Despite what the title may tell you, the heroine of Scarygirl isn't scary at all. She has an eye patch, a hook for a hand, and skull earrings, but her goodness shines through as she leaps, hovers, and fights her way across the countryside. Her adventure is classic platforming crafted with modern sensibilities - immediately familiar but fresh. If only she stuck around a bit longer.
Anyone who's ever spent some time with Mario or Sonic will jump right into Scarygirl's 2d platforming, which adopts the time-honored style of asking you to travel (mostly) left to right across the screen, besting enemies as you go. The creatures Scarygirl faces as she heads out into the world are as colorful as they are bizarre: orange hedgehogs and bright red goats, green vulture skeletons and electric blue owls. Scarygirl's imagery is simple and lovely, if a bit on the twisted side. You'll trek through the kinds of areas that are typical for platformers, like icy slopes and dank sewers, but Scarygirl's unique look makes you feel as though you're exploring brand new territory.
Scarygirl's aesthetic is lots and lots of Weird, but it never feels like a gimmick or a crutch. The odd creatures and imaginative landscape could've easily become the game's raison d'etre, but instead it acts as a complement to the tightly-constructed gameplay. Games frequently rely on bizarre visuals or characters to maintain your interest, but Scarygirl has enough confidence in its level design and mechanics to resist shoving its oddities in your face. Yes, Scarygirl was raised by a hyperintelligent octopus and steals a sky yacht from someone named Chihoohoo, but those are merely details in the greater story of a little girl trying to do the right thing.
Most of your effort in Scarygirl will be spent laying waste to the strange creatures that stand (or fly or slither or ooze) in your way. Combat is simple and well-tuned for button mashers who favor slamming on X and Y to carefully choosing their attacks. Grab enough of the glittering gems that hover tantalizingly in the air, and you can purchase upgrades to make Scarygirl's life a bit easier. Replace her hook with a feather to fly further, or with an anchor that deals out more damage. New combat moves will help you get past particularly troublesome enemies, or just make busting their heads a little more fun. After all, why just use regular moves when you can call forth tentacles that toss your foes into the air?
Scarygirl builds up rage as she dishes out damage, and once her meter is full, she can enter Rage Mode, which turns her into a fearsome fish-like monster that literally gobbles up bad guys. It's just a short-lived special attack, but it's an incredibly cool short-lived special attack. Making "rawr" noises as you snap up bandits in your massive toothy jaws is utterly appropriate.
The Rage transformation is one of the tiny details that makes playing Scarygirl such a fun treat. The musical chimes that sound when you grab gems are unnecessary from a gameplay point of view, but are one of my favorite parts of the game. Scarygirl's foundation is solid platforming with tight controls, but it's these flairs of style that will make the game linger in your mind after you've put the controller down.
A mystical rabbit teaches Scarygirl her fighting moves at the start of the game, and acts as her companion in co-op mode. Player 2 often gets stuck being a lame sidekick in co-op situations, but Bunniguru is at least as much fun as Scarygirl herself, so you should never lack for friends willing to back you up. This may actually be a bad thing, however, as playing with a friend will make Scarygirl - an already all-too-brief outing - even shorter.
Bottom Line: If you enjoy a good platformer, you've found one. Scarygirl is weird, yes, but also wonderful.
Recommendation: You'll breeze through it in a weekend, but you'll finish up with a smile on your face.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game.
Developer: Tik Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): XBLA, PSN
Available from: Xbox Live Arcade,PlayStation Network