Friday, October 16, 2015

Armikrog.

Armikrog.

The much-hyped spiritual-successor to The Neverhood. (Are we ignoring Skullmonkeys? Yes, the Neverhood did have a sequel!) Adventure games are tough to pull off, but I have to wonder if anyone on the team even played one before!



(Did you watch that intro video? I hope so, because that's all the backstory you're going to get on our main characters, Tommynaut and Beakbeak. After that, they crash land, are trapped in the fortress Armikrog., and now they must solve the puzzles contained therein to get out.)

The puzzles are indiscernible, and when they aren't, they're tedious. The story is nonexistent and even weaker than the Neverhood's was. No, I didn't have fun with it. The whole game is just a chore.

I couldn't deduce much of anything from my environment. The game throws so many meaningless symbols at you you're never sure which ones to make note of, so you have to backtrack to find them again when you learn you need one of those symbols for a puzzle!

The game breaks its own rules multiple times. Why does the octopus on the ceiling only talk to Beakbeak when he's on those little ledges and nowhere else? There is no clue that you're supposed to click on the elevator octopus while controlling Beakbeak at that particular moment, and why would you since you can't reach it?? The game only lets you interact with things within your reach EXCEPT for those parts!

Some puzzles are hidden. This one, for example, features a symbol on the wall with a button beneath. My first instinct was to try pressing the button, because buttons are interactive. Nothing happened, so I moved on. Turns out you have to click the symbol on the wall next to the button to activate the puzzle! Symbols are not interactive any other time, so why does that work here?!



So many levers to find... So many tile puzzles... So many SYMBOLS! That's pretty much all you do. Hunt for levers, slide tiles around, and hunt symbols. Many require taking detailed notes of every symbol you see, most of them are meaningless, but a few are important. If you didn't make a detailed drawing or take a good picture of that particular symbol, you may have to backtrack a looooooooong way to see it again. This happens over and over.

I am an adventure game player. I took notes of everything I saw, and I still missed a lot because so much of what you see is unused, and the stuff that is used is usually not what you expected! Every door has a symbol over it, symbols abound in every room, symbols are over every button, on the ceiling, on the walls--they're everywhere! There's only so much I'm willing to write down!

That robot puzzle! Why that pattern and none of the others?? Given that there's a space between two robot patterns, I thought the solution was to select the patterns on the dial that were between the two patterns on the wall. It seems logical, as there would be a robot etched there if not for the nest taking its place, but that's wrong. The solution is to choose the only patterns from the wall that are on the dials. Geeze, the solution is right in front of you, but good luck spotting the differences between the robot pieces, as they all look alike, which makes them almost impossible to draw for reference (not unlike the prayer bell puzzle in Schizm)! Why make a logical puzzle when you can make it tedious and arbitrary. I felt like I was being punished for thinking things through.

And the lullaby puzzles. They are so long, and you can't speed up the song, or stop the shrill crying of that damn baby, so if you mess up, you just have to listen to the whole song again and again with the crying baby in the background until you get it right. Getting it right is trial and error. No skill, no deduction.

Every puzzle is a freakin' chore, and there's no lightning mode, so backtracking is a painful trek! Eureka moments are accompanied by thoughts of "crap, now I have to go all the way back and find that symbol again!"



I played the fully-patched version, and even then it failed to save my game several times, and Beakbeak glitched out while flying, forcing me to replay large chunks of the game! Whatever happened to releasing a bug-free product the first time? Don't need to now--why bother getting something right the first time when we have the internet and can just keep patching it.

$900k dollars on Kickstarter for this? It's pretty, and the animation is gorgeous for the rare moments it happens, but that's it. We barely know who the villain is, and why he's doing all this. He's introduced and then defeated within two breaths! The Neverhood got away with these problems because the style and humor rose above its weak story and arbitrary puzzles. Skullmonkeys got away with a weak story because the platforming gameplay was otherwise good. Armikrog is so unintuitive, so tedious, and so unfunny its style can't make up for its shortcomings.

And what happened to the sound quality on the voice acting? Everyone speaks with an echo for half the game, and there's no reason for their voices to echo. It detracted from otherwise good performances. They got THE Michael J. Nelson to voice the main character, but he has maybe a page's-worth of dialogue! He's the main character, and he barely has a role. Mike is totally wasted!

Kudos to Terry S. Taylor for another great soundtrack, even if it is subdued and underused compared to the 3 games he scored for the team in the 90's; and to the artists and animators and voice actors who brought all of this to life, but the game is downright unpleasant to play. They had a lot of talented artists and animators, but apparently nobody knew how to make an adventure game or tell a story.

The backstory is poorly delivered--there's actually more background on the characters in the scrapped versions of the theme song than the theme actually used in the game! That intro song is the only identity our playable characters ever have, so if you missed any of the lyrics, you will be lost by the time the game ends! I'm still not entirely sure what happened, and I don't really care. The game is so tedious and aggravating it made me want to hurry up and get it over with.

Adventure games are supposed to be about exploration, discovering the story, and figuring out the puzzles in relation to the environment. They should be part of the story and discernible within that context. It's a hard task to pull off--just look at the sheer number of bad adventure games out there!--but wow, I haven't played an adventure game that pissed me off since Jurassic Park on Sega CD. Even Darkstar didn't make me angry!

Sorry, but I didn't enjoy Armikrog. They could have done so much more with this idea, but instead we have a lifeless, tedious game with a weak story and a distinct lack of humor and fun. There are a lot of creative people behind it, and the game took a lot of work to bring to life, but it doesn't add up to anything enjoyable.

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