Platformers have been something I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for some time. I enjoyed them immensely during the 90’s along with the rest of the world, but aside from a few franchises that I’ve kept up with over the years, they’ve been mostly on my backburner. The last few years, however, have renewed my interest as the Xbox Live Arcade service has produced some quality work, including Braid, Limbo, and several others.
Now, TikGames has opted to enter platformer territory with their video game adaption of Scarygirl. I knew virtually nothing about the graphic novel the game is based prior to the interview with Peter Dassenko aside from the short trailer that depicted some of the gameplay that could be expected. And I have to say, between the visual style and the action that was portrayed, it was the first time I had been interested in a platformer game in quite awhile. Now that I’ve had a chance to sit down and actually play the final product, did it live up to expectations, or is it all style and no substance?
One of the dangers of playing a game set within an existing property is feeling alienated by the game due to having no idea what’s going on. Luckily for Scarygirl, the game provides a reasonable amount of exposition before you even begin, so you have some familiarity with the characters and setting. You learn that Scarygirl is an orphan that was taken in by a giant squid named Blister. Not exactly an owner of a human wardrobe, Blister then searches the bottom of the sea for some clothes (hence her pirate attire) and builds her a house. Just your normal, run-of-the-mill nuclear family.
Eventually, Scarygirl begins having dreams involving a mysterious man named Dr. Maybe. Unable to provide the answers himself, Blister offers his blessing for her to seek out the answers on her own, facing dangers perhaps a bit too unreasonable in the pursuit of knowledge on dreams. And with that, your adventure begins.
While your quest for answers is dotted by the occasional brief cutscene, much of what you are about to experience in each stage and what your goal will be is laid out by the game’s narrator. And this is a good thing, as I would prefer not to get smacked over the head with a lengthy storyline in a game like this anyway. With the bulk of the narration taking place during loading screens, you can still get an idea of what’s going on without having to halt the action. The few cutscenes that you do experience are skippable as well, so if you really don’t care what’s going on, you can choose to bypass these.
While not breakthrough by any means, Scarygirl‘s story gives you reason enough to progress while not interfering with with the flow of the game, and that’s all I could really ask out of a title like this.
Story/Modes Rating: Good
The visuals in Scarygirl are easily the game’s strongest selling point, as their uniqueness inspire the curiosity to explore all their own. The whole thing gives off the same vibe as a Tim Burton film. There are forests with trees whose branches are bent into rectangular patterns, cities with irregularly shaped buildings, and mountains that are so structurally unstable looking that you wonder how they don’t tip over when you walk on them. As I mentioned before, I knew very little about the graphic novel prior to this game, but TikGames managed to bring the world of Scarygirl to life and it’s a heck of a visual treat.
Most surprisingly of all, Scarygirl herself is probably the least scary looking thing in the entire game. While some of the early enemies you face look almost too cute to bash around, some of the things you face look as menacing as they actually are and fit in with the crazy environments that they inhabit. Scarygirl looks kinda odd in 3D which makes me wonder why they went with the three dimensional look as opposed to cel-shading. Still, that’s probably the worst thing that I could say about the way the game looks and for an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable game, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.
Graphics Rating: Great
The only tune on the soundtrack that really stood out for me was the one that plays on the game’s main menu which is incredibly catchy, not to mention memorable. The rest of the tracks, while they lend themselves well to their respective zones, are quickly drowned out by the sounds of Scarygirl smacking around her enemies and collecting gems. The narration that takes place throughout the game is well delivered, and well suited for the story. Scarygirl herself doesn’t ever seem to talk, but she makes odd little groans when she takes damage that vary so wildly with each hit, it’s hard to tell that it is even coming from her. None of the other characters say anything save for what you read in text bubbles, which was probably done in an attempt to not shatter what fans of the source material had already come to expect these characters would sound like. But again, it’s perfectly suitable for this kind of game and you really won’t miss it.
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
Scarygirl is both a 2D platformer and an action title, which means that solid controls are an absolute must to have any kind of enjoyable experience with a game like this. So it’s a good thing that TikGames delivered on that front. It takes inspiration from various games in both genres and manages to implement them all without flubbing on most of them.
