The world of Scarygirl is an artistic trip within the rabbit hole (reality has no bearings in this adventure). It’s a strange little tale that flings Scarygirl (that’s her name) from her comfortable treetop home on a dangerous quest. It’s a place that’s like Wonderland, only exchanging allegorical meaning for literal imagery; there’s a reason the Yellow Onion Bar is named such. It’s a bizarre art style that’s inviting as well as imaginative, and the game is lucky to have it. If it wasn’t for its inkling of style, there would be almost nothing positive to say about this game at all.
But first, some background information. Scarygirl is a product of artist Nathan Jurevicius. It’s been his grand project, and over time has resulted in a graphic novel along with various vinyl toys. And then there was a Flash-based Scarygirl game. The Flash game followed the underlying story of the graphic novel. A little girl, with a tentacle for an arm, has strange dreams of mustached man and set out to find him via platforming. It was an interesting game with a surprising amount of content but ultimately frustrating and bland in its inception. This new game, developed by TikGames, is a fleshed out revision of the Flash game, with improved visuals, controls and design.
Initially it seems as though this new version is a significant improvement over its predecessor. It’s the art that will draw you in, and maybe the strangeness of it all as well. The environments are always changing, always providing something new. Branching paths provide a little bit of variety to break up the monotony of traveling from left to right, while also helping to vary the design of the levels themselves. In the beginning it’s easy to wonder about where you’re going to end up next.
The combat has also managed to get an overhaul from its Flash roots. In the original game you had a single basic attack: Scarygirl would swing out her tentacle arm, and if you were a few pixels away you might hit the one or two bad guys that you were allowed to defeat. Now she has a combo system, upgradable moves and upgradable tentacle attachments. And if your health is feeling a little down, you can squeeze your opponents, crushing them into raw fish (raw fish is to Scarygirl as spinach is to Popeye, minus the increase in muscle mass).
It’s only later on, as the difficulty curve begins to show itself, that the flaws in the system begin to show. The combat, though deeper than the original, never really takes off past the mashing of the attack buttons until the enemy dies from it. There are combos you can purchase, but the vendors are few and far between and the currency is sporadic in comparison to the price of the combos. It’s a system that lacks proper depth to justify, and in itself is complicated by its own collections of design flaws that lead to cheap manners of taking damage.
The level design breaks down in a similar manner. While there is a lot of variety from one level to the next, within a level there is a lot of repetition of elements. The branching paths seemed like it would be a manner in which the game would allow you a little change, except even that rule becomes inconsistent when a later level results in dead ends and back tracking. There is little wonder as to what the next level will bring, only the assumption that it will provide more pain and aggrivation.
The frustration that the game brings isn’t confined to a single aspect. Rather, it’s minor failings in all elements of gameplay design that bring down the whole. It’s all the little things, like the fact that attacks move closer to the enemy, leading to cheap collisions. It’s instant death spike traps that you would have no idea they would have existed. It’s a health system that would rather have you stunning enemies than collecting health, and then making it easier to kill enemies accidentally than stun them. The list goes on.
And that leads to one final question: who is expected to play this game? Judging by the nature of the storytelling, the easy answer would be kids. The narrator has the proper voice for it, and the world is colorful enough. It’s the difficulty curve that questions this notion. It’s one that’s a little to high for its own sake, but this difficulty does not exist due to structured design. Scarygirl is riddled with countless inherent flaws that make the game, in no simpler terms, bad.