For the sake of brevity, let me sum up my feelings of ScaryGirl: It makes me wish I was 10 years old again.
The latest in a franchise based around artist Nathan Jurivicius’s vision of a little abandoned girl who is adopted by a friendly octopus named Bristle, ScaryGirl starts with a bad dream. The face of a dapper if sinister looking man keeps appearing in ScaryGirl’s dreams, and she sets out to The Bad City to find this man. Along the way she fights owls and blackweed under the Tree Of Knowledge, deals with fezed crimelord Chihoohoo, and flings baby Yetis with aplomb. As an artistic achievement, Scarygirl is one of the more memorable platformers around, full of dreamy colors, bizarre landscapes, and character designs straight from the mind of Tim Burton if he had dated more in high school. Since most of the designs for the enemies come from Jurivicius’s vinyl toy line (virtual versions of which can be purchased ingame and displayed in ScaryGirl’s treehouse), all of the characters are well defined visually and fit into a world that feels more cohesive than most platformers.
As coherent as ScaryGirl is visually, mechanically the game suffers from a looseness in control. The basic fighting, a mix of light and heavy attack with unlockable special moves, function well enough, and the first few levels almost lull you into a feeling of a enjoyable if a bit unchallenging experience. Around the halfway point, however, it feels like suddenly the game got away from the developer. ScaryGirl is the highest profile game developer TikGames has done date, the studio being known more for casual titles like Hamsterball and Cinema Tycoon. As new mechanics are introduced, from climbing walls to counterblocking, they progressively feel less and less nailed down. Inconsistent areas of effect, delayed jumping and poor aiming control marrs what should have been a consistently enjoyable experience if the engine had matched the paint job.
Other concepts seem half baked as well. Early on, branching paths are introduced, but with no real indication as to what each choice means to the overall gameplay. While each path has varying difficulty, this can only be determined once a player has played through each path, rendering the choice meaningless on that front. These branching paths grow from pointless exercise to frustrating treadmilling for completionists, as those wishing to attain “Perfection” on each level by collecting all the gems and pulling all the blackweed have to take both paths on the same playthrough, as collected items do not persist between playthroughs, forcing players to ace the level in one go. As levels progress, taking both paths can be impossible if one doesn’t already know the level, as branches become gated off by deadfalls or walls. This imposes the quality of replayability without giving anything in terms of reward other than a few more virtual vinyls on the shelf and an Achievement.
Growing up, most of us did not own many games, meaning we had to find joy in the games that we did have, even if they weren’t that great. For me, it was The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, which by any objective measure was a terrible game (and like ScaryGirl, also featured a giant octopus, although Tom Sawyer’s didn’t have a jaunty mustache). But I learned to enjoy the game because it was almost literally the only thing I had to play. Were ScaryGirl the only game available to me, the visuals and sense of style would help me overcome the weaker gameplay aspects. But I’m not 10 years old again, I can afford to buy other games, and there are too many other games to play instead of just getting through ScaryGirl for the art. A better use of your $15 would be to pick up a ScaryGirl book: the fantastic art is still present and you can blame any problems using the thing on your own illiteracy.