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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, WiiU
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Pencil Test Studios
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2015


WiiU/PS4/PC Preview - 'Armikrog'

by Thomas Wilde on July 14, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Armikrog is a brand new clay-animated point and click adventure game brought to you by the creators of the Neverhood and Earthworm Jim.

Walking by the Versus Evil booth at E3, I thought to myself that Armikrog looked a lot like Earthworm Jim because I am Old and often think about platform games from 20 years ago. Then I got to talking to Mike Dietz, the owner of Pencil Test Studios, and discovered it wasn't exactly a coincidence; he, Doug TenNapel, and Ed Schofield all worked on Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys and have now produced this.

Armikrog is a Claymation-based point-and-click adventure game made in the Unity engine. It's less about the cheerful zaniness of something like Earthworm Jim, which in retrospect is probably a lot more influential than I thought it was, and more of a bizarre alternate-reality cartoon. It reminds me of a few different independent comics I've read, actually; it just throws you into a bizarre alien world and trusts you to figure it out as you go.

You play as Tommynaut (Michael J. Nelson from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and "Rifftrax"), an alien with a storage compartment in his chest, and Beak-Beak (Rob "Yakko Warner" Paulsen), his talking dog-like companion, right after their spaceship crashes on an unexplored planet. The local wildlife immediately forces them to take shelter in a fortress called Armikrog, which they must then explore in search of a way to get back out.

Versus Evil's "swag" for Armikrog was a beta code for the game on Steam, which let me play a short sample of the game once I got back to the office. (This is a good idea, by the way. More publishers should do this.) After playing it for a while, I can honestly say two things:

  1. This is one of the flat-out strangest game worlds I've seen in a long time.
  2. I am not very good at it.

Armikrog is an adventure game in the classic sense of the term. It features no hand-holding, no tutorials, and no friendly human viewpoint character who would have to have all this alien nonsense explained to him. You're thrown into the deep end from the first room, without so much as an on-screen primer as to what your buttons do, and left to your own devices.

As Tommynaut, you can store objects in a compartment in your chest, throw levers, and push blocks. (The first "block" is an immobile yellow square-shaped alien who keeps looking at me funny. I do not know why. I thought it was going to eat me.) By clicking on Beak-Beak, you can switch over to controlling him, which lets you go through smaller spaces to fetch items for Tommynaut.

Half the early gameplay revolves around relatively simple puzzles and obstacles, as you try to figure out how to open doors and navigate the fortress. The challenge largely comes from getting a handle on Armikrog's unique internal logic by figuring out what each of the playable characters can do, and what the strange objects in each successive room are meant for.

In short, it's got a lot more in common with games like Myst than with the various dialogue-based franchises that are the current face of the adventure genre. You're supposed to get stuck, try random things, and go slightly insane by putting your every waking thought into the game — until you manage to twist your brain in just the right way to figure out how to progress.

Imagining who might be reading this preview, I figure there's a specific type of games enthusiast who is now 2000% more interested in Armikrog than he or she was before — the die-hards who, at this point, mostly code their own adventure games and interactive fiction — and I would not blame anyone else for being a little wary. Armikrog is a throwback to two separate earlier periods of games development at once, both with its gleefully bizarre Claymation characters (there were about five minutes there in the '90s where it looked like Claymation was going to take over the world) and its point-and-click gameplay. It's a strange time warp of a game, and even if this isn't your particular bag, the sheer craziness of its design is well worth a look.

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