I’d come up with some clever lead in for this, but the truth is Nathan Jurevicius’ Scarygirl avoids pre-packaged language and glib summations. Sure, I can plaster on things like “kooky”, “odd-ball”, “strangely endearing” to capture some of the weirdness that transpires, but I have a feeling that Scarygirl would inevitably wriggle from underneath those weighted meanings. Much like her protector Blister (a highly intelligent octopus), Scarygirl is tough, squirmy and may have a tentacle for an arm. . . not sure how that all ties in to escaping literary paradigms, but eh, does it have to?
The above notwithstanding, this isn’t a game with the philosophical depth of cottage cheese, let alone Nietzsche (though how deep is he really, aside from that overused pit conundrum). No, this is your not-so-basic side-scroller; run, jump, smack around bad guys and collect stuff. In this case it’s crystals, but you know the drill. Oh, and your health collect is fish. Why? Don’t ask me; just grab fish when your health gets low.
What makes Scarygirl stand out is that it’s not strictly two dimensional. The path you walk through the woods does diverge, but there is no such thing as the road less traveled; mostly because you have to go back down the other one to get all your crystals. This is more arresting graphically than play affecting, though they do use it to play with the typical adventure game camera perspective screw.
Other than that Scarygirl is typical of downloadable games. It breaks down into easily digestible stages, which you can repeat to make sure you collect everything, has some fun things to spend all those crystals on (attack upgrades and little vinyl figures you can stare at from the menu screen), and is shockingly challenging after the first few levels. Speaking of attacks, I’d be lax if I didn’t include a little mention of the fighting. It’s nothing special, just button mash for the combos you want, but it’s fun and just involved enough to not get boring. Purchased special moves are a nice flavoring, but they aren’t strictly necessary to get through the game. The only one I used regularly is the one that pops bad guys and out comes fish. There is also the Scary Mode. Aptly named as the screen goes silhouette and Scarygirl actually gets scary. It’s the equivalent of any other “rage”, “demon”, “berserk” or “faaaaaaaaaaabulous” mode you can name so just turn it on and go crazy nuts.
I should really give the graphics two scores. One for the actual visuals, character designs and camera work and another for actual rendering. We’ll get the rendering out of the way first. It’s not awful, but it falls somewhere between PS One and PS2 quality; lots of simple figures and blocky or sphery polygons. What bugs me the most about this, is why Tik Games went to the effort to make 3D characters when there’s already a flash game on Nathan Jurevicius’ website that’s straight sprite based and except for floaty controls really isn’t bad. Fortunately, Jurevicius’ art style lends itself well to simple polygons so even with such a broad rendering the game doesn’t look bad. As for the artwork itself, the game stays true to what I’ve seen of Jurevicius’ work which falls somewhere between Tim Burton and Samurai Jack with a healthy dose of cephalopod. The world of Scarygirl is slightly bent but still somehow innocent, and you like it for that. I won’t belabor Jurevicius’ talent any more, but Tik did its homework and really nailed his style.
The camera work is where this game really shines. As I said above, while the game plays mostly like a side scrolling action title, the road you walk is far from straight. Every kink or divergence in the road is followed faithfully by the camera so you’re always on the “flat” foreground. This leads to some interesting perspective bends (the first boss fight happens at the top of a spiral path up a tree). I’m sure this isn’t the first time this has been done in a game, but they use it to great effect here. Rendering gets a 4 but everything else is a solid 7. Also, there are spiders.
There is a narrator and unfortunately he’s not Morgan Freeman, but he is drearily British enough to fit perfectly with the mood of the game. He only really pops in on loading screens and tutorials, which is a good thing because as much as he fits, after about the fourth or fifth time you listen to him you feel a vague need for a bat and a scrub brush. You won’t really be sure why, but you’ll be unsettled about it. As for music and sound effects, they are what you would expect for this kind of game. Something vaguely Danny Elfman (doesn’t he do all the music for Tim Burton?) that repeats itself into the blur of the experience along with the appropriate grunts, pops, whistles and explosions.
Throwing in a leaderboard function and tracking minor but difficult challenges seems to be a “thing” with these kinds of games. It does allow you to squeeze a few more hours out of otherwise thin game content. With that and the collectible vinyls, if you’re a perfectionist I can see this game eating something like 15 hours (that cave level is a bastard and a half). Otherwise this is a quick under-10 hour run, but it won’t be a cake walk even for veterans. So at $10 this game is still worth every penny.
If you’re a fan of the Scarygirl TPB or of Jurevicius in general (see I can refer to him without making his name possessive) then this game is right up your alley. Highly recommended for any awkward teenage gamers with just the right sense of style, or if you’re looking for a cheap, creepy diversion and the local side show has rolled up its bearded lady for the season.