Remember the Neverhood? Most people probably shake their head in response. But a few of us will nod happily and get a distant look in our eyes. The Neverhood was a point and click adventure game from 1997 with the highly distinguishing features of a fantastic soundtrack by Terry Taylor and being built in clay and animated using classic stop-motion. Armikrog is a 105% spiritual sequel, a puzzle game in a clay world with amazing Taylor music.
A slow start
It took me a long while to get back into the style of the game. "The style" being a beautifully made world with extremely nonsensical puzzles pasted on top. They are not nonsensical as in lacking clues or logic (well …), but rarely can you find a reason for the puzzle to be in the world. I started off slow, walking around randomly, trying to solve puzzles and generally get a feel for the game. What was decoration, what was actual clues to puzzles?
The music just kept growing on me.
I was happily surprised by how good Pencil test were at rolling out updates which not only fixed bugs but actually added features which made the game more playable and much less about pixel hunting. The first few times I got stuck on puzzles I actively wondered if a bug was keeping me from progressing or if I was just doing the wrong thing. That stopped after a few patches, and I never ran into any show-stopping bugs. (Just a few puzzles which became replayable without it having any ill effects.) I assumed a 1.0 and perhaps a quick 1.0.1 fixing a crash or two would be the extent of updates. It is nice to be wrong.
And suddenly, it was over
My friend Martin was right, it was pretty short once you got going. "The style" did start to make sense eventually, even if it took me most of the game I definitely was on a roll toward the end. Fortunately the puzzles were a lot simpler than I had feared. Still, they had a bit too much of keeping notes on the side was required. That was actually a pretty large portion of all the puzzles, was it not? Keeping track of symbols placed in various locations and matching them on panels.
I have to say, despite myself, I did enjoy it more toward the end. I enjoyed the rooms, they looked even better than the Neverhood I think. The animated sequences were super beautiful. And the music, yes, all lovely.
I also enjoyed that it was not longer. I could wish for more story inside of the time the game lasted, but I feel no need for the game to be longer. It was fascinating to see a video of concept models Tennapel made in cardboard, but I can both see why all that did not make it into the finished game and feel happy they didn't make the scope any wider.
Needless world building
I have grown a bit tired of Tennapel's (I assume all of the story is basically his) world and background building. There is a long backstory scribbled on walls, just like in the Neverhood. It is mercifully shorter (at least I think so) this time but it still goes on and on with characters doing deeply questionable things in the name of … being righteous because they are the heroes of the backstory, I guess? I also wonder what warrants the mood of that story being so different than the game? The whole thing feels old-fashioned and biblical, and not in a good way. A lot of people are killed, quickly and without remorse. Marrying (including a wedding ceremony where the woman promises to defer to the man) and forming a family is of course of utmost importance, but sexuality is such a taboo that the people grow their children in fields and I was surprised they dared to use the word "pouch" to describe where the male kept the seeds. Less killing and more sex would have done the story and everyone in it a lot of good.
Next time, can we skip the whole backstory on a wall thing completely?