Nathan Jurevicius has managed to carve himself a nice little empire with Scarygirl, a multimedia project about a young girl who was abandoned in a swamp only to be rescued and befriended by an octopus. The world of Scarygirl encompasses toys, vinyl dolls, a website, comics and an online flash game. Although wildly popular in certain circles, I have never heard of the character until her video game debut on PSN and after spending some time with it, I fail to see the attraction. If the video game was intended to draw people into Scarygirl, then it is a failure because it is one of the blandest experiences I’ve had in a while.
Scarygirl is a 2D platformer that has you exploring seven worlds in order to track down a mysterious bearded man who has shown up in Scarygirl’s reoccurring nightmares. These worlds are broken up into a series of three short levels filled with perilous environmental obstacles and terrifying enemies. On paper, the premise sounds interesting enough but the execution is anything but. Scarygirl is as generic as they come and while it tries to do some interesting things, like allowing you to choosing a path from several in-game forks in the road, the fact of the matter is you’re just running to the right, collecting jewels to spend on upgrades and useless vinyl dolls.
Upgrades are largely for combat purposes, as you can purchase combos and objects that connect to Scarygirl’s tentacle arm and bestow various bonuses to your attacks. However, thanks to our heroine’s Princess Peach-like ability to hover in the air for a few seconds, combat is a purely optional affair. Fighting enemies does not yield any sort of reward except to fill up a rage meter and collectible jewels (the game’s currency) are scattered all throughout the levels, some requiring some measure of agility to obtain. The only points in the game in which fighting truly matters are the end bosses which require some skill and thought into taking down. By analyzing patterns and tells, defeating bosses ends up being more worthwhile than the levels that precede them. But even then, the game doesn’t really give you an opportunity to understand how the bosses work. For example, the second world boss involves having him use his pound attack to knock loose boulders that when hit, stun the creature for a few minutes allowing you to get in a few hits. The problem lies in a) getting the monster in front of the path of falling boulders b) finding out what triggers his ground attack and c) dodging his charge. It took me several tries to defeat the boss and when I did, it was thanks to blind, dumb luck. Combat with regular foes is mindless because you’re spamming either the light or heavy attack button. Most enemies can be stunned and used as projectiles against other enemies, but again – float through the level and you won’t have to fight at all.
In the end, the biggest thing I can say about Scarygirl is that there is no sense of accomplishment whatsoever. Killing enemies doesn’t reward you with anything and the whole game is an experience in tedium.
If there is one nice thing I can say about the game, is that it handles the transition from hand drawn illustration to CGI world building quite well. If you’ve never seen Jurevicius’ artwork before, it is very much in the same surrealist vein of Gray Baseman with a dash of Psychonauts and John Kricfalusi thrown in. If you were to hold up an illustrated page next to a screenshot, you’ll find that the game has included all the little minute details of Jurevicius’ work. That being said, your appreciation of the design will be based on your own personal tastes. There are some who dig this style of art while others expect it to be the sort of thing you’d find emblazoned on shirts, beanies, wristbands and other products you’d find at Hot Topic.
If you couldn’t tell already, I found Scarygirl to be a tiresome, uninteresting game. The first night I played the game, I actually caught myself dozing off. Levels can be rushed through without any effort, as enemies do not represent any sort of challenge to you. You won’t have to clear a number of them in order to advance, there are no real puzzles to complete and you won’t interact with the environment. Running to the right may have worked for Pitfall, but this is 2012. It’s not wrong of you to expect something more from your platforming video games.
What can be said that hasn’t been said already? Scarygirl really isn’t worth the $10. I expect that if you’re a loyal follower of the Scarygirl franchise and of Jurevicius, then you’ll probably get something out of it. Me? The entire time I spent playing through the game I wished I was playing something else. There is just no meat on this bone. It might have been fun about fifteen years ago, but so many other 2D platforming games have found ways to remain interesting despite the video game world moving on to more 3D oriented action games. Rayman Origins was far more complex and rewarding than this.