Armikrog is a point-and-click adventure game from Pencil Test Studios, and is the spiritual successor to 1996’s Neverhood on PC and (to a lesser extent) the PlayStation’s Skullmonkeys, released in 1998. The game tells the tale of rookie space adventurer Tommynaut and his blind, dog-like sidekick Beak Beak, as they attempt to collect a substance required to save their home world.
Armikrog begins with an animated musical number; explaining that the planet Ixen is dying, and can only be saved by collecting crystals known as P-tonium from the planet Spiro 5. Three spacemen were sent to retrieve the crystals – Vognaut, Numnaut and Tommynaut – although the first two died, leaving rookie Tommynaut and his pal Beak Beak as Ixen’s only hope. Unfortunately, Tommy’s spaceship is damaged whilst travelling through an asteroid belt, and crash lands on an alien world.
Tommy and Beak Beak exit the craft, only to be chased by a huge, hairy multi-eyed beast and find sanctuary in a nearby fortress. The duo works their way through the fortress’s towers, uncovering the planet’s history as they attempt to get back to their ship and save the day. Along the way, Tommy and Beak Beak find an orphaned infant called P, who may hold the key to Ixen’s salvation.
In order to progress through the story, Tommynaut and Beak Beak must work together to solve a series of puzzles to unlock the path from one tower to the next. Tommy can do the heavy work, such as pushing objects and pulling levers, whilst Beak Beak can reach otherwise inaccessible areas and see on a spectrum that Tommy can’t. The two buddies can be manoeuvred by an ever-present on screen cursor, clicking on whichever area of the screen you need to move them to. The cursor changes from an arrow to a pointing hand when hovering over an object that can be interacted with.
Tommynaut and Beak Beak travel between towers by using a Jetsons-like buggy on a set track known as a zipkicker; as our two heroes work their way from tower to tower, learning details of P’s past. Along the way, Tommy and Beak Beak also learn of a sinister (yet familiar) force that wants P for their own ends; as it turns out P is able to regurgitate the precious P-tonium that will save Ixen and its inhabitants.
There are a decent range of puzzles, many of the solutions are hidden within the foreground or background elsewhere in the towers; I found the best technique was to take a screenshot of any symbols that looked like a code for future reference, rather than having to retrace my steps. Puzzles range from moving blocks and pressing buttons, to using dials and switches to input a code to open a door. Easy stuff for any point and click veterans; however two of the puzzles in particular are incredibly annoying, although the frustration is due to factors other than their difficulty.
The first has to be completed in order to enter each tower; using a central wheel set into a larger disc to rotate blocks in and out of four set channels to make a picture. The problem is that the cursor gravitates to the block within the wheel (which moves the block back into the channel), rather than being able to rotate the wheel itself.
The second puzzle bookends each tower and involves hanging toys that have fallen off of P’s mobile (the kind that hangs over a baby’s cot). The toys have to be hung in a specific order so that a circuit of lights and a lullaby can be completed – with the toys falling off if they’re incorrectly placed. The puzzle is a case of trial and error, but the sound of P crying all the while starts to grate after a while. Once the puzzle is completed, P pukes out a lump of P-tonium.
The majority of the game is presented in a wonderfully unique, stop motion animation style – much like Morph or Wallace And Gromit; some of the cut scene splice in more traditional cartoon style animation. All of the characters are well realised, with the environments are intentionally moulded to look rough; with thumbmarks and uneven textures noticeable in both the foreground and backgrounds. A loading screen appears when moving from location to location: the screen goes black and a percentage pops up in the bottom left hand corner, with action resuming once the loading screen reaches one hundred percent.
Music in game is a constant, jaunty sci-fi like tune and has a throwback 90’s feel to it. Sound effects compliment the cartoon-like vibe, and all dialogue is delivered well by the cast. Tommy comes off as laid back, on the verge of sounding bored; Beak Beak on the other hand has an excitable, gravelly New York type accent. The rest of the characters that populate Armikrog’s world suit the setting, with none of the voices feeling out of place.
A seasoned fan of adventure games shouldn’t take any longer than a few hours to polish it off, and could feel short-changed by the experience. On the other hand, point and click novices may feel overwhelmed, as the game has neither a hint system nor an inventory of items that Tommynaut has acquired. Armikrog is fun while it lasts, I applaud the choice visual style and the humour feels fresh – aside from its ancestors I can think of very few games that use Claymation animation. Ultimately Armikrog puts itself between a rock and a hard place – too short for fans of the genre, too little guidance for those wanting to try something new.