Who remembers Earthworm Jim? Anyone? Well, I do, because I’m that old. Mr. Jim exists only in our hearts today, but you can get him on some recent consoles as well as Windows Phone, but nothing “new” has come out in what we in the biz like to call “a while”. Armikrog comes from the minds behind Earthworm J and The Neverhood as a spiritual successor to the latter. Sadly, I don’t remember much of anything about it other than it existing, though I did play Skullmonkeys (again, remembering nothing), but I really doubt not being in the know will hinder your potential enjoyment of this game.
Armikrog is a stop-motion point and click adventure game that has the wonderful claymation look I love so much. Wallace and Gromit being one of my favorites, and that includes the great Telltale series, but that’s a story for another day. The story starts off with a nice little musical number that details our hero’s peril, not only for him, but his home planet. His brothers have gone off in search of a power source to save their dying planet and have wound up dead. With his family gone, Tommynaut must venture out in their stead. Out in space, the ship collides with a space rock and he crash lands on planet Spiro 5. Now, not only is he on a mission to recover the power source and make it back alive, he’s stuck on a strange planet to boot. Armed with only his wits, his suitcase-like stomach, and his pal Beak-Beak, his adventure takes him to a fortress called Armikrog and they must do everything they can to escape it.
As I mentioned, the look of Armikrog is something I very much enjoy. I love stop-motion/claymation style entertainment, and especially during the video scenes, the visuals are everything you’d want. Even in engine, it’s neat seeing little details like smudged fingerprints on backgrounds and structures. There’s one issue I had with the visuals, though, and that’s when a video is playing the resolution is definitely not full HD. I’m not sure what was going on, but on both PS4 and XB1, the picture was off. I’m not sure how to explain it properly, but it was almost like it was pixelated just enough to notice it and distract you.
The sound in the game has its highs and lows, too. The music is really catchy in most instances, with some of the songs that are sung being really fun. The score also has plenty of high spots, too. In the middle of all this is the voice acting, which sees some famous people on board. Mike Nelson (Mystery Science Theater 3000), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Rob Paulson (everything you’ve ever watched as an adult and child) all lend their voices to the game, and while they don’t do a poor job, they don’t live up to their potential, either. There’s not much story for them to act in, so we don’t get any stand out moments because we hardly get any moments at all. I would have loved more cutscenes with dialogue for them to run through. Mike as Tommy was immediately noticeable and it just added to the MST3K feeling I had from the opening and ending cutscenes. Where it really fell apart for me was the specific sections of the game where you must solve a puzzle with a crying baby going off the whole time and the story cutscenes that use the alien language that sounds so distracting and out of place each time you see one that it’s really hard to follow along with the visuals it’s trying to convey. It’s a plot point, I get it, but it was not something I enjoyed, especially because you have no idea it’s one until you get to the point at the end where it just about tells you it was. I wasn’t the only one in the room annoyed by this.
As with most P&C games, the biggest aspect besides the story would be the puzzles. We certainly get some here, but not many of them are hits. In fact, a lot of them are pretty obtuse and frustrating. Not only do they sometimes make little sense, but once you realize what you need to solve them, you understand that you should have been paying attention to something on the other side of the map because why would you commit those things to memory? Especially when the game doesn’t give a decent enough hint that you should be committing things to memory or using a notepad on every little symbol or what-have-you all around. There’s just not enough puzzles here to devote most to this line of thinking for it to be fun, and the ones that are fun are so few and far between that it feels like it was done to annoy rather than engage the player.
So with the puzzles being mostly sub-par, you do have sections dedicated to the other half of the duo. Beak-Beak can find his way into inaccessible places and retrieve items for Tommy. Those items are almost always levers, because that’s Tommy’s specialty. A little too much lever pulling for my tastes. A little too short of a game for my tastes as well. You can 100% the game in 3 – 5 hours, depending on if you get stuck or not, though I suspect many will. I mean, I don’t want a game like this to last 100 hours, but this felt like it was just getting started when the credits rolled.
Controlling the game isn’t always a cakewalk, either. On PS4 I ran into a few issues with the movement of the cursor and the smart cursor setting (and you can use the touchpad as a mouse, though I wouldn’t advise it), but man, on XB1, I ran into plenty of issues. Even with toggling the smart cursor on and off at my leisure I had so many issues with things registering or having things happen I didn’t ask for, especially on the rail car sections. In fact, on XB1 I ran into more than just control issues. Puzzles would just outright break and not be solvable until I restarted and some even required me to perform the solution multiple times before it registered it as correct. It was driving me up a wall while driving my girlfriend to drink. Yes, the PS4 had some cursor issues, too, but not as prevalent as the Xbox. It was certainly something I was able to get through, but the glitchiness of it put us in a bad mood. In a weird way, I felt vindicated when I would show her it wasn’t working, go online to find help, see and show her what I was doing was exactly what I was supposed to be doing, leaving the room/reloading the game and then having it work as if nothing was wrong. In a sad way, I kind of derived enjoyment from that. Not enough that I find it acceptable, though.
If you’re looking to complete the game it can be done in 1 playthrough, but be warned, you can miss some Achievements/Trophies. And, of course, no Platinum for PS4 players. Hell, no Gold, either. Shame, shame. It’s a relatively easy completion, though, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble, especially with the small time investment needed.
The world being built here is a pretty interesting one, but we sadly don’t get to see much of it. There’s humor in the game, but it’s only given to us in tiny glimpses that there’s not enough to really praise it or push it over the top. I understand this kind of animation isn’t easy or cheap, but, there’s not enough of a fleshed out world (or even characters) to really say this is an amazing first entry. There’s so much potential here, I hate that it was squandered. They clearly have a sequel in mind and I truly hope this does well enough to see a bigger and better 2nd act. I loved glimpses of what this game could have been or was trying to be, so I hope they hear our feedback and can follow up with a home run. I know that you can’t expect the world from a game bred out of a Kickstarter, but you don’t have to lower your expectations, either. I had fun with the game, but I had just as much frustration with it, too. As it stands, if you’re a diehard P&C fan or you have an in with the creators or actors, you’ll probably find something to like. If you don’t fall into those camps, you wouldn’t be hurting yourself waiting for a price drop or sequel before diving into this one. And that saddens me to say.
Armikrog is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U for $9.99 (with a 10% off launch week sale) and on Steam for $24.99. A copy of the game was provided by Plan of Attack for the purpose of this review.