In a world full of run-of-the-mill shooters, sequels, and even indie games that try so hard to be different, they end up looking the same, Scarygirl is a game that really stands out. While the game in itself is not that different from your typical 2D platformer, the art style is incredible, and it was the first thing that impressed me and prompted me to play all three Scarygirl games available.
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PC
Original release: 2012
The Scarygirl I’m reviewing here, the PSN/XBLA/PC version, is the most polished of the three, but I have to also highly recommend the browser version, which is the best browser game I’ve ever played (and you can pass on the PlayStation Minis version, which is a watered-down version of the browser one – but it’s still the one that got me into the Scarygirl franchise because it was free with PS Plus during the period when PS Plus was free due to the PSN hacking fiasco ).
Scarygirl is a 2.5D platformer (the game takes place in 3D environments, but movement is in one 2D plane at a time) with a nice combat system which has combos and blocking. It supports couch co-op for 2 players (a feature many game developers seem to have forgotten about) and is a good deal of fun with a partner. The gameplay is quite varied, featuring, aside from the normal platforming, also swimming and wall-climbing segments. Jumping is a bit floaty and not precise enough, but you can fly a small distance forward through the air by holding the jump button. The bizarre art style is truly the highlight, it gives the game a unique feel and a lot of charm.
AN ABANDONED GIRL FOUND AND BROUGHT UP BY A GIANT OCTOPUS
The Scarygirl game is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Nathan Jurevicius. While the overall storyline is mostly the same, the game does take some slight liberties in the name of keeping the tale fresh even for those who have read the graphic novel and played the browser game. The premise is that Scarygirl has been abandoned and washed up on a deserted peninsula, where a giant octopus named Blister finds her. He starts taking care of her, making her the strange outfit she wears out of items he finds in the ocean, and a home out of a shipwreck. Life is great, the two get along wonderfully and enjoy discussing the secrets of the universe… Until a strange man starts appearing in her dreams. She knows she must find him.
Blister, unfortunately, has no idea who that man could be, but Scarygirl soon finds someone who can help her – the kung fu master rabbit Bunniguru. He tells her that this man can be found in the big city, but for that, she will have to leave the peninsula and undertake a long journey. And thus, the story begins… The game is essentially that journey, and the second player gets to control Bunniguru and help Scarygirl reach her goal. Already in the beginning, Blister finds leaves of the Tree of Knowledge – a sign of a problem, and knows there must be a connection between that and Scarygirl’s dreams.
Do not expect too much from the story itself. It’s sweet, but rather minimalistic – the opening and ending sequences contain the most of it, with the game in-between being a big adventure as Scarygirl makes her way through various strange areas of her world in her quest to reach the man haunting her dreams, Dr. Maybee. Before every stage, a narrator with a very interesting voice (actually the brother of Nathan Jurevicius, Luke) informs the player of the upcoming task ahead of Scarygirl. There are also multiple endings, which is a nice touch.
The characters are quite lovely – mostly thanks to their design. You won’t find any deep personalities, nor much development. This is not the right game to look for those. The main characters are given certain traits and stick with them. Scarygirl’s behaviour reminds the player of a young teenager, eager to explore the world around her. She’s, of course, a pretty strong fighter, though one could say that’s a gameplay mechanics rather than a plot point. Blister and Bunniguru are her supporting cast, Dr. Maybee is the villain, Chihoohoo is another bad guy who tries to prevent Scarygirl from reaching her goal. I am a bit unhappy with Treedweller’s role in this game in comparison to the browser one, where she was one of my favourites.
But back to the main point – the design gives the characters so much charm. You just can’t help liking them. Small touches like Blister’s moustache, for instance, influence the way you look at the character quite a bit. The game is just so cute. Thanks to their beautiful character models, you feel some affection even towards small-time enemies, dozens of which you destroy in the different levels.
FUN PLATFORMING WITH SMALL HINDRANCES
Scarygirl’s gameplay is quite enjoyable, as a whole. While the browser game had more variety, featuring even a fighting game-like stage, this version offers much more depth. As mentioned above, the game features 3D character models and environments, but the action takes place in a single plane at a time. At certain times during the stages, you can switch to another plane (like taking a turn), and the camera will follow. One of the things I like is that, in some stages, you are given alternate paths with different challenges waiting on them. Each of those still leads to the stage’s completion, but it’s just a nice thing preventing the game from being completely linear.
Scarygirl has a life bar containing several hearts. Touching or getting hit by the enemies’ attacks makes her lose hearts (at least a quarter), while eating fish that is occasionally found in the stages replenishes health. Platforming is very nicely done, as a whole, but jumping is a little floaty and imprecise, which could lead to some frustrating when you’re trying to land exactly on a narrow spot, and you end up missing it. That’s probably the main problem I’ve got with the gameplay. But it’s really cool that holding the jump button allows Scarygirl to fly some distance through the air (using her squid arm as a helicopter for a bit). You can also grab onto branches and the like and swing forward from there. There are plenty of platforming challenges, where, for instance, you have to jump through a series of rotating platforms one side of which features spikes.
