If nothing else, ScaryGirl does at least offer a fresh twist on familiar videogame environments. The comic-book creation of Australian artist Nathan Jurevicius is two parts Tim Burton to one part Joan Miró, a gently twisted world of surreal whimsy populated by diabolic ruminants and cuddly yetis. The eponymous heroine treks through caves lit by magenta mushrooms, while a rocky ascent sees the faces of bearded gentlemen carved into its mountainous backdrops. Forest, ice and swamp levels are nothing new in the realm of the side-scroller, but they’re well-disguised here.
Sadly, any sparks struck by the visual design are all but extinguished by mediocre mechanics. TikGames attempts to fuse platforming with combat and fails to master either. Rotating spiked surfaces and glowing swing points are the height of invention here, and there’s a degree of weightlessness to the protagonist’s leaps that ensures that you never feel entirely connected to the world.
Stages are populated by a menagerie of creatures seemingly designed with the sole purpose of irritating you: flying enemies, burrowing enemies, bomb-throwing enemies, and enemies that leap out of the foreground as you pass. That the latter are often obscured by the scenery, partly thanks to a camera which attempts to add a degree of Klonoa-esque dynamism to the left-to-right exploration, only adds insult to inevitable injury. The bog-standard hedgehogs arrive in just the right kind of numbers that ensure they’re too plentiful to ignore, but a chore to deal with. Talking of busywork, there’s also the nuisance of blackweed: a tangle of tendrils you need to tame with a few whacks before yanking it out, lest it grow back and hit you once more.
Most levels include branching paths, with routes to more gems or heart pieces that can extend ScaryGirl’s life bar – a boon given the unkindly spaced checkpoints later on
You can purchase additional moves with the gems you’ve collected, allowing you to squeeze the life out of enemies when health needs replenishing, or to bowl one foe into another, but there’s little real incentive to vary your approach when, more often than not, hammering face buttons has similar effect. Most of the time you’ll be anxious for the rage meter to fill, at which point you can gobble up monsters in a single bite, a fleeting relief from the turgid trudge between checkpoints into which the game gradually devolves. Towards the end, it resorts to the cheapest of tactics to extend its meagre runtime past the six-hour mark, with unnecessary backtracking and instant-death hazards.
Boss encounters provide brief glimmers of invention, as rare occasions where pattern recognition is prized over simple button-mashing, but they’re too few and far between. Co-operative play is available, though it’s a half-hearted inclusion that's entirely in keeping with the lack of inspiration elsewhere. Player two gets to control Bunniguru, a kung-fu rabbit who can jump higher and punch harder than ScaryGirl, although he’s incapable of removing blackweed. The camera entirely refuses to accommodate the extra character, remaining focused on the protagonist throughout; should the rabbit get too far away from his partner, he’s instantly teleported back to her position.
Successful only as an interactive showcase of Jurevicius’ art – and arguably the Flash original was more effective in that regard – it’s almost criminal that a world this vivid should be so wearying to explore.