As Armikrog begins, glowing lines form tableaus while an upbeat electronic ballad sets the stage: astronauts Vognaut, Numnaut and Tommynaut have left their planet Ixen in search of P-tonium, a substance that will save their people. But the quest proved deadly, leaving only Tommynaut alive, and players join him and his sidekick Beak-Beak shortly after their spacecraft crashes on a planet made of clay. Actually, most of the gameworld is made of clay – not surprising, as Armikrog is the product of the stick-to-itive minds behind the 1996 stop motion classic The Neverhood. A spiritual successor rather than related sequel, Armikrog is just as unorthodox, containing strikingly weird environments, offbeat characters, whimsical music, daffy puzzle scenarios, and reams of backstory inscribed on a wall. The experience definitely scratches the “give us more of The Neverhood” itch, but it falls a smidgeon short of the high standard set by its predecessor due to multiple irritants.
I played The Neverhood when it first released and expected first-rate scenery in Armikrog. I wasn’t disappointed. The environments are chock full of vivid contrasts and odd juxtapositions. Petal-shaped lips of clay overlap one another, giving a peacock-tail texture to surfaces. One room is dotted and corrugated; in another giant gears lurk beneath pink rosettes. Power generators look like fish with green liquid running through pipes sprouting from their backs. If you click on a window several times, an animated scenario unfolds, pitting a rope-tongued monster against wheelie creatures. Everything has the rough-hewn texture of a world created out of real clay, rather than the computer-generated variety. It’s a wonderful place to explore, with something novel and bizarre just around every corner or upwards via an overhead hatch or down through a yawning hole in the floor.
The main characters are amusingly likeable. Tommynaut has googly eyes and two long tendrils of hair. He’s quick-reflexed, kind, and matter-of-fact, which is a good thing since the whole caboodle around him is nuts. Beak-Beak, his faithful four-legged companion, has a sense of humor, a gruff voice and peculiar attributes: he can sprout wings for aerial tasks, his body is flexible so he can explore tiny passages, and he possesses special vision in shades of black-and-white, revealing items not visible in the usual colorful environments. Dialogs are brief and character interaction is limited.
This is a point-and-click adventure viewed from a third-person perspective. You guide Tommynaut or Beak-Beak by clicking in the direction you’d like them to go, and they’ll move at a snappy pace, though they never run. In addition to walking (and Beaky’s occasional flights), there are two modes of transport: Octovators – octopus-like creatures with long tentacles that move up or down between floors – and cable cars, which run along the inside walls shooting green sparks and whirring like buzz-saws.
An inventive array of sounds and background music enriches Armikrog’s locales. For example, there’s the slurp of the Octovator tendrils, Beak-Beak’s lip-smacking, the popping sound as Tommynaut pulls inventory items out of his body, and the spring-loaded cawing of snout birds. The music sometimes affirms the whimsy of the locations, like a distant hum accompanied by bongo drums and electronic jungle noises. In the first locked room, Tommynaut’s confusion is echoed by sassy horns, moaning voices, and clapping to a tango beat. Late in the game, a melancholic guitar solo evokes loneliness and loss.
Armikrog defies the recent trend toward easier puzzles in adventure games, so if you like to sink your teeth into fierce conundrums, you will be pleased. Power must be turned on and levers and doodads must be correctly placed. The game is literally stuffed with challenges, some of which outshine the more traditional puzzles in The Neverhood and most of which require observing the surroundings for clues, plus a dash of creative thinking. There is no viewable inventory feature, however. When Tommynaut picks up an item, he parks it deep in his chest, and that’s the last you’ll see of it until you click on the object it’s used with.
A multicolored orb sequence is maybe the toughest challenge. It took me more than an hour as I moved color wheels around and shifted the lever to change the arrangement. Finally, in a lightbulb moment, I started thinking more out-of-the-box and tossed aside my misassumptions. I also enjoyed the music obstacle, punctuated by a sound that adds urgency to the puzzle-solving. The annoying noise nudges you toward a fast pace in order to make it stop, though the final kazoo/raspberry-blowing sequence was silly enough that I slowed down and took my time. (Fortunately, you don’t need a trained musical ear for this challenge – being able to recognize parts of a tune is sufficient.)
The game does not hold your hand – in fact, it provides no guidance for what to do next. I spent a good chunk of time wandering clueless, trying this and that, sometimes finding the entrance to a room I’d missed, or a further use to a mechanism… and occasionally resorting to a walkthrough. At one point I realized that I’d encountered a glitch – a lever that should have been popping out of Tommynaut’s chest wasn’t available. I then replayed from a previous saved game, and was able to progress.Continued on the next page...