!
Developer: Pencil Test Studios
Publisher: Versus Evil
Platforms: Windows PC, MacOS, Linux, Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Release Date: September 30, 2015
Price: $9.99 USD
Tommynaut is an astronaut named after a breakfast cereal and voiced by Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. He crash-lands on this armpit of a planet, Spiro 5, with his blind dog Beak-beak (Rob Paulsen).
Spiro 5 is like Dali on a bender, sculpting the landscape with tequila and nightmares. They stumble into this claymation fortress called Armikrog. Tommynaut has a kid to save who has the weight of the entire cosmos on its clay shoulders.
Players will be switching between Tommynaut and Beak-beak and both characters have their bespoke quirks. The game won’t make clear the extent these two heroes differ, but part of the fun of Armikrog is tinkering around in its world and finding out what works.
Experimenting is a cornerstone in all point-and-click games. While it is not for everyone, there is still some satisfaction in messing around and seeing what works and how characters will react.
It’s a feeling that leaves you questioning the nature of reality, the meaning of pizza, and whether Beak-beak is a sentient dog or not. It’s a point-and-click, yeah, but the clicks echo in the void long after you let go of the mouse.
There’s no menu screen to bog down the flow, no walls of text to bludgeon your brain. No combat, either; it’s a slow burn, a mental tug-of-war where the biggest enemies are your damn sanity and the game’s wonky mechanics. Armikrog is pure, unadulterated exploration, like a cosmic hobo stumbling through a dreamscape sculpted from clay and bad decisions.
Mouse dragging and dropping, simple as pie, they said. Intuitive, they promised. Lies, all lies. Clicking’s about as consistent as a politician’s promises. You wanna move a lever? Prepare for a wrestling match with a greased-up gremlin. Picking up an item? Like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.
Every room is a puzzle box, stuffed with hints, levers, and cryptic scribbles that’ll make you question your sanity and maybe even take notes. Forget your Pokédex, you’ll need a Rosetta Stone to decipher these alien patterns, patterns that’d make a seasoned archaeologist weep into his pith helmet.
Unfortunately, some repetitive puzzles rear their ugly heads throughout Armikrog‘s adventure. This recycled content hints at either a rushed development or perhaps a lack of funding during the later stages.
Jon Heder lends his voice to the antagonist, but his contribution feels underwhelming, considering the sparse number of lines he delivers. Hiring such a talented actor might suggest a grander vision for the game that wasn’t fully realized.
Mike Nelson, the voice of Tommynaut, one of the samurai masters of improvisational humor and witty remarks, is not allowed to flex his comedy muscles. It is almost surreal to hear his voice read fundamental and utilitarian dialogue that moves the story forward and does not have any sly asides.
You’d think exploring a claymation planet would be an aural feast, but Armikrog serves up sonic scraps instead of a palpable ASMR-esque squish. There needed to be more care put into the sound design.
Overall, the game is weirdly silent. One repeated mobile puzzle will also cause headaches, not because it will test your logical thinking, but because you will be forced to listen to the sound of a crying baby the entire time.
Armikrog is a head-scratcher dipped in an enigma, wrapped in a claymation nightmare. It’s beautiful, but it’s frustrating at the same time. It’s a game that perplexes, all while battling janky controls and wondering what the hell Mike Nelson is even doing here.
Claymation is a very underutilized medium for video game graphics. Most gamers will recall the likes of Clayfighter, Claymates, Skullmonkeys, and of course The Neverhood as the most notable examples. It has a timeless quality that is on par with prerendered graphics but with an added layer of tangibility.
Unlike computer-generated graphics, there is a human element to the clay – a relationship between the sculptor/animator and the clay armature. The texture is also more present than in traditional graphics since it catches light in a way that no simulation will ever compute.
Armikrog is undeniably flawed as far as adventure games go, but one aspect that can’t be faulted is its visuals. TenNapel’s fingerprints are all over this game, figuratively and literally since players can count the imprinted ridges left on each model.
Tommynaut’s silhouette is vaguely Earthworm Jim-ian and TenNapel’s panache for twisted geometry and surreal designs are present throughout.
Armikrog is a decent game that pays homage to the classic 90s cartoon humor through its claymation art style. The responsiveness of clicking interactive objects is abysmal, sometimes feeling broken even though it eventually works. The puzzles have moments when they have logical deduction as you hunt for clues scattered throughout the environment. The voice acting could have been awesome, but is sadly underutilized
Armikrog is a very short game, its price reflecting its brevity. However, the repeated puzzles are a regrettable misstep, and the spartan sound design woefully undercuts the impressive claymation visuals. The most impactful visuals are frontloaded, leaving no sense of narrative crescendo. Sadly, the game feels like it loses steam much too quickly.
Armikrog was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Armikrog is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), MacOS, Linux, Wii U, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.