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Game Review: Scarygirl

For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network) and Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)

From: TikGames/Square-Enx

ESRB rating: Everyone 10-plus (cartoon violence, use of tobacco)

Price: $15

Don't let the name fool you: Even though its namesake and star has the arms of an octopus and the face of a skeleton vinyl doll, Scarygirl - and the game bearing her name - is more cute than scary.

In fact, for those attuned to "LittleBigPlanet's" style, "Scarygirl's" presentation will be familiarly cute. Like "LBP," it's a 2D platformer modeled with 3D graphics that look like a diorama come to life - more papercraft and watercolor than "LBP's" burlap, cardboard and vinyl, but unmistakably riding the same visual wavelength. Throw in the narrator, who introduces each level as if a page from a slightly twisted bedtime storybook, and it's very obvious from whence at least some of "Scarygirl's" stylistic influence came.

With that said, don't let the kindly exterior fool you either. "Scarygirl" gets off to a pretty gentle start, and the levels that comprise the first two of its seven chapters aren't terribly imposing if your only goal is to clear them.

But then "Scarygirl" drops you into the Hairclump Spider Cave with the cave's namesake enemy almost immediately on your tail, and just like that, the kid gloves are off.

In part, the challenge spikes for unintended reasons. Though she's pretty spry, Scarygirl's repertoire (running, jumping, gliding, swinging, melee combat, and a limited-use forcefield for blocking and counterattacking) sometimes feels almost too responsive, resulting in a slight jerkiness that makes it easy to slip when combining moves or trying to stick a precise jump.

An overly generous hit detection works against as well as for Scarygirl, and there are occasions where enemies spawn right on top of her and cause damage before you even have a chance to react.

Finally, while "Scarygirl's" level design is generally pretty great - diverse locations, branching paths, gobs of color and style - it also features occasional instances where a jump of faith feels necessary. Sometimes, a jump that looks doable just isn't because it's part of another path on a different perspective plane. "Scarygirl" rarely depends on trial and error, but the few times it does are pretty unflattering. (Fortunately, checkpoints are frequent enough that they aren't very aggravating.)

Fortunately, the aforementioned points are exceptions to the rule, and "Scarygirl's" challenge mostly comes from the right places.

The branching, vertical level designs - set in deserts, mountains, aboard airships, in a nightclub and elsewhere - make excellent use of Scarygirl's arsenal, particularly if you're bold enough to pull off the tricky acrobatic maneuvers needed to get a perfect level score (no deaths, all collectibles found). You need not perfect a level to pass it, but "Scarygirl" keeps track and provides a leaderboard to motivate the best of the best.

Similarly, while its combat is simple - strong attack, weak attack, forcefield - "Scarygirl" tests it with enemies (and especially bosses) whose attack patterns make it crucial to balance defense, offense and positioning to manage multiple enemies. At its best and most imposing, it's a perfect ode to the classic sidescrollers of the NES era - modern in its production values and polish, but timeless in the desire it creates to play, replay and master its levels.

If you aren't quite that dedicated, "Scarygirl's" two-player drop-in co-op support will take the edge off a bit. It works as painlessly as one hopes it would, with the lack of online support being the only potential downside.

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