For those still unaware of Darkest Dungeon, Red Hook Studios is in the process of creating an incredibly slick turn-based strategy game with some play mechanics you probably haven’t seen before. On the surface, Darkest Dungeon may seem familiar with four characters delving deeper and deeper into perilous dungeons in search of plunder and glory, however this is where the similarities to every other dungeon crawler stop.
Armikrog’s art style is nearly unmistakable. From the creative mind of Doug TenNapel, in collaboration with Pencil Test Studios, Armikrog is a classic style point-and-click adventure game that uses handcrafted environments and stop motion animation to create a weird and unique world. For those unfamiliar with Doug TenNapel, he has had a hand in various creative endeavors since the early 90’s, but gamers might know him best as the mastermind and voice behind Earthworm Jim. Armikrog launched on PC last year, and is now available on consoles, thanks in-part to a successful KickStarter campaign.
As told in the excellent opening game cinematic and theme song, Armikrog follows the story of space explorer, Tommynaut and his dog Beak-Beak. Their ship crashes on the planet Spirio 5, and our main protagonists quickly find themselves locked up in the fortress Armikrog. Now, it is up to the team to escape from the fortress while learning about its history and secrets.
The first thing that jumps off the screen is definitely the art style. The game not only has its own quirkiness, but all of the environments and characters are hand crafted. Character and environmental animations were all generated with stop motion work. Hardcore TenNapel fans that previously played The Neverhood (1996) will immediately notice the spiritual connection. In certain moments throughout the game, the narrative is progressed with brilliant, but sometimes all too brief, cut scenes that add depth and character to the game world.
The point-and-click gameplay mechanics are very reminiscent of late 80’s and 90’s, almost to a fault. You control the characters and interact with the environments almost exclusively with a mouse pointer. In doing this there is a bit of “hotspot” searching that takes place when trying to figure out how to solves the puzzles to progress through the various screens of the fortress. This interaction design works well on PC and even the Wii U with its pointing device, but I found it to be cumbersome with a controller. I found my mind working faster than I was able to accurately move the mouse pointer, and I oftentimes wished that I could move Tommynaut directly instead of pointing him to where I needed. The game compensates for this somewhat by including an option to automatically stick to environmental hotspots and a dedicated button for switching to the canine companion Beak-Beak.
I usually try to describe adventure game puzzles on a scale of abstract to realistic, where abstract is “give the banana to the stone statue so that the monkey will climb it and knock a gem down for you”. By those metrics Armikrog is somewhere in the middle, but leaning toward abstract. It is not my personal preference for a point-and-click adventure, but the games puzzles will lend some challenge to novice puzzle players. Often times, the information needed to decode a puzzle is a room or two away. But in this style of gameplay, figuring out what to do is half the fun. A bit of a twist is thrown into the game with the ability to control Beak-Beak. The dog, who can talk PS, is blind, but is able to access special areas in the game and use his other senses to find objects and switches otherwise unreachable by Tommynaut. This aspect of the game plays quite well, and was a great addition to the point-and-click formula.
My personal experience with the game consisted of 5-10 hours to complete the game and unlock all of the achievements. For me, the pacing of the game was uneven. I would find myself moving gracefully through the various rooms until spending a lot of time stuck on a single puzzle. There are statues throughout the fortress that offer clues without penalty, but the advice is often cryptic. The game narrative is interesting, and the cut scenes are awesome, but I wish there were more of them. And, much of the large story arc remain clouded in mystery almost until the conclusion of the game.
Armikrog is a unique indie point-and-click adventure from a beloved creative force. Fans of Doug TenNapel should definitely play the game. Despite uneven console controls and narrative pacing, fans of point and click adventures will find much to enjoy here as well. However, I would recommend playing on Wii U or PC to take advantage of pointing controls absent on Xbox One or PS4. Finally, achievement / trophy hunters can also find a manageable 100% completion, taking into account a handful of missable achievements.
Armikrog was reviewed using a retail digital code (Xbox One) provided by the publisher.