You know what? I miss Skullmonkeys. Granted, I miss The Neverhood, too, as it really represented the fine craftsmanship of Doug Tennapel (co-creator of Earthworm Jim) and his team at, well, The Neverhood. But Skullmonkeys was more fun for me, as it was an uncommon platformer with lots of kooky action, and a pleasant theme that carried over with ease from the original point-and-click Neverhood.
But, alas, we aren’t getting another Skullmonkeys…probably ever. But at least we have another jaunt similar to The Neverhood, in the form of Armikrog. This Kickstarted project initially debuted on PC a while back, but the team at Pencil Test Studios and Versus Evil felt the need to release it on consoles. Initially, I applauded the decision – but then I realized just how shallow an experience it is.
Not that I fault Tennapel’s design. Far from it. The game is definitely in the same inspired loopy field as The Neverhood when it comes to visuals and audio. The world itself is a kooky one, as you control Tommynaut while he explores the strange planet of Spiro 5, ending up in a fortress called, what else, Armikrog. From there, it’s up to him and his odd dog, Beak Beak, to solve the puzzles and find a way out.
I definitely liked the clay-animated design of Armikrog, but only to a point. That’s because when the game’s puzzles actually kick in, you get this strange feeling that the design is dialed in. At one point, we even ran into the same kind of puzzle three times, and while the solution eventually came around from memory, it’s just sad that more wasn’t done with innovative design.
In fact, the game drags quite a bit when it comes to its gameplay. Most of the time, you’re clicking between characters to take control of them, and fiddling around with objects within the environment in order to see what works and what shouldn’t be messed with. The Smart Cursor option definitely helps with this, but the game provides very little guidance – not even smarmy little humor bites – to lead the way. Old-school adventure fans may feel right at home with this, but some folks may feel frustration with the interface and repetition.
Also, there’s just not enough done with the voice cast of the game. Thanks to KickStarter, Pencil Test was able to lure in big names like Jon Heder (yes, Napoleon Dynamite), Rob Paulsen and Michael J. Nelson (of Rifftrax fame). But that potential is wasted, since no one really says anything in actual game sequences – only cut-scenes. They’re great cut-scenes, don’t get me wrong, but you’d think these guys would’ve been used a lot more.
Thankfully, the soundtrack, provided by Neverhood vet Terry Scott Taylor, is on point, with plenty of goofy melodies that will evoke memories of Tennapel’s previous successes. There’s nothing here quite as good as “Drivy Fish,” but I’ll certainly take what this game has to offer.
Outside of that, there’s very little in Armikrog to enjoy. Cut-scenes, visuals and music aside, there’s really not much game here, what with the somewhat average puzzle design and lacking rewards to keep on going. I’m happy that Tennapel and the team at Pencil Test were able to get back into the whole clay-mation business, but I can’t help but think more could’ve been done with this.
Maybe an Armikrog platformer would soothe the pain. Hey, it worked the first time around. “Ooh-wee!”