When some of the creators behind the 1996 point-and-click adventure game The Neverhood regrouped on Kickstarter to make a spiritual successor, fans of the cult hit happily ponied up almost one million dollars to fund the project. What they got for their money is a sterling example of an age-old adage: Don't judge a book by its cover. Armikrog's unique art style is charming enough to draw players in, but once you crack it open, you find page after page of problems and disappointment.
Armikrog tells the paper-thin story of a spacefaring explorer named Tommynaut and his angular doglike creature Beak-Beak, who take refuge in the titular alien fortress after crashing on a mysterious planet. The opening minutes aptly highlight Armikrog's chief appeal; the zany character designs and clay dioramas that you explore are unique, beautiful, and dripping with creativity. The visuals aren't all that's readily apparent, however. Armikrog's many flaws immediately start to sour the adventure.
Even by '90s point-and-click adventure standards, Armikrog is archaic. It provides zero explanation of your objectives, the controls, or even that you can switch between the main characters – a fact I only realized after inadvertently clicking on Beak-Beak. The objects that you can interact with in the environment aren't highlighted or indicated in any way, which is especially problematic when everything is made out of clay and objects blend into the surreal and alien scenery. If you do click on the right object but haven't met the unexplained requirements to interact with it, there's no animation or dialogue to indicate what's wrong. Try to click on a button that isn't powered, for instance, and your character won't even attempt to press it. These problems are further compounded by the fact that there is no inventory screen – Tommynaut just sticks any object that you pick up into his stomach, with no way for you to view what it is or what it might be used for. All you can do is click on every object you come by, and if Tommynaut has the right item (and it's the right time), he uses it. Throw in some strangely inconsistent detection, and you have the perfect recipe for getting stuck.
And get stuck I did, usually for stupid reasons. At one point, my progress was stymied because I had to speak to a strange mushroom creature. Nothing indicated that I had to speak to said mushroom creature – or that said mushroom creature was something you could even interact with. In fact, I had actually already clicked on the fungal beast before – but to trigger the conversation (which would miraculously award me with the MacGuffin I needed to progress), I had to be controlling Beak-Beak, not Tommynaut. These issues come up repeatedly – especially buttons that arbitrarily need to be pressed by a specific character.
In addition to suffering from some of adventure games' worst aspects, Armikrog is also missing what the genre does best. With few exceptions, the puzzles are dull, repetitive, and rely heavily on trial-and-error. Three main puzzles – a tile-sliding puzzle, a musical mobile puzzle, and a rotating path puzzle – are all repeated multiple times, and become progressively more tedious with each iteration. Even the first encounters with these challenges aren't interesting or clever in the slightest. They only serve as time-consuming filler (along with extensive back-tracking) to pad out the roughly five-hour adventure.
Armikrog's puzzles are disappointing, and the story wastes no time in dropping the other shoe. Despite the unique character designs, the main characters lack personality, aside from Beak-Beak's annoyingly hammy voice. Not that the rest of the story has much depth, either – most of it is told in the opening cutscene, and the conclusion to Tommynaut's quest left me shrugging my shoulders. The most interesting story info is relegated to a massive text dump in a single room, where you can read a novella's worth of backstory on who built the Armikrog. It just feels lazy.
That's not the only part of the experience that feels unfinished. The game uses the standard Windows mouse cursor, which sticks out from the lush, colorful environments you click around. Numerous bugs plagued my playthrough. The sound effects cut out on several occasions, requiring me to quit and re-open the game each time. At one point, a character randomly reappeared in a room he wasn't supposed to be in, and later spoke in another room when he wasn't there. The subtitles often differed from the spoken dialogue – at least until they inexplicably disappeared for about a quarter of the game.
The piece de resistance, however, came in the second-to-last challenge. The cypher I needed to solve an uninspired hieroglyph puzzle was in a room I no longer had access to. Even if I had been clairvoyant enough to write the ambiguous clue down beforehand (in a notebook, of course, because the game lacks any kind of system for saving or remembering clues), solving the puzzle would still have involved backtracking through the entire game to retrieve the corresponding answers from different locations. If it hadn't been for some good Samaritans in Steam's forums, my progress would have been permanently halted. Once I solved the last puzzle, I was treated to the final, anticlimactic cutscene. The audio was out of sync.
Pencil Test Studios clearly needed time to fix the litany of embarrassing bugs that plague Armikrog at launch. Even then, it wouldn't have helped the overly simplistic story and bland puzzles. If the developer ever plans on doing a sequel, I hope it's an animated film – the visuals are the only thing Armikrog has going for it.
In addition to suffering from some of adventure games' worst aspects, Armikrog is also missing what the genre does best.