Price: £9.99 (approx, 1200 MS Points)
Format: Xbox 360 via XBLA (tested), PS3 via PSN
Publisher: Square Enix
Releasing a gothic platform game after Limbo was always going to be difficult. Whilst Scarygirl eschews monochrome melancholy, opting instead for a cutesy, Nightmare Before Christmas take on gloom, a lack of polish and some embarrassingly poor design decisions ensure that it falls well short of the standards set by Playdead’s brooding masterpiece.
The game, which is based on a popular graphic novel, casts you as the titular Scarygirl, and tasks you with unravelling the mysteries of your past. Aided by a kung fu rabbit and a benign giant octopus, you leap through 21 2D platforming levels, swiping creatures with your tentacle arm and collecting crystals to spend on new attacks.
Everything starts off reasonably well, with the first few levels introducing you to the basic mechanics. You can perform light and heavy attacks with your tentacle arm, hover by holding down the jump button once you’re airborne, and roll to get out of the way of oncoming foes. The game plays smoothly, and whilst it doesn’t have any particularly original ideas, it’s comfortable and pretty to look at.
The big book of platforming clichés is well mined, from goo spurting vents that need to be traversed at the right time, to crumbling walkways and pattern following bosses. For the first hour or so, Scarygirl is a by the numbers, reasonably amiable diversion, that looks set to slip into the annals of average platforming obscurity. And then things start to go wrong.
Obstacles appear out of nowhere, smacking your health bar down and requiring psychic powers to avoid. The design becomes sloppy and ill thought out, with a hopelessly inadequate check point system only making things worse. What was a pleasant, if indifferent, adventure, becomes horribly frustrating.
New and impossibly difficult enemies sap your life within seconds, seemingly safe areas turn into hazards without any warning, and you’ll find yourself growing to detest the game with a worrying passion. It’s all compounded by sloppy collision detection and repetitive, button mashing combat that feels like it was built as an afterthought.
When things are going well in the first few levels, you can overlook the foibles and simplicity of the brawling, but when you’re constantly plummeting down bottomless holes and getting caught in half visible mantraps, the rose tinted spectacles slip off and your realise just how shallow an experience it is.
Scarygirl wants to be creepy and kooky, it wants to be endearing and gloomy and strangely sweet. It ends up being a broken and horribly frustrating mess. Once the veneer of its quaint art style has been pulled away, you’re left with a game that plays like a poor version of the 2D levels of Crash Bandicoot.
Xbox Live Arcade is the perfect place for new and innovative games to call home. Scarygirl is neither of those things. It harks back to an age when an easily identifiable central character was enough to sell a few copies of a game. Nowadays however, discerning gamers expect an awful lot more.