Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: TikGames / Price: 1200 Microsoft Points / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Cartoon Violence, Use of Tobacco]
There was a lot about Scarygirl that I didn’t know when I first booted up the game, but once I got my first look at the game’s title character, I knew that I didn’t much like her. She’s overdesigned to the point of absurdity—she’s got a tentacle with a hook on it, an eye-patch, stitches on her mouth, and a party hat with a skull on it.
Simply put, she looks like if a Hot Topic threw up.
But aesthetic preferences aside, the game she stars in didn’t do much to combat my initial impressions. Adapted from a browser-based Flash game, Scarygirl is an aggressively average 2D platformer that manages to bring nothing new to the table, while failing to really nail the basics.
The story is a tale as old as time: an orphan girl who had bones for arms is rescued by a friendly octopus named Blister, dressed like an idiot and outfitted with a tentacle, and eventually sets off on a quest to Bad City in order to determine the source of her bad dreams and the evil black weeds that are choking the life out of nature. It’s a great example of classic storytelling, really.
As it turns out, Scarygirl is children’s book charater created by Australian-born artist Nathan Jurevicius, who seems to have found success with the project in terms of creating urban vinyl toys based on her and her stable of characters. Frankly, anything that resembles a story in this game really seems to be just some weird narrative that Jurevicius has invented to justify his line of toys. Told through only a few short cutscenes and mostly through text that’s narrated to players during the same static load screen between level, very little of the story makes anything that resembles sense. Characters and plot points are introduced with little to no context, which made me feel left out, confused, and annoyed.
Using her multi-purpose tentacle, Scarygirl must run and jump her way from her home near the woods all the way to Bad City, fighting the bad guys and woodland creatures she encounters along the way. Combat is split between light and heavy attacks, and multiple hits allow for combos. After enough hits, enemies can become stunned, allowing for various tentacle-grab moves. Scarygirl’s tentacle also allows for some interesting mobility options—holding the jump button lets her use the appendage like a helicopter whirligig, and certain areas call for using the tentacle to swing from one area to another.
Also scattered around levels are gems, which you can cash in at various points for more advanced combos and powers, or different attachments for your tentacle—like an extra-heavy anchor for slower, more powerful attacks, or a feather for extending hovering time when helicopter-ing.
All of these are fairly standard-issue platforming tropes, though the hovering does add a bit of extra flavor to the mix. But there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen a hundred times before in other games. And while a platformer having basic platformer qualities isn’t a knock against the game in and of itself, the rest of its shortcomings do much to diminish a game that’s already average at best. Add frequent cheap hits by enemies and unimaginative levels and nothing in the way of a clear or interesting goal, and there’s very little going on here that keeps a player coming back for more.
Something feels disconnected between the controller and Scarygirl. While the controls themselves seem simple, nothing about the controls meld together to a cohesive whole. The jumping/hovering mechanic doesn’t feel tight at all, as it’s never clear when your hover-time will end, or just how high you’ve got to jump before you start to hover. Since holding the jump button to jump higher is standard platforming fare, it would be far more intuitive to only hover by hitting the button a second time, allowing gamers to jump as high (or low) as they like without worrying about suddenly hovering—which, itself, inches Scarygirl higher the longer she hovers.
Combat, too, suffers from sloppy reactions to button pushes. Special combo moves don’t seem to be based on timing your attacks, but rather on simply mashing buttons as quickly as you can. Sometimes Scarygirl will pull of the move—sometimes she won’t.
Then there’s the swing-move, which is pulled off by holding the right-trigger. Swing-jumping gets tricky, as disengaging from a grapple-point can be achieved by either holding jump (to hover) or by letting go of the trigger, but the hand-gymnastics required to get a good rhythm going always seemed to elude me. This problem is even more pronounced when Scarygirl has to traverse a series of rotating platforms while using grapple to carry a rock—meaning you have to hold the trigger while jumping, killing the hover-move while hampering your hand’s dexterity. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, and might even present a nice challenge, if the game’s jump mechanics weren’t so screwed up. It seems as though unless the platform Scarygirl is on is totally still (not beginning to rotate), the jump button doesn’t quite work, meaning you’ll just fall, necessitating retry after retry.
To make an already long story short, the controls don’t feel responsive at all, and where it should be simple, it’s overly complicated. There are so many great examples of how a platforming game should play and feel out there. That’s what makes a game that drops the ball so hard so very disappointing.
I understand that there’s a market out there for what Jurevicius is pushing with Scarygirl’s emo-goth-alternativo aesthetics. It is very much not for me, but that’s okay. I can still appreciate a well-drawn (or at least interestingly rendered) character or landscape, even if it’s not my cup of tea.
Unfortunately, the game fails to adequately capture the energy or personality behind the artist’s characters and environments. The move from 2D to 3D-rendering was not kind to Scarygirl, especially when this game is compared to its browser-based counterpart. In the Flash version, Scarygirl and her environments are all flat, 2D sprites that are vibrant and colorful. The XBLA version, though, suffers from fuzzy textures and dull, ugly environments. It’s often difficult to figure out where Scarygirl ends and enemies or platforms begin, leading to lots of cheap hits and missed jumps.
Like the visuals, the sound doesn’t do this game any favors. Few characters speak, with the exception of the occasional narrator, and a very underwhelming and unconvincing “ow” from Scarygirl herself when she gets hurt. There also isn’t much in the way of catchy music to help lift this game from the doldrums. What music there is seems more like poorly conceived avante garde, ambient jazz that tends to annoy after it’s been looped for the twentieth time. The sound is just one more example of a lazily made affair.
If you’re a fan of the character somehow, that shows you like things that are “unique” and have a “dark” “personality,” and are not at all manufactured in order to appeal to an overplayed “edgy” aesthetic. As such, this game is for you, because that means you have mediocre taste. Everyone else, save your valuable time and effort.