Done Playing: Scarygirl (XBLA)

My first exposure to Scary Girl — the gothic storybook creation of Australian artist Nathan Jurevicius — came in 2009 with the official Flash game. Part platformer, part adventure game I loved looking at the 2D art but didn’t care much for actually playing it. Three years later and I’m surprised to see a Square Enix published follow-up as a full-fledged side-scrolling 3D platformer. Finally, I’ll get to enjoy a Scarygirl game for its looks and its gameplay… I thought.

While it starts out pedestrian enough with short levels, a handful of enemies and some pick-ups Scarygirl secretly aspires to be a hardcore old school platformer: precision timed jumps, crystals that are just out of reach, waves of enemies with fast attacks, and punishing boss encounters with multiple patterns to memorize. Oh, and don’t let those patterns flutter too far out of your mind because in the last level you’ll be fighting them over again.

I haven’t undertaken that kind of platforming challenge in a while but I’m still certain that Scarygirl’s frustrating difficulty comes mostly from its clunky controls. Not even jumping feels right as Scarygirl goes straight into a helicopter-tentacle hover if you hold the button at all. That hover move also sends her slightly higher than a normal jump and you’ll frequently have to hover into the sides of ledges before she elevates enough to land on top. Combat grows more complex from the basic light and juggle attacks at the start but I never found it reliable enough to be any fun. Spamming a powerful combo to keep enemies at bay or running past them altogether was what kept me sane as they line up to take potshots while you attempt to block and counter. You also have a grapple move that’s used to swing from hooks and the ability to grab dazed enemies and throw them around but those too felt unreliable and twitchy.

In starkest of contrasts to the gameplay, Scarygirl is a downright joy to look at! The hand drawn characters from the online comic and graphic novels have been transmutated into splendid 3D form. They lack the 2D charm that I love but I was constantly enamored with the way this game looks and moves. There’s plenty of depth-of-field effects and the camera moves pretty frequently, keeping the perspective fresh. The music and sound effects aren’t as exceptional but they fit in fine with the whimsical presentation.

Scarygirl embodies a love/hate formula that had me both desperate to be done with the game but also yearning for more to see. Funny, then, that the game checks multiple times for DLC when you load it up. Whatever that content may be I have a hard time recommending a full price purchase. Six hours of frustrating (single or co-op) platforming for some pretty visuals is a tough sell. The only reason to slog through it again is to find secrets and buy collectibles and that’s not incentive enough for me. I say save yourself the pain and go right to the source: buy the graphic novel.

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