It’s nearly impossible to get through Armikrog’s opening sequence and keep a huge smile off of your face. Everything about the game from the art to the music to the writing is whimsical and reminiscent of a different era. From the moment the hilarious beginning song comes in like a classic children’s TV intro, Armikrog sets up an experience for players that expresses a unique and engaging spirit. It’s unfortunate that the PS4 is obviously not the optimal way to play through this game, but for gamers without a PC, Armikrog on PlayStation is a worthwhile artistic adventure.
In Armikrog, players take on the role of Tommynaut, the Space Explorer, who has crash-landed on an alien planet with his blind space dog, Beak-Beak. In order to escape a hungry creature, Tommynaut and Beak-Beak escape into a large fortress that they discover is named Armikrog. The goal of the game? Solve the mysterious puzzles throughout the fortress and escape in order to save their own home planet. The concept is simple enough, but there’s a consistently deep underlying story and culture throughout Armikrog that makes the entire game feel large and expansive.
This claymation point-and-click project comes from Ed and Mike over at Pencil Test Studios, two developers who also notably worked on the Earthworm Jim games. They cite the old Myst games as gameplay inspirations here, and it’s obvious. In fact, a large amount of the team’s previous work is clearly at play here, which is an excellent indicator of the growth and wealth of experience Armikrog is pulling from. This isn’t a “first time out” indie project — Puzzles are well designed, everything feels intentional, and the world built within Armikrog is always surprising and fresh.
Gameplay is built around the classic point-and-click construct. Move your mouse around the room and click on an object to have Tommynaut interact with it, or take control of Beak-Beak and make your way into a small tunnel. As mentioned, the puzzles are well designed and can span multiple rooms and floors. The game can take a little bit to get really engaging with puzzles, but once it has its hooks in you, it’s difficult to step away. Perhaps most satisfying is the fact that Armikrog is still able to offer surprises and “a-ha” moments in a genre that has already lived through its hay day.
That being said, the point-and-click nature of Armikrog simply doesn’t fit well on the PS4; it’s not how console gamers play. Most PS4 games have learned to cycle through lists and interactive areas of maps. While Armikrog works, it’s a tedious input system and precision in movement puzzles is out of the question. Even just attempting to select the right item can be taxing. In the marketing materials and the publishing schedule, it’s clear that the game is designed for PC and ports to consoles were always planned to be secondary. It’s not a deal-breaker, but definitely something to be considered.
However, there are times when the control scheme will leave your mind as you become wrapped up in the fantastic design at play in Armikrog. Claymation is a grossly under appreciated art form, and the Pencil Test Studios team has implemented it here with aplomb, and to great success. Each room is colorful and alive with a variety of textures. Even the sound design is excellent (and the talented voice cast featuring Jon Heder and Rob Paulsen doesn’t hurt!). There were times where the game felt lonely and a bit empty, but such is the nature of the genre Armikrog seeks to not only emulate, but honor. Otherwise, the project is a masterclass is unique video game art design.
Just like in previous entries in the genre, there’s a sub-plot and worldly culture that permeates the fortress of Armikrog. If you want, there is even a well written backstory to the fortress that you can read on the walls of one particular room, though it may take you a while. Strange characters such as Thomas JeffersANT are littered throughout the world, and every alien decision seems to fit within the given reality. There’s something fun, in that same classic children’s television show kind of way, about spending time in this game.
A few shortcomings: As imaginative as Armikrog’s sub-story is, it can also be so dense that it’s easy to miss important elements. For example, I had no idea Beak-Beak was blind until I looked it up in the press kit, and there’s a mystery surrounding the main plot for Tommynaut that still doesn’t quite make sense to me. The problem with the various puzzles are that they don’t always feel connected to the story. At the end of the day, you aren’t really playing Armikrog for the story, but it can be a bit frustrating. Along with that, Armikrog gets slow at certain points. This isn’t uncommon for similar puzzle games, but players should feel justified if they need to step away for a few hours or even days at a time before coming back to continue pushing through.
Armikrog isn’t a perfect game, and it’s likely that the experience will be forgotten on the PlayStation. However, there’s something special about the spirit and design that the game brings to the table, and fans looking for a nostalgic experience can find much to love here. The slow puzzle pacing will deter some individuals and the point-and-click control scheme just doesn’t work on the PS4, but those who persevere (or play on PC) can find a project with character, intelligent puzzles, and some genuine enjoyment to offer.
A PS4 review code for Armikrog was provided by Plan of Attack for the purpose of this review