Saturday, January 28, 2012

REVIEW - Scarygirl.

Once upon a time, a little girl is abandoned on a clifftop road.  She has one eye, a bone where her left arm should be and a tentacle for the right.  A gigantic sentient octopus named Blister adopts the child.  Utilizing his spectacular eight-armed carpentry skills, he constructs her a dream house.  Swimming to the inky depths of the sea, he obtains stylish garments for her - names her Scarygirl - and together they spend their days discussing the nature of the universe...

Immediately, Scarygirl draws one into its corner.  Perhaps some of us simply have affections for beautiful and morbid tales of courageous young women, but this thing has a very endearing setup.  Still, as a work of art, one would be better-served to consume its source material - as a game, Scarygirl is merely decent. 

It's not bad.  It's okay.  

It's a game I wish I could have played when I was six or seven.  Kids, I expect, will get a great deal of joy out of Scarygirl - but for a palette that's tasted more than a handful of platformers, it's a merely acceptable diversion - and not worth one's time, when compared to more ambitious and refined pursuits.  

At the same time, though, being an acceptable platformer - in an age when beautiful, fun 2-D platformers are the exception rather than the rule - is perhaps a rather valuable asset, and worth consideration. 

Scarygirl employs a pleasant, pastel-hued art style directly drawn from the original comic, but never quite   achieves the same striking, joyful whimsy of its inspiration.  It's thoroughly troubling that a ten-dollar PlayStation Store game, done up with polygonal models and backdrops, isn't as visually enjoyable as the free flash game you can find on Scarygirl scribe Nathan Jurevicius's website.  Honestly - the flash game even has an opening cutscene of higher quality than anything you'll find here.  

Still, graphically, the game is good - far better than your average little PSN platformer, to be sure - it only suffers in comparison to Jurevicius's original art.  A real, significant disappointment - and a lost opportunity - is that Scarygirl's animation is perfunctory, lacking any real character or charm.  

The game's music - some lifted wholesale from the flash game - is also a standout, but that raises the question of why on earth one would want to play this game instead of that one. 

I suppose it's because Scarygirl is indeed "an acceptable platformer," and that alone is cause enough for some.  

Keeping in mind that 'acceptable' doesn't imply 'remarkable,' Scarygirl does indeed scratch the ancient gamer itch to play a running-and-jumping game - it's good, simple fun - and at the very least, I love spinning her tentacle like a helicopter blade to hover.  Its mechanics, at first, are somewhat at odds with modern conventions - you don't press the button harder or longer to jump higher, for example - but the environments are designed to only ever take perfect advantage of its slightly unorthodox gameplay.  

Scarygirl doesn't evolve its platforming much over the course of the game - merely asking you to address more complex and lethal hazards as you edge closer to the final level. Instead, it leans more heavily on its combat as it progresses-  regularly offering new skills that turn Scary's whippy, hook-tipped tentacle arm into a weapon of mass devastation.  

Like the platforming, it's a bit disappointing that the combat - which is unusually well-fleshed-out, for a game like this - does not evolve or become more complex over the course of the game.  It would be nice to have new combat skills that make significant changes to the mechanics, offering greater options, but for the most part you merely get flashier and harder-hitting attacks.  

You want those attacks, of course - 'need' may be a better word - because Scarygirl's enemies can and will wipe the floor with you, before you learn how to dominate them.  In that, at least, it's rather satisfying.

The game's boss fights are similarly simplistic, and - like 2010's Shank - will kick the hell out of you multiple times before you simply memorize their patterns and utterly dominate them.  

If you find yourself desperate for some easy-going platforming and a touch of whimsy, Scarygirl is an acceptable diversion.  Its characters, its world, its art style are all valuable and interesting - and I'd love to explore them more - but taken on its own, this game isn't really worth ten dollars.  

Its greatest feat is that is has piqued my interest in the Scarygirl brand.  I want to read the original comic, now.  I want to spend more time with that lovely flash game - I just don't want to put any more time into TikGames' riff on the property. 

It's not terrible.  It's okay.  It's meh.  

  • lovely art direction
  • a great set-up, and a pretty good ending
  • great music
  • there's a surprising amount of combat mechanics
  • a reasonable length for the money
  • Scarygirl plays skip rope with her own tentacle as a wait animation
  • regularly rather fun
  • an easy-going, simple platformer that scratches the itch

  • there are far better platformers out there
  • the source material is way better looking
  • the flash game based on the source material is also way better looking
  • rote animation, completely dodging an opportunity to offer some vitality to the characters
  • boss fights come down to simple memorization
  • the platforming doesn't really evolve over the course of the game
  • neither does the combat
  • throwing an enemy or object into a target is near-impossible.  Honestly, would it have been so awful to let us target things?

Scarygirl is neither great not bad, but not nearly as endearing as its source material. 

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