You can control Scarygirl with the thumbstick, though not the directional pad as that is reserved for switching gear. The X and Y buttons are used to attack with your tentacle arm with a weak and strong attack respectively. You can string these buttons together to make combos or juggle your enemies into the air. A button will allow you to jump and holding it down will make Scarygirl spin her arm like a propeller and allow her to glide for a brief period of time, much like Tails from the Sonic franchise. For avoiding damage, you can use B to roll out of the way of attacks, or use left trigger to block or deflect any oncoming projectiles and doing so at the right time will send them right back. If you damage the enemies enough, you can pick them up with right trigger and fling them at other enemies to inflict some more. Sometimes there will be random eggs and such lying around that you can throw at them instead, or at targets in order to open new paths. The left bumper will initiate Scarygirl’s scary mode which will make the screen change color and cause all attacks to emit a giant mouth that will close around your enemies and inflict massive damage. You can even recover some health by doing this.
Scarygirl can grapple objects that are suspended in the air and swing from them using the same technique as you would to pick up enemies. This was the one thing I had a hard time getting used to. You have to hold down the right trigger in order to stay clinging to it. The dilemma is, if I’m trying to swing to another grapple point, it gave me a lot of trouble in allowing me to jump off the grapple point I’m currently attached to while gaining enough distance to make it to the next one without grappling the one I came from over again. It didn’t feel natural, and it made some of the later segments of the game more trouble than they really needed to be.
Aside from the small grappling bit, everything else feels polished. Scarygirl controls well when jumping from platform to platform, and there’s a satisfying ease of use that comes from combating the various enemies. You can collect gems that allow you to purchase upgrades, such as new hooks that enhance some of your abilities, like allowing you to swim faster or glide in the air longer. There’s also an assortment of new combos that can be unlocked, some of them that can inflict powerful damage from a distance with the use of tentacles that pop out of the ground.
Character growth is also achieved by picking up little heart containers that will give you one fourth of an extra heart for each one that you find. And these will come in handy, especially in later moments of the game. If you’re really having trouble, you can press A at any time to call in a buddy who will play as Scarygirl’s rabbit friend, Bunniguru. Player 2’s lifebar is proportional to however long Player 1’s life bar is, so collecting those heart containers is beneficial to both players. If Bunniguru should fall in battle, he will respawn if you should fail or complete the stage.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great
Scarygirl has a decent length relative to other games on the Xbox Live Arcade service, with a total length of approximately five hours depending on how much you struggle with it. The game does have its own leaderboard that adds up all the scores of each stage you complete. Your score is determined by the enemies you defeat and if you were defeated yourself at all during the stage. You can earn a “perfect”Â by collecting every gem, not dying, and pulling out all of the black weeds looking things you encounter. In fact, there’s an achievement for getting a perfect score on all of the stages.
There are also collectible trophies that you can find of all of the characters and enemies you encounter in the game. Once you defeat an enemy, it becomes added to the inventory of the shop where you can spend your gems on it. These trophies are then displayed in Scarygirl’s room that also serves as your portal to the rest of the game, allowing you to continue your progress or replay previous stages. There’s also an option for downloadable content already on the main menu, so you know there will eventually be more life beyond the core game as well.
Replayability Rating: Enjoyable
Scarygirl is a bit of a deceptive game when it comes to first impressions. When you first begin, things unfold in a very typical manner. You start out with easy enemies, with easy to avoid traps and things get progressively more difficult as you progress, at a fairly slow pace. Once you reach some of the later chapters in the game, suddenly the enemies kick into high gear and will begin to kick the crap out of you. Some of the later bits got so challenging I had to replay them dozens of times. And for the most part, I was okay with this. However, there was one flaw in the game’s design that goes largely unnoticed save for one particular kind of enemy. And in my opinion, this enemy almost broke the game entirely and made me quit in frustration.