There are swimming stages, which I liked quite a bit, you have to avoid jellyfish and the like, some of the enemies can also be attacked. You’ll need to find sources of air occasionally, as an oxygen metre appears when you are underwater, and Scarygirl can only hold her breath for so long. Going up to the surface is the surest way to breathe, but there are also bubbles of air in the water occasionally. In some stages, there are also wall-climbing segments – Scarygirl uses her hook to grab onto a wall and you have to guide her up towards a platform where the game returns to the regular playstyle – while avoiding baddies, of course.
Battling is for sure the most fun part of Scarygirl – you have a weak, as well as a strong attack that launches enemies into the air at your disposal from the get-go. You can also block attacks, or grab an enemy if it’s in a “beaten up” state and use it to pound the rest or throw it at them. But, more importantly, you can buy various combo moves as you accumulate gems, the game’s currency, through the levels. Stores where you can do so are found once every couple of stages or so (you can also buy hook upgrades for Scarygirl and vinyl figures of characters to look at). Most of the combos are attacking ones, a couple of which are quite powerful, but there’s also a very useful one where you grab an enemy and then suck the life out of it, restoring some of Scarygirl’s, based on the initial life the enemy had. Big enemies can be used to restore a whole heart! There is also a “Scary Mode,” which can be activated after a super-metre fills up. When it’s active, the screen changes into a bizarre white slow motion-like one. Scarygirl is not invincible while it lasts, but her attacks turn into chomping at the enemies, causing 999 damage (immediately destroying them).
Boss battles are another highlight – they’re just a lot of fun. Rarely is there a way to just weasel your way past them (like staying in a certain spot where you’re invulnerable), you’ve gotta be on your toes during the whole battle (of course, there are still patterns you can learn and take advantage of). Bosses are pretty big and intimidating, they also do much damage. Unfortunately, Scary Mode doesn’t equate to an auto-win against bosses, as they usually have several states or a more specific way to damage them. Some boss battles are quite difficult, but none are really unfair to the player.
The 2-player mode is another aspect that I loved. Scarygirl is the main character and of course controlled by the first player, but a friend can join in at any time during a stage or a battle, controlling Bunniguru. His skills are quite similar to Scarygirl’s, of course, the attack animations are in line with his kung fu background. His “fly through the air” animation shows him levitating, even with a special sound to boot. In order to keep the difficulty under control, Scarygirl’s death still results in starting at the last checkpoint, while Bunniguru’s doesn’t matter (the second player just can’t join in until the next checkpoint) – you can’t just respawn while the other player is playing. But it’s not a Sonic 2 situation where the second player is essentially useless. Bunniguru can be immense help, especially during the difficult boss fights. This results in a very fun experience for both players.
ART STYLE UNLIKE ANYTHING ELSE
Nathan Jurevicius’ fascinating style is really unique. I suppose I could compare it to the Ruby Gloom cartoon, but there are really much more differences than similarities. Every character is drawn with a soul, from Scarygirl herself to the least significant hedgehog. Clearly, the main goal of the art style is to appeal to children and young teenagers, but the total bizarreness can easily get to an adult, as well. Even by just looking at Scarygirl, you’re already drawn – an eye-patch? A party hat with skull and bones on it? Stitched mouth? Hook for a right hand, plain bone for a left hand? It’s boldness like this that draws the average person to take a closer look.
The soundtrack, composed by Nathan’s brother Luke (who is also the narrator) is also quite stellar for a downloadable game. The best music from the browser game has been reused, and there are many new themes. Like the whole Scarygirl universe, the music has got the strange vibe to it, but that’s a good thing. It contributes nicely to the game’s slightly spooky atmosphere. The song I’d like to share with you is the title theme, coincidentally also used in the launch trailer for the game. So, in the video, you can see some gameplay to further help you make up your mind.
CHEAP FOR ALL IT OFFERS
Scarygirl is a very good game, especially for a downloadable title. You won’t regret playing it. It’s not that far behind the scale of many disc-based games, its length is impressive, the challenge it offers is significant, but far from impossible, and, aside from some minor issues, the mechanics are just fun. It also offers you the chance to play in co-op with a friend. The first playthrough is, of course, the most fun, but completionists can have a blast trying to get enough gems to buy all items in the shop or get a “perfect” status of every single stage. There are even multiple endings. The wonderful art, the ruthless combos, the intense boss battles… At $9.99, I have to say it’s a steal. You will probably be able to grab it for even cheaper during a Steam sale if you don’t mind playing it on PC. And, if you’re still not sure, you can always try the demo first.
Do dare take a step into Scarygirl’s universe. You will be amazed at how rich it is.
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10