Armikrog (PS4) Review: Space Oddity

Pitched as a spiritual successor to the cult 90s point and click game The Neverhood. Armikrog was released last year on PC after a successful kickstarter campaign. Originally intended to release at the same time, the game has finally come to consoles almost a year later. But was it worth the wait?   

Armikrog is an old school point and click adventure in every sense of the word; this isn’t a modern day Telltale adventure game where you complete a series of QTE sequences and occasionally solve a basic item based puzzle. Like it’s predecessor Armikrog is a tricky bugger and follows an odd logic with it. Don’t expect any hand holding whatsoever, but do expect, beautiful Claymation visuals, copious amounts of crazy and sadly plenty of pixel hunting.

Players are put in the brightly coloured space boots of Tommynaut; a Claymation astronaut sent on a mission to save his home planet by finding an exotic energy source known as P-tonium. However, P-tonium can only be found off-world in particularly hostile environments. After his two brothers are missing, and presumed dead after failing to return from their mission, Tommynaut and his best buddy – bizarre lizard/dog Beak Beak, are sent off on a last ditch effort to save their world.

Unfortunately, after crash landing on an uncharted planet and almost getting eaten by the local wildlife, Tommynaut and Beak Beak end up locked inside the Armikrog; a huge and foreboding fortress that they desperately need to escape from.

With its Mystery Science Theatre 3K inspired opening jingle, that brings players up to speed, and slapstick moments throughout. Armikrog, doesn’t take itself seriously at all. With its larger narrative beats existing mostly as a mechanism for more surreal jokes and mind melting puzzles. As such, you never particularly grow to care about Tommynaut’s ultimate goal, or his planet’s desperate struggle. Instead they’re just an entertaning means of  taking you to the next head scratcher, cracking the occasional joke while doing it.

Armikrog_HubRoom_01That’s not to say the story isn’t fun or at all engaging. Armikrog is dripping with personality and has bags of charm. Tommynaut is brought to life by Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000/ Rifftrax (which might explain the opening) while Beak Beak is played by veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen (Pinky from Pinky and the Brain), both give phenomenal performances as the somewhat naïve astronaut and his sarcastic hound. Meanwhile the rest of the cast give strong performances which helped to keep me invested in the adventure, even when the puzzles were becoming particularly obtuse.

When I say that Armikrog is an old school point and click adventure game, I mean it.The entire experience composes of you solving puzzles by pointing and clicking (on PS4 this is done either by using the left analogue stick and X or by using the track point to a space in the environment to move to it, Click on an item to pick it up, Click on the thing you want to use it with. There isn’t even an inventory, or any combination puzzles. Tommynaut just grabs the item he needs to stick in a socket and uses it. This is both a blessing and a curse, because there’s no cycling through your inventory looking for the right item only to find nothing you have works, but on the down side you have to remember what you have on you in the first place.

Unfortunately, interactive objects also are only highlighted when you move your pointer over them, (and even then it’s really subtle.) There’s no way to push a button to show what you can interact with in a given scene either, so you’re literally left scouring the screen hoping to see the subtle tell that there’s something to click on. Luckily, in Beak Beaks black and white sections, there is an aura present around items, otherwise they would be impossible to see, even then, I did still find myself missing them from time to time..

Armikrog_DarkLobbyA_01As a result of this, and how obtuse the game’s puzzles swiftly become (there are instances where there are no clues given as to what you’re supposed to be doing until after the puzzle is complete) Armikrog quickly descends from a game of quirky logic puzzles into a game of brute force problem solving. Not sure what to do next? Just keep clicking until something happens, Not sure how a combination puzzle is meant to be solved, scroll through each combination until it works. As a result the pacing goes out the window and so too does the enjoyment factor. At least until you hit your stride again and then,it’s over. Clocking in at about four hours, it’s a fairly short ride.

Despite it’s brevity, I still enjoyed (most) of my time with Armkirog. The fantastic, writing, performances and superb Claymation visuals are an absolute treat and show a level of care and artistry that most games don’t even aspire to. The problem is that the game underpinning it all may as well have been made in 1996. In the intervening twenty years since the release of The Neverhood there have been numerous advancements in the point and click genre and Armikrog doesn’t include any of them. It doesn’t even have a way to keep track of your inventory. As a result, what should have been a proper successor to a classic, feels more like an odd imitator and a bit of a slog at times.

That being said I still found myself wanting to see what hilarious embuggerance would befall Tommynaut and Beak Beak next.

 

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