I don’t recall the official title for these enemies, so I’m just going to dub them the “Blue Man Group.”Â This group of blue people usually appear in clumps and they carry weapons such as swords and what look to be staves that have a far greater attack range than your own. On top of this, they can also block your attacks while their buddies rush in, stab through their partner, and inflict major damage to you. This is why collecting all of those heart pieces is so important. Not only that, but you can’t jump over them either because they will swat you out of the air with their mile high weapons. So if a group of these guys trap you in a corner, you might as well give up. Scarygirl has no noticeable invincibility period when she takes damage and you get injured just by touching these guys. Even if they are blocking. And they are fat. Nothing was more infuriating than being stuck in a corner and watching my heart meter get sucked dry and not being able to do a thing about it.
It’s a shame too, because outside of this nuisance of a group of enemies, everything else is fairly well balanced. Even the boss battles, while offering some predictable attack patterns, still manage to make for tense encounters. If you have a second player helping out, things get much, much easier all around, but it’d have been nice not to have to use that as a crutch to get through some areas.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
While Scarygirl has an art style that I would consider to be unique, many of the other features are pulled from other titles in some form or fashion. The helicopter glide, as mentioned previously, is very reminiscent of Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog 3. The collecting of heart containers that come in fours reminded me a lot of The Legend of Zelda series (though you didn’t have to get four to use them right away in this game). The numbers that fly off your enemies as you inflict damage had the familiarity of some of the modern beat-’em-up titles like Castle Crashers. And the list goes on and on. These things were all implemented so well, though, I was okay with this. Darksiders pulled more material than this game does, and that was one of my favorite games of 2010.
Originality Rating: Above Average
When I first downloaded Scarygirl, I only had a chance to play for about 15 minutes the first time I touched the game, as I had prior engagements. And during that time, I was hooked. I kept wanting to go back to the game and explore this weird world that it had to offer me. While I did reach of a point of near rage quit on several occasions towards the its conclusion, I stuck it out and was glad I did. Yes, there are some frustrating points throughout the adventure. But I always wanted to pick it back up and give it another go. Much like Donkey Kong Country Returns (though not nearly that brutal). The whole experience is even better if you bring a friend.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
I don’t think the Scarygirl graphic novel has had enough exposure just yet to get a huge legion of people excited for this game. At least, in comparison to something like Scott Pilgrim that seemingly exploded in popularity overnight after word of a feature film began to circulate. On that same token, you don’t necessarily need to be a fan to appreciate this game. If you like platformers at all, you should get a kick out of it. Even more so if you like games with brawler style elements to them.
The problem is getting people to even try it in the first place. It’s not a game that has gotten a ton of coverage (though we ran an interview with TikGames last week). In fact, looking at the leaderboards, there’s only a few hundred people that are currently on there. And the GameFAQs forum for this title is practically barren. Trust me when I say you should at least give the game a try. I was pleasantly surprised and you might be as well.
Appeal Rating: Above Average
Scarygirl will cost you 1200 MSP on the Xbox Live Arcade, which equates to about $15. Now I know what you’re going to ask next. “Is it worth that?”Â Well, I have two points in regards to that. First off, I think the developers did a great job in bringing the world of Scarygirl to life and creating a unique environment for players to explore. As such, I think they deserve every dime of that managing to create a product that both looks the plays well. Yes, I would’ve done things a bit differently in the endgame, but not everyone will feel that way so I’m not going to hold that against TikGames. On the other hand, I think a $10 price point would’ve better served them in reaching a wider audience. Gamers don’t like the idea of paying full price for a game, especially not for an untested IP that they may not have a whole lot of knowledge about. Setting the price a little bit below the competition will encourage people to dive in for curiosity’s sake. There is also DLC already in the works, so the difference could be made up in that department depending on the cost and frequency of the releases.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Scarygirl has an original graphical style that permeates from every facet of the game and just begs to be explored. On top of that, the controls respond well and the game provides a reasonable enough challenge throughout most of the stages. Fans of the Scarygirl graphic novel will be delighted to see their favorite characters brought to life, and everyone else should enjoy the effective mix of platforming and beat-’em-up combat. The game is even further enjoyed if you have a buddy around to enjoy some local co-op with. It may not be for everybody, but there should be way more people playing this game than what I see on the leaderboards. I encourage everyone to at least give the demo a try. You never know, Scarygirl‘s unusual world might just be a natural fit for you.