Genre:             Adventure   

Developer:        Pencil Test Studio      

Publisher:         Versus Evil      

Released:          September 2015      

Requirements (Minimum):

    • OS: Windows XP+
    • Memory: 2 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Pentium 4 or equivalent
    • DirectX: Version 9.0
    • Hard Drive: 2 GB available space



By flotsam



Pencil Test Studio

Once upon a time there was The Neverhood, one of the first games I played once I owned a PC, and a game that still occupies a prized place on my shelf and in my game recommendations. It was an insane world of long corridors with all manner of scratchings on its walls, with a funny looking creature called Klaymen as the protagonist. And it was all made of plasticine.

Fast forward and we get Armikrog, made by some of the original people, and as fascinating as ever The Neverhood was (or as I remember it to be).

In my first look, I said that Armikrog looked fabulous, and indeed it remained so till the end. Claymation rules in my humble opinion, and I never ceased to be impressed. The “transformation” cutscene at the end is worth the price of admission alone.

Good looks though don’t make a game, so what of the rest.

For me it was fabulous. But having read a few reviews, I might be a minority. So let’s get some stuff out of the way first.

Google “Armikrog review” and you will get more than a few bemoaning the bugginess involved. Perhaps it’s been patched sufficiently, because I got not a single glitch. Several that were discussed didn’t happen for me, and in the end I can only go on my own experience. In that regard, no problems here.

So too, there were discussions of puzzles that lacked clues. One I recall involved assembling an image of a robot with no indication of what you were building. Either the player missed it, or again it has been tweaked, because the answer was sitting right outside the window. So take that with a grain of salt as well.

Clues abound, and while they are tough, they do exist. There is though a lack of any feedback from the environment that there is anything to do at any particular spot. Hotspots don’t exist, in the sense that they respond to your cursor or can be highlighted, so essentially you are on your own. If you think something might be important, click on it. It might respond or it might not.

The difficulty inherent in this is compounded by the fact that there are things that give no response until something else has happened – perhaps power needs to be turned on somehow – and other things that can only be activated by one or other of the playable characters. Tommynaut and his doggy friend Beak-Beak are your third person protagonists, and you can play either at any time by clicking on them. They need to work together on some puzzles, but others require one or the other to do what is required. Fail to click on the environmental element (button/lever/machine/door/vine/etc) with the right character and nothing happens. Fail to try again with the other and you may be stuck.

Both characters also collect items, although only Tommy can use them. Beak-Beak collects them, then coughs them up for Tommy to pick up and have available to use. Having the right item will result in a positive interaction. But again, if you don’t have it, you will get no response from the environment.

So there might be a peculiar contraption standing there. The cursor does nothing, so is the contraption useful or not? Clicking it with both characters elicits nothing, so perhaps it’s just decorative. However, having picked up some particular item later on, clicking it now “uses” the item and gets a response.

This is not what we have become used to. But it isn’t as unfriendly as it sounds.

Many things you need to interact with do indeed scream “interact with me”. For instance, there are numerous panels that are obviously missing a lever (you will come across both a panel and a lever very early on), so clearly you need to have one and you can then use the panel. There are also numerous buttons to push, and they look like things that need to be pushed. Others look like they need to be sat on (who might do that?), and the unilluminated lightning bolt above some of them might suggest a power issue. A certain contraption appears again and again, and is clearly important once you figure it out the first time. So look to do it again. There is a consistency throughout, so knowing stuff in one place transfers to other places (and items) and makes it a whole lot less vague.

Not everything is like that. But much of it is.

There is though a fair degree of aimlessness. What to do next is largely a result of walking/riding/flying  around and observing and trying things. Some more direction would have been good, especially given Armikrog is generally a very big place.

You need to be observant to pick up clues, and they will often be (considerably) separated in space and game playing time. Some are only evident to one or other of the characters, and combined with everything else it means it isn’t a straightforward game. Some creative thinking and fiddling is required. The last puzzle in particular stumped me in parts, and I did need to visit a walkthrough more than once.

But it was a whole heap of fun.

Puzzling includes big (and not so big) environmental ones and straight out in your face ones. Some repeat, getting harder as they go. One of those occurs three times and is simply trial and error, and while the lullaby might irk you, suck it up and get on with it – there is a crying baby to pacify after all. There are three of the sliding stone door locks as well.

Experienced adventurers will probably sort out what to do, but the complete absence of instructions (e.g. select which of the playable characters you want to be by clicking on them) was a bit of a challenge even for me. Likewise the menu screen, where your save games are under options. Perhaps I missed something somewhere, but more information in the game would be nice.

That spilled over into the gameplay. How to get out of the little cable cars took me a while to sort out, and at one point I wanted something Beak-Beak had swallowed, but he wouldn’t cough it up. Once you know what to do, it is plain sailing from then on. But as I said, some instructions would help.

Visually, the world of Armikrog is a glorious hoot, populated by all sorts of fantastical critters, Tommy included. It truly is a wonderful place to hang out. This is plasticine goodness that would make Gromit proud.

The plot you can discover for yourself. Needless to say there are evil doers, and grand complications, as well as a change of destination at the end that leaves open a new adventure.

Jaunty musical pieces accompany much of the adventuring, and while there is some dialogue, it is limited, save for the octopus type creatures that will tell you the story of Armikrog. At first it’s all gibberish (unless you speak Armikrogian), but get far enough through and it will become comprehensible. A litany of sound effects bring the world to life.

The way it plays, I accept that it won’t be for everyone, but I loved it. And yes, the wondrousness of the plasticine world helped. Every new location tickled my interest, and even things like Tommy stuffing inventory items into his malleable chest piqued my appreciation. Even without the plasticine, Amikrog is an interesting place – from the cable cars, to the fuzzy orange cubes with eyes that you push around, the octopussy tentacles you ride up and down, and the large rotating drums you propel hamster like. Then there is Beak-Beak’s black and white alternative view of the world, a counterpoint to the vivid colour of everything else.

You do stuff in fun places, and I haven’t played anything that gave me the same fun buzz since Portal 2. Even if you baulk at some aspects, it is still a fine adventure.

Grade: A minus

I played on:

OS: Windows 7

Processor: Intel i7-3820 4GHz

RAM: 12GB Ripjaw DDR3 2133 Mhz

Video card: AMD Radeon HD 7800 2048MB



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