A few years ago, I could have begun this review with a tirade about how platformers are a dying genre, but that is no longer even close to true. Indeed, thanks to the increasing prevalence of digital distribution, 2D platformers are perhaps more popular now than they have been since the days of the Super Nintendo. In such a saturated genre, a game has to do something to stand out, and unfortunately, Scarygirl does not.
The titular character is more peculiar than actually scary, so don’t worry, you’re not going to be playing a platformer in the style of Silent Hill. The game’s introduction shows Scarygirl, an abandoned child, being adopted by a highly intelligent octopus (seriously) and dressed with clothes found at the bottom of the sea. She has a recurring dream about a rather oddly-shaped man which neither she nor her octopus guardian can decipher, so she pays a visit to a wise rabbit sage named Bunniguru who lives downstairs, and who instructs her to go on a journey to a great city.
The story is rather inane, but it is clearly not intended to be an integral part of the experience. It is told through a series of pictures accompanied by narration, in a sort of comic-book style.
Scarygirl is part 2D action game and part platformer, and there is a fairly even split between the two gameplay types. The platforming starts off simply, but more mechanics are introduced over time. Scarygirl can jump and glide briefly by spinning her tentacle around, grapple onto various swing points, bounce off special enemies and trampolines, and more. The platforming feels mostly smooth, but unfortunately it does not exist in a vacuum.
The combat is shallow and feels cheap rather than challenging. Even with perfect timing, it isn’t really possible to get through most encounters without losing a health, and you’re mostly limited to three combos which do largely the same thing and which can’t even be looked up after the initial tutorial. As in many conventional action games, square performs a light attack, and triangle a heavy one which can launch enemies. This effect of the heavy attack makes the light attack rather pointless, with the result that most of the combat just consists of mashing one button. Stunning an enemy allows you to grab them, and throw them or slam them into the ground. This is a very nice mechanic, but it’s ruined by the mindless button mashing which is required to even use it. You can block, but only for a certain period of time before your shield expires.
The combat does, fortunately, improve a little over time. The gems that you find lying around are used both to heal you and to allow you to purchase new items and combat techniques. It’s doubtful that you’ll want to make any great effort to gather all of them, but the more you do pick up, the faster the combat improves. It’s still cheap, but it’s slightly less repetitive.
Killing enough enemies allows you to enter rage mode, which is pretty much the only tolerable part of combat, and even then, only because it allows you to get it out of the way and continue with the platforming. It essentially gives you a one-hit kill on every enemy. At times, you want to just resort to fleeing away from the enemy and continuing to jump around, but 90% of the time, this will get you killed and presented with a facetious game over screen. Boss battles fare better, because they actually require some sort of strategy, but as in all games, they are few and far between, and the rest of the combat feels like filler.
Scarygirl’s visual design is pleasant. It takes place in a 2.5D world, with bustling cities, towering mountains and dark caves behind you at any point in time. Occasionally, the game feels the need to remind you that it has a third dimension, and has you turn around a mountain, the camera swivelling to follow you. These moments are great from a presentation perspective, but they do impede the gameplay slightly by making it difficult to see what exactly you are doing. The music is quite nice and vibrant, but nothing to write home about. On the whole, Scarygirl is undoubtedly a well-presented game.
The campaign lasts for around six hours, which is fairly good for a downloadable game, but it starts to feel repetitive and shallow after a while. No online multiplayer exists, but a friend can jump in in local co-op to play as Bunnigiru, the aforementioned sagely rabbit. His combat is very slightly different, so it would have been nice to offer lone players the opportunity to play as him (perhaps as part of a tag-team, with the other player controlled by AI) but as he is, he is a nice addition.
Scarygirl is decent, but nothing more. It doesn’t have any brilliant original ideas, and doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, except perhaps background design, but it’s functional and fun in short bursts. The game would have been vastly improved by a good combat redesign which focused on timing and skill rather than luck, or perhaps (more daringly) the removal of all non-boss combat, in the style of Shadow of the Colossus. As it stands, however, it’s a playable game in a genre with several titles easily described as brilliant. Try it if it catches your eye, but don’t expect anything extraordinary.
This review is based on a PSN review code provided by the publisher.