Scarygirl has lovely scenery and a quirky plot, but that isn’t enough to elevate it beyond a mediocre platformer. Based on the graphic novel by Nathan Jurevicius, Scarygirl sends the eponymous character on a quest to decipher the meaning behind her nightmares. The bizarre protagonist is an orphan raised by a highly intelligent octopus. She fights and swings around using a tentacle arm with a pirate hook at the end. Her journey sends her through levels populated by menacing-but-cute hedgehogs, skeletal birds, angry red goats, and unsettling black-tentacled plants.
If the gameplay was half as inspired as the look, Scarygirl would be a winner. Instead, it’s brought down by inconsistent controls and challenges that are more frustrating than fun. Camera angles can’t be adjusted, and it’s easy to miss a jump and fall to your death because you didn’t have a clear view of the next platform. Scarygirl can hover by whipping her tentacle around like a creepier version of Sonic The Hedgehog’s Tails, but how far she can go seems to vary unexpectedly. The 2-D game has awkward mechanics for branching off to explore different paths, but doubling back rarely seems worth it.
Scarygirl has plenty of options in combat. She can stun bad guys and grapple them to chuck them aside, or at other enemies. She collects gems, and an in-game vendor lets her trade them in for new moves, like a way to constrict grappled opponents to regain health. (Watching a hedgehog’s eyes pop as you squeeze the life out of it is a particularly disturbing way to heal.) Scarygirl also builds up power by attacking, which she can use to transform into a Tim Burton-style monster that devours her enemies. This power-up is more cool-looking than effective, though, as the challenge in fights is avoiding being hit by swarms of attackers. Dealing enough damage is never a problem, and it’s easy to handle most of the monotonous waves of opponents by mashing the basic-attack button.
Scarygirl lets you team up with a friend in offline co-op mode, but bringing in Scarygirl’s pal Bunnyguru adds little beyond the amusing music that plays as he mystically floats through the air. Bunnyguru can’t grapple, which means he’s unable to self-heal and is entirely useless in boss fights, where victory depends on you turning minions into projectiles. Scarygirl just isn’t worth the price, except for huge fan of Jurevicius’ art, or those desperate for something new to play in January’s barren wasteland of game releases.