Armikrog begins with such promise. Your introduction to this claymation world is a long and wonderfully weird theme song that serves as a prologue of sorts, and it leads into a beautifully animated cutscene that really showcases the talent on board. Many of the minds behind this Kickstarted adventure game are also responsible for The Neverhood, a cult classic from 20 years ago, and a game that informs much of Armikrog's gameplay, style, and sense of humour. Unfortunately, when the gameplay proper kicks in after such a strong preamble, it seems that Pencil Test Studios might've followed mid-90s design a little too closely.
In this point and click title, you play as Tommynaut, one of three brothers sent out to dangerous planets in order to retrieve more P-tonium, needed to power their home and save the lives of their friends and family. With Beak Beak by your side, an alien dog-like companion, you crash-land on Spiro 5 and inadvertently find yourself locked in a gigantic fortress known as Armikrog. By solving various puzzles, you spend the game making your way through the confines of the mysterious facility. Early on, though, it transpires that you'll be doing this in near silence, as both Tommynaut and Beak Beak turn virtually mute. Beyond one or two quips about a room they've just entered, the in-game dialogue is extremely lacking – a shame, as the voice talent is good when cutscenes crop up.
At least there are some half decent music tracks playing as you point and, indeed, click your way through Armikrog. The music and visuals are by far the strongest aspects of the game; pleasingly weird tunes set the tone, while the colourful clay backdrops and stop motion animation lend the game a brilliantly quirky style, at once evocative of The Neverhood and unique in this era of games.
Sadly, the gameplay itself hasn't fared quite so well. Puzzle rooms are mostly static and often practically empty, which wouldn't be as noticeable if there wasn't so much backtracking to do. Many of the puzzles require that you go to specific locations to find symbols and sequences to memorise, which isn't a huge problem, but it does mean a fair amount of traipsing back and forth. Some areas, objects, and symbols are only accessible using Beak Beak, who can travel through trippy, colour-inverted tunnels, as well as sit on certain buttons while you progress as Tommynaut. Again, not an issue, but the game does a terrible job of communicating that you can switch control between the characters in the first place.
This is one of several oddities in Armikrog's design. It doesn't offer much feedback, positive or negative, leaving you to bumble your way forward. Perhaps it was a purposeful decision to further associate the game with its inspiration, but the end result just feels old fashioned and perilously obtuse. You don't even have an inventory you can access; instead, Tommynaut stores key items in his chest and pulls them back out when they're needed, robbing you of the chance to figure out which items belong where. Certain buttons can only be pressed by one character or another, the game refusing to co-operate unless you have the right one selected.
At least the cursor helps you complete your quest to a degree. By default, you start the game with a 'Smart Cursor', meaning it will snap to interactive items, which saves you from clicking every inch of the screen trying to find the solution. You can turn it off, though, which can actually come in handy when it comes to some of the more fiddly puzzles.
The puzzles themselves are okay, but repeat a little too often, and only a couple are much fun to solve. It's not that they're difficult – actually, they're relatively straightforward – it's that they can be downright frustrating to piece together. In fact, there is one particularly hateful puzzle in Armikrog that repeats three times; we won't delve into it too much for fear of spoilers, but if the sound of a crying baby irks you, then consider this a warning. Quite how anyone could think people would enjoy solving a musical puzzle while enduring a screaming infant is beyond us.
Much of Armikrog is beyond us. Underneath all the strange design and archaic gameplay, though, is a decent game trying desperately to break through. The world of Armikrog is great, and the limited number of characters you meet are well written and full of charm. However, it feels like the developer, in its attempts to harken back to The Neverhood, may have gone too far, and as a result, Armikrog has inherited its worst as well as its best.
There is so much squandered potential in Armikrog it hurts. The voice acting is great, but there's not enough of it; the visuals and animations are superb, but let down by repeated puzzles. Pencil Test Studios has created a fantastic claymation setting and fun characters, but in terms of gameplay it sticks too closely to the old-school point and click formula for its own good. Fans of the genre may get a kick out of the old fashioned style, but beyond a well-realised stop motion aesthetic, there's little here for anyone else.