The character of Scarygirl is the creation of Australian illustrator Nathan Jurevicius, and fans have seen the bizarre although charming character in stories that involve her octopus guardian, Blister, and a variety of otherworldly creatures that are quite imaginative. The video game adaptation is here and it’s very Tim Burton-esque; it has plenty of artistic appeal and features an entertaining platforming mechanic that falls short due to a few design and control issues.
Scarygirl really looks good. The 2.5D format – which allows you to choose a path every now and then – boasts a myriad of colorful attractions, the special effects are relatively impressive, and the frame rate is smooth. I think TikGames could’ve done a bit more with a few of the worlds, as they tend to feel a little repetitive, but there’s a lot to like about this solid, nicely detailed visual presentation. The singular style and great animations are definite highlights.
The sound features a decent narrator (who has a minor role), and the combination of crisp effects and a haunting music score that plays up the lighthearted nature of the game. There’s an obvious darkness involved – any little girl with an octopus arm and an eye patch is a little unsettling – but the audio appropriately tempers the darker side by giving us a low yet heartfelt soundtrack. There aren’t enough pieces of music, which feeds into the repetition problem, but that’s okay.
For the most part, Scarygirl is a straightforward platformer. It’s side-scrolling in the aforementioned 2.5D plane, and you can jump, roll, block, grapple/swing, and execute light and heavy attacks. You can also hover for a ways by holding the jump button; Scarygirl will whirl her octopus arm over her head and carry herself forward through the air. But this leads me to the first and perhaps most glaring problem: the control isn’t quite right. I got used to it after a while, but it’s still not stable enough.
See, when hovering, you sort of launch yourself across horizontally; it’s not like holding the button will slow down and lengthen your descent. So it’s sort of jerky and jarring when you use this feature, and frequently causes you to overshoot your landing target. In addition, the camera can occasionally cause a problem, as it can obscure the points along the path where enemies emerge. These are minor issues but they’re enough to be frustrating after playing for a couple hours.
There are 21 stages broken up into 7 different worlds and although each has a certain creative distinction, you sort of do the same thing over and over. While it’s definitely fun to collect gems and give enemies a whoopin,’ it gets a little tiring. TikGames adds some depth by letting you purchase new abilities and items that extend the experience, but too many of those skills seem superfluous. You’ll just end up using your basic attacks more often than not, and trying out your hard-earned skills just to see what they look like. They're cool, but unessential.
But I want to stress that Scarygirl has been getting too much flak in reviews for these issues I outline here. I acknowledge the existence of these flaws but let’s not gloss over the bottom line: the game is entertaining and challenging. The more you play, the more you become used to the control scheme and while it’s never perfect, you don’t see some of the eccentricities as huge mistakes. I played for a good two hours before taking a break, and I was enjoying myself.
Enemies can sort of blindside you at first, but you have to notice the shaking bushes, which signify foes are a-comin’. Also, while I was always irritated at Scarygirl’s lack of range (that arm doesn’t go far), it’s just something else I got accustomed to. Same goes for the grappling and gliding, which are still too erratic to be praised, but not half-broken as I initially believed. It’s just one of those old-school-type games that rewards practice and patience, and the whole action/platforming mechanic gels well together.
Two players can get involved as well, and that’s always a plus. The ambiance and atmosphere remains the best part of the game, and I’m forced to admit that the controls may be viewed as loose rather than challenging. Personally, I got sort of hooked on getting all the gems, pulling out all those bad weeds (they often get in the way), and grabbing and pounding on enemies. Like I said, it comes together quite well; it’s just mechanically lacking.
Scarygirl is an artistic, entertaining game that doesn’t quite reach a necessary level of accomplishment and refinement. The adventure feels a little too repetitive and the extra moves don’t necessarily add depth, as they feel more cosmetic than anything else. The control and camera can be iffy and even frustrating, and you may feel overmatched. But I urge those who enjoy the art style and presentation seen in available media to give it a try, because I really had fun for a long period of time.
And I’m not about to ignore that.
The Good: Clean, creative visual presentation. Fitting effects and soundtrack. 2.5D setting offers both atmospheric appeal and gameplay diversity. Earning gems and experimenting with new skills is entertaining. Decent level design.
The Bad: Music gets a little repetitive. Control isn’t quite stable enough; it’s more loose than challenging. Camera can block emerging enemies. Not enough done with gameplay and levels later on.
The Ugly: “Okay, this whole jerking forward while trying to glide thing is starting to get to me.”