Platformers are some of the most versatile and well-liked games around, and recent years have brought a wonderful resurgence amidst the slew of first-person shooters, one of the industry's biggest modern draws. Whether gamers choose an new oldie like Super Mario 3D Land or opt for a fresh pick like Super Meat Boy, there’s a lot out there to consume. So with Scarygirl entering such a crowded field, you can imagine how easy it would be to get lost or, worse, trampled on.
But by luck or good grace, the game manages to survive … sort of. Scarygirl (or Dr. Maybee and the Adventures of Scarygirl)—a downloadable title for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC (soon)—is a delightful little entry that capitalizes on much of its potential. In fact, it does a lot of things very right, but the few things it does wrong can ruin the experience.
The game is divided into seven major areas, each with three levels packaged in. Even though some locales are basically repeated—I lost count of how many forests I trekked through—they all look and feel wholesomely different. Scarygirl reaches beyond the merry-go-round of stock settings that are so common in platformers by now, too—choosing to match its ice caverns with a creepy spider cave and its many forests with mountains and swamps. You’ll even visit a bar and hitch a ride on the wings of a plane. These places are enchantingly named—from the aforementioned Hairclump Spider Caves to the Old Man Mountains. Even when you’re not beholding Nathan Jurevicius’ (see our interview with the creator) handsome illustrations in cut-scenes and such, the animation is bold and colorful.
The gameplay takes a little while to warm up, but once it does the mechanics work together quite nicely. Players can go through the game solo or have a friend jump in anytime as the mystic rabbit Bunniguru. Since Scarygirl is the star, here’s a sampling of her moves: She uses light and heavy attacks, the latter capable of juggling enemies in the air. She can grapple stunned enemies and shoot them like cannonballs into other targets or squish them to boost her health (this also lets loose a nice shockwave that damages nearby enemies so you can refuel without getting pushed around—a huge pro considering healing yourself takes a few seconds). She can swing on her tentacle-like arms and helicopter through the air or smash enemies into other enemies on the ground. Whatever Scarygirl is doing, it feels fun and endearing. Players can purchase upgrades of moves, attachments (power-up items), and vinyls (these are post-game extras, really) with the gems they collect in each level and jack up their level scores by pulling all the Blackweed, completing a level without dying, or gathering the total number of gems (which can be harder than you’d think).
Enemies are just as creatively designed as the levels, and with a little experimenting, players can discover “secret” ways to take them out more quickly. The levels themselves deviate, offering branching paths and sometimes uniquely arranged courses (for example, in one level I climbed to the top of a tree by ascending a ramp that spiralled around it), and the music is fantastic, never overwhelming the gameplay.
Another great and often under-appreciated feature is the ability to review your unlocked moves in the options—a convenience otherwise great games like Castle Crashers neglected to include.
But there are problems. Oh, boy, are there problems. For the most part Scarygirl plays and controls well. The only issue I encountered was more a glitch—sometimes Scarygirl would get stuck not on the geometry, but on a sort of invisible block. Wiggling the left stick around frees her, so it’s not a huge problem, but it is strange and something I was never able to pin down.
You might dislike the long-winded and melodramatic narrator (I certainly did), but again, this is not a major misstep and these story segments are often skippable (unlike the two early tutorials). Loading up the game is slower than it should be—but you get the point.
It ought to take players no more than five or six hours to beat Scarygirl, but time to talk about the elephant in the room: This game has one of the most devastating spikes in difficulty, starting about halfway through. At first it was manageable—so you die a lot more and don’t get the no-lives-lost bonus at the end, big deal. But before you know it, you’re confronting a mechanical dragon that’s nearly impossible to destroy given your accrued health (learn his pattern down to every missile or say goodnight) and facing waves of blue sword-and-spear-wielding businessmen who, as far as I can tell, don’t have a single weakness—and trying to block their attacks is as certain as predicting the stock market.
For a game that builds itself up as an enjoyable sight-see, where you can play the game for pleasure or for score without worry, Scarygirl sure takes a nosedive. It even tosses in a few oddballs—like the random fetch quest for bones. Considering any other collecting you do (gems, Blackweed) is totally optional, this was about as out of the blue as those stubbornly difficult enemies.
I can understand why the game got harder—it wasn’t particularly challenging in the beginning—and the transition from easy to hard was gradual (at first anyway, before it really hit its peak), but I don’t understand why this change passed final approval. I know about the desire for more “old school” game difficulty as opposed to today’s hand-holding, but the fact is people hated the brutality of early games. They threw controllers and swore and yes, savored a massive accomplishment if they beat a game—but those games were just unfair. So is Scarygirl. Why anyone wants to go back to those days instead of settling for reasonable challenge is beyond me (games can be hard without babying you), but TikGames’ decision to hamper Scarygirl with these extremes is just unfortunate. It squanders the game’s enormous potential and disrespects a larger audience of gamers who don’t need vicious difficulty to find worth in a game.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]