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Recently, the point-and-click adventure game, the most ’90s of genres, has made a bit of a comeback. Unfortunately, while games like Broken Age and Telltale’s episodic output deliver the old-school adventure game mechanics, they don’t necessarily capture the ’90s spirit. Well, that can’t be said of Armikrog. Developed by Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel and the team responsible for claymation classics The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys, Armikrog is as ’90s as sh*t.
Of course, not everything from the ’90s has aged particularly well. Is Armikrog a Plasticine blast from the past, or should it be relegated to the ’90s dustbin along with neon shorts and snap bracelets?
Armikrog (PC, Mac & Linux)
In Armikrog, you play as the distinctly Earthworm Jim-like Tommynaut and his sassy talking dog, Beak-Beak (if this game actually was made in the ’90s, Beak-Beak would have been chomping a cigar in between one-liners). They crash on an alien planet, and end up trapped in a fortress of sorts called Armikrog. At first, your goals are kept pretty vague. Are you trying to escape Armikrog? Did you come there looking for something? At one point, you start carrying around a mysterious baby. It’s all a bit baffling.
Thankfully, the story does reveal itself with time. In an interesting device, the game’s backstory is revealed as you play through the game, but all the cut scenes are in an indecipherable alien language. Only at the very end of the game do you learn the alien language and discover the full scope of what’s going on. It’s a unique approach, although one that forces the player to wander around clueless as to what their greater purpose is for most of the game.
Visually, Armikrog is as lovably handcrafted as games get today. Like The Neverhood, Armikrog uses charmingly grubby stop-motion animation. All the game’s environments look like they were built inside cardboard boxes with supplies from the craft store (because they were), and you can see every individual thumb-print on Tommynaut and Beak-Break. If I had one complaint about how the game looks, it’s that it feels just a tad washed out. As if the process of scanning the stop-motion animation leeched some of this world’s vibrancy.
He’d be ugly if he wasn’t so darn cute.
Armikrog‘s music may be the most ’90s thing about this very ’90s game. These are some serious ToeJam & Earl beats. Unfortunately, the music isn’t used to its greatest effect, as it just sort of cuts in and out at random. The game has a pretty solid voice cast, including Mike Nelson of MST3K fame and Jon Heder, but it seems like they couldn’t get anyone in the recording booth for that long, as the game is largely dialogue-free. Despite the voice cast of well-known funny people, Armikrog is more weird and atmospheric than humorous.
Armikrog is a fairly straightforward point-and-click adventure game. Click on stuff, pick up items, solve puzzles, you know the drill. The game’s main hook is the ability to switch freely between Tommynaut and Beak-Break. The alien dog can interact with low-to-the-ground objects, fit through small spaces and sees the world through a slightly distorted black-and-white filter. Aside from the character swapping, most of the game’s originality comes from its quirky world full of flying dogs, furry monsters and space octopi. Armikrog certainly feels unique, even if it doesn’t break a lot of new ground.
Armikrog is a ’90s adventure game, warts and all. Unlike more modern examples of the genre, Armikrog doesn’t provide players with a lot of guidance. Instead, you’re let loose and left to figure out what works on what and where to go next on your own. Unsurprisingly, this result in a fair bit of random wandering and experimental clicking. This is exacerbated by the fact that the game doesn’t provide players with a lot of feedback. Click on a newly-found button, and chances are nothing will happen. Did it activate something in another room? Do you need to do something else before the button is made functional? You don’t get any sort of audio or visual cue or comment from your character, so you don’t know. In this respect, Armikrog is actually a step back from most ’90s adventure games. As far back as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, you’d get some sort of response whenever you clicked on something. Sure, listening to your character say “I can’t use a banana on THAT” 1,000 times was fairly grating, but at least you knew whether or not you were on the right track.
All that said, I never found myself lost for any significant amount of time. Lack of feedback aside, Armikrog‘s world is generally well-designed, and does a decent job of funneling the player in the right direction. The game’s puzzles do sometimes suffer from “adventure game logic,” where obvious answers are ignored in favor of the demented solutions dreamed up by the designers, although I usually didn’t find myself too terribly frustrated. Often the solutions are easier than they appear at first.
This guy is your only source of hints (or conversation).
As an aside, I’m afraid the makers of Armikrog have some sort of crippling lever addiction. Around 70 percent of the items you find in the game are some form of discarded lever. It almost feels like a running joke, but as mentioned above, Armikrog doesn’t actually have that much of a sense of humor about itself.
As somewhat rough around the edges as Armikrog is, I can say I found myself fully absorbed in the game, losing two or three hours without noticing. Armikrog may not be perfectly designed, but it captures the appeal of crusty old point-and-clicks pretty accurately.
As with all old-school adventure games, Armikrog‘s length will depend on how much trouble you have with its puzzles. Personally, it took me around seven or eight hours to complete the game, but I’m an old adventure game pro (and got a lot of help from my wife). As with most adventure games, there’s not a lot of reason to revisit Armikrog once you’ve seen the story through, and at $25, the game feels just a bit light on content. That said, I’ve certainly played much shorter games of this type.
Armikrog is a glitchy game. Audio issues, weird animation loops, floating characters and random lock-ups were common in my experience. I never ran into anything permanently game halting, although a number of players are reporting being stopped in their tracks by broken puzzles or cutscenes that don’t trigger.
If Armikrog were a triple-A blockbuster, I’d be raking it over the coals for the rather ramshackle condition it was released in, but I’m more willing to forgive a game made on a tight time schedule with less than a million dollars. Since my playthrough, Armikrog‘s developers have also released a patch which has reportedly helped with some of the issues, so at least the problems are being addressed. If glitches drive you crazy, be forewarned, and if you do grab the game, save often.
Armikrog is lacking some polish, and it isn’t always the most user-friendly experience, but in some ways, it’s a more accurate representation of ’90s point-and-click adventure games than other, higher-profile titles that claim to draw inspiration from the genre. Issues aside, Armikrog really captures that “you’re not going to outsmart me” absorbing appeal of classic adventure games, and its world is bursting with twisted, handcrafted charm.
Sure, Armikrog isn’t up to date on the latest gaming trends, but I feel like that’s exactly what most of the people who backed this project were looking for. If you already chipped in to fund Armikrog, or you’re just a fan of esoteric adventure games in general, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. If you’re more of a casual fan of the genre, you may find Armikrog‘s less hospitable moments more trouble than they’re worth. Don’t embark on this claymation adventure unless you’re willing to be a little bit flexible.
Verdict: Worth A Chance
This review was based on a digital copy of Armikrog provided by Pencil Test Studios. The reviewer also donated ($20) to the game’s Kickstarter campaign.