Publisher: Square Enix
Available On: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network (Reviewed on Xbox LIVE Arcade)
With her mixture of cutesy, doll-like appeal and slightly creepy undertones, Scarygirl is a cartoon creation that naturally holds appeal in the geeky twilight world between alternative culture, videogaming and comics. The zipper-faced, eye patched little girl has been featured in web comics, graphic novels, jigsaws, toys and a relatively simplistic desktop Flash game, amongst other things. Developer Tik Games has decided it was nigh time to have a crack at producing a juicier, more substantial affair to truly bring Aussie Nathan Jurevicius’ creation to life. Can this Xbox LIVE Arcade platformer, made under the watchful eye of the mighty Square Enix, capture the oddball world of this unusual little zombie girl, and deliver plenty of spooktacular platform thrills?
I want to get something out of the way, out in the open from the start. As lazy a comparison as it may seem, there is no getting away from the fact that Scarygirl does have a few things in common with Sony’s standout LittleBigPlanet titles. Firstly there is a voice-over track that more or less mimics Stephen Fry to a tee, and then the Scarygirl character herself, who looks very much like a Sackboy, albeit after a spell as the bass player for Marilyn Manson. The gameplay too is reminiscent of the benchmark Media Molecule creation, appearing to be a similar item collecting, gentle platform romp, with some handy tutorial hand-holding along the way. Older readers will take a look at the 2.5D graphical style, and the branching paths through levels, and see Namco’s slept on Klonoa series.
But don’t let these influences come across as negatives, ScaryGirl does enough differently and has its own unique charm, and is so enjoyable that there is no way it can be classified as a mere derivative clone.
The story is an oddball delight, our heroine’s tale begins when she is discovered washed up on a beach by a friendly octopus who takes her under his benevolent tentacles, even building her a wickedly creepy looking house to live in. But this heart-warming tale of cephalopod adoption is soured when Scarygirl begins having horrible, seemingly prophetic nightmares involving an evil-looking bearded gentleman. Naturally, she consults her yogi-like rabbit pal, and ends up having to embark on a quest, starting by heading towards the Tree of Knowledge.
Scarygirl can run from left to right, perform an evasive rolling manoeuvre, and even use a shield for a limited period of time. But the most important part of her arsenal, and the main device you will use during gameplay, is her extendable, tentacle-like arm. This useful appendage is used like a helicopter to glide in mid-air (think Rayman), to swing from grappling spots, and also as a weapon that can lash foes like a whip, while also grabbing stunned opponents and fling them at other enemies. There are combos to be had, and believe me you will need to use them, allowing you to juggle enemies or combine straight whip shots with grapples, swinging downed opponents into another for extra damage, or using the wee hedgehog you have just duffed up to take down a bird flying overhead. Each stage presents new challenges, and much like big grown up games of the Devil May Cry or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow-ilk, you will have to chop and change your fighting style when confronted with the myriad enemies and bosses you encounter. If things get too much, there is a “rage” meter, which, when filled up, turns Scarygirl into a genuinely scary, badass version of herself that can rip a screen-full of baddies a new one before you can say “Jack Robinson”. You will need to use this mode at times, mark my words, so be careful when you unleash it!
The main aim of the game is to get from one end of the level to another, usually facing a boss at the end of each. But like many platformers, there is longevity to be had by exploring and ensuring that you have mopped up all of the collectables on each stage to garner a “Perfect” rating. Collecting the diamond-shaped jewels (the in-game currency) also allows you to buy new abilities, combos and items for Scarygirl, lending the game the sort of RPG-lite levelling up mechanics that I am a massive sucker for. You will have to play through the game more than once to amass enough jewels to buy all of the weapons, additional combos and trophies, and only those who have truly mastered the title will unlock the achievement which requires a perfect score on every single level – including not losing a life – a truly old-school challenge if ever I saw one, which evoked troublesome childhood memories of attempting to one-credit Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts.
A quest of such offbeat proportions calls for something pretty special in the aesthetic stakes and my word, Tik have done a sterling job bringing the comic creation and her Tim Burton-esque world to life. The backgrounds are beautifully put together with multiple layers, all full of hustle and bustle, movement and life. The 2.5D nature of the game means that there is a lovely wraparound effect as you wander through the landscape, taking into account the branching, meandering pathways. From the owl infested woodland that serves as a starting point, each of the individual levels looks unique. There are mountaintops, reached by floating upward upon a dandelion seed, and infested with angry goats. Later on you will enter cities, swim in the ocean and even end up in a boozer. The graphics are absolutely top-drawer throughout, and I guarantee that Jurevicius is pleased with how it turned out.
He may be a knock off job, but the narrator does an adequately soothing job of mimicking the erstwhile Thespian. The music is implemented in such a way that it doesn’t become annoying or intrusive, it builds up during more frantic moments, and sometimes you will hardly notice it is there. The ambience is completed with some amazing sound effects, whether they are depicting an exploding enemy, or the jingly wind chime-like notes that chime out when you collect a precious crystal collectible.
VERDICT: At around 6 or 7 hours, this is a sizeable yet not overwhelming challenge, but I must stress that is without hammering the game within an inch of its life and collecting everything it has to offer. There is not much in the way of additional modes, you can play co-op but only locally, with a friend taking on the role of the Zen Rabbit dude, but your co-conspirator in Scarygirl carnage will not unlock any achievements and is very much an afterthought, given that the camera always focuses on the main protagonist, and the bunny will simply teleport to her side if he gets left behind.
There are some leaderboards to post your clear times, but this game isn’t about the internet, it is about providing a solid single player adventure, and it certainly succeeds in doing that. Scarygirl is a super little title, which does a great job borrowing some ideas from other games, yet producing something that has a flavour very much of its own. I loved the plot. These characters sure are likeable, if you’ll excuse the pun, I am always a sucker for octopi, easily my favourite animal. The gameplay is simple enough for anyone to get into, yet you could never get by simply by mashing buttons in the later stages, so the well balanced learning curve which introduces you to new bits and pieces as you progress is ideal. The whole package plays, looks and sounds great, and is a superb way to kick off your digital purchasing for 2012.