US: 18 Jan 2012
Outside of Nintendo, creating a platformer is a bit of a lost art. One would think that a genre so simple in design and so storied in history would be more readily explored by developers, but the yearly output of platformers has slowed to a trickle. In any case, a platforming game seems like the natural form of adaptation for Nathan Jurevicius’s graphic novel, Scarygirl. Not only is the titular character’s adventure broken up into episodic bits that fit the level-to-level structure of the genre, but the outlandish, whimsical premise of Scarygirl feels right at home in the fun and colorful levels.
The game opens with the game’s delightfully drab narrator explaining the history of the graphic novel’s character. One day a sentient octopus named Blister finds a young girl with a tentacle in place of her right arm washed up on a shore. Blister names the girl Scarygirl and dresses her in the most fashionable pirate-ware in the ocean and raises her as his daughter. Over time, Scarygirl begins having dreams about a mysterious figure that may know about her origins. The game begins when a philosophical rabbit tells Scarygirl to seek the figure beyond the great city. Each level chronicles a segment of her journey, from her treehouse, up a mountain, across the sea, through the great city and beyond.
The narrator updates the player on Scarygirl’s next objective and about her feelings between levels, and as amusing as his over-the-top accent is, the brief segments aren’t entirely necessary. Being a platformer, it really stands entirely on the quality of its levels and how it plays. The game serves as an excellent example of how aesthetics are more important than graphics. The levels are cartoonish, simple, and colorful. They’re fun to look at and the accompanying soundtrack keeps pace with the onscreen action. Graphically, the game looks somewhat like the early Crash Bandicoot games, but the use of the background and the changing camera angles make the small world feel more alive and pretty.
That said, the game doesn’t exactly start off on the best foot. The optional tutorial is entirely unneeded (it can be summed up as “press this button to jump, mash these buttons to attack and the rest you can figure out on your own”), and the first level is dark, flat and dull. Once the game stops holding your hand, though, it really picks up. In fact, it is a little odd that it spends so much time trying to help the player along when there really aren’t very many challenges. Most enemies scoot toward you at a goomba’s pace and even the bigger baddies fall after a few swats.
The biggest challenges of the game come from some noteworthy design issues. Scarygirl can latch her tentacle onto hooks and swing off them for a better jump, but one rarely feels like the boost that it grants makes much of a difference. Furthermore, the dynamic camera angles, while they make the game feel much bigger than it is, can also make seeing the next jump or obstacle unnecessarily difficult. These aren’t game breaking problems but they do take away from the experience.
The game also has collectible diamonds that can be used to purchase upgrades or refill health at certain points in each level, but these elements feel a little tacked on. None of the upgrades are essential to completing the game, and the combat is already easy enough that new advantages are never needed. As for buying a health refill, there are plenty of fish strewn about each level that will restore portions of health, ultimately rendering the whole currency and upgrade system moot. Finally, without lives, there’s never the justification to go out of your way to gather up diamonds as it is with collecting coins or rings.
The game also allows a second player to control Bunniguru, the kung-fu rabbit that originally sent Scarygirl on the adventure. Bunniguru is quicker and has slightly less attack range than Scarygirl but controls virtually the same way. Having another player doesn’t offer many advantages or disadvantages, but in games like this, more tends to be merrier, so it’s a nice addition.
Scarygirl’s poorer design choices make it a chore at times, but it goes above the minimum requirement for a good platforming game. If nothing else, its kooky and creative style make Nathan Jurevicus’s work worth a glance. Scarygirl is short, light-hearted fun best shared with a friend between major releases that is worth the modest asking price.