There’s a fine tradition of claymation in film and TV, with the likes of Wallace & Gromit, Pingu, and Morph being very popular examples, but it’s a form of animation that’s very rarely seen in videogames. Doug TenNapel and the rest of the team at Pencil Test Studios have headed down this rarely beaten path with Armikrog, making for a great looking game.
With the creators of Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood behind it, expectations were high, but Armikrog doesn’t live up to them. Adventure games need to have interesting worlds, characters, stories and puzzles, but this game fails to excel in any of these areas. The world’s lore is delivered in a single room with tablets that take around 30 minutes to read, and it’s all a lot more interesting than the actual story of the game. They explain what Armikrog is (the building you’re in) and how it came to be, as well as giving a lot of background for one of the characters.
The two main characters are Tommynaut and Beak Beak, a pair who have crashed landed on the planet. They find themselves in Armikrog and must work out a way to get back home. It all starts quite well with a great opening credits, and you feel like there could be some great interactions between Tommynaut and Beak Beak during the gameplay. There aren’t. In fact, the only time they interact with each other is when Tommynaut thanks Beak Beak for standing on switches.
There’s plenty of potential for the pair to comment or make a joke about their situation, but I can only think of one instance where either of them commented outside of a cutscene. Dumb jokes would be preferable to the pair’s silence, but since Tommynaut and Beak Beak don’t speak much there is no reason to be invested in the quest to get them off planet. To try and force some sympathy from players, a baby is introduced and it becomes Tommynaut’s job to keep her safe. That said, there isn’t much danger except for the villain who literally appears about 30 minutes from the end with no build up.
The puzzles range from being pretty easy to ones that require you to put your thinking cap on for a while. Some of the harder puzzles do have the solutions hidden in plain sight in other screens, while I used brute force to solve a few others, as I couldn’t spot the clues.
There are a couple of puzzle types that repeat as well, with one in particular that led to the pressing of the mute button. This puzzle has one of those baby mobiles that hang over a baby’s cot but some of the figures have fallen off. You have to put the figures on in the right order so the melody plays correctly. It’s not a bad puzzle, but sounds of the constantly crying baby drown out the melody. In the end, muting and guessing was the sanity preserving path, and it did help that the figures stayed in place if positioned correctly.
The control scheme also threw up a few problems. For example, there are moments when you have to use vehicles to travel across cliff faces using tracks, but these vehicles get stuck on the track at times, even when everything is in line. You have to press exactly where you want to go when following the lines for it to work. You can use the touchpad to move as well, but here you could be pressing left to go in that direction, only for the vehicle to start going backwards.
It’s a shame that Amirkrog’s gameplay and characters feel so bland, because the actual claymation art looks great. There’s plenty of colour and a lot of effort has gone into creating rooms and characters that appear interesting. The animation is well done too with Tommynaut striding across rooms while Beak Beak bounds along.
In a way Armikrog feels like a tech demo for something much bigger, a showcase of what a final build could look like, with the majority of the character dialogue and story still to be added in. The fantastic claymation and the decent music can only distract so long from the facts that Armikrog feels soulless, lacks any charm, has boring characters, and has puzzles that could have been more interesting. The story of Tzurk and Meva told on the tablets would have made for a much better game.
Version tested: PS4