Scarf wears its’ inspirations on its’ sleeve. It reminds me of Omno or RiME, maybe Journey. The game is pretty cheap at £7.99 so the question is; can Scarf shine through its’ small budget roots? I will say that I commend the ambition shown with the art & map design. However, while the game can be enjoyable, too many aspects aren’t done well enough which pulled me out of the experience, audio especially. One of the biggest transgressions is the games tone. I feel that the games’ story and presentation are at odds with itself. This doesn’t help as the gameplay, while it’s been seen before, is pleasant enough; everything else has been done much better in the titles already mentioned.
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Story: A Means To An End
Where to start with this one? You are a brand new being taking their first steps into the world. Made of white and blue skin, with no mouth and a black hole in their chest. Yeah, I’ve no idea what that’s about. You encounter a dragon who transforms into, you guessed it, a scarf to keep you company. There is then a voiceover explaining the plot: that the dragon enjoyed peace with their mother until “they” attacked, disrupting the cosmos, and creating new worlds. Essentially with the dragons’ help, you have to go to these worlds, heal them and in doing so, you will be able to reunite the dragon with their mother.
Very straightforward. The thing is, until you get to the end of the game, this COULD BE all of the story information you receive. I’m not joking. There are two or three incidental cutscenes regarding your adventure but they are about the journey you’re on. Instead, throughout your adventure in each area there are collectibles called “Inks.” These are small story snippets explaining the situation between Dragon and Mother – naturally, you need to find them. There are three in each area and if missed, then you won’t have a full explanation of what is arguably already a very thin plot.
With the story being told in this way, it felt incoherent. When you come to the end, your progress through the game will determine whether the finale is good or bad. However, it is a simple cutscene which quickly details what the dragon has decided to do, and it felt very abrupt and unfulfilling.
Gameplay: Hey Wait – I’ve Seen This Before!
Within this section, I will go over what kind of experience you will have and some of the features included. The finesse in controlling the main character is important in games like these, but more crucially, so is the tone of the message they’re trying to communicate to the players. Let’s talk about it.
Three Worlds: Pleasant Enough – But Missing Something
To reunite your dragon friend with their mother, we are told to visit three areas & purify souls that live in The Meadow, The Desert and The Mountain. This is one of the things I really enjoyed about the game: the art direction and its gameplay structure, specifically within The Desert. Upon arriving in an area, you see people who are trying to hide from you. There is a nice camera pan of the surrounding area which shows you puzzles that need solving & “wisps” which you need to collect, very similar to Omno. Collectibles are scattered around: Toys, drawing and the story beats called Inks. There are also ancillary activities: moving a boulder between a set of pillars to “score” a goal. I liked this as it fit the light-hearted experience as opposed to its serious narrative.
The three worlds do feel distinct from one another. The Desert has you dealing with sand and windy terrain before coming across the temple. The only way to access it is to find the two keys which have magically disappeared. The Meadow allows you to hold a spherical ball of water to travel to different parts of the map. I liked the areas themselves, they were very big and had impressive scale.
When it comes to the puzzles and obtaining the wisps, it’s straight forward; they required memorisation or following diagrams. There are quite a few “place this crystal here” sections to create pathways – but they were left lying right beside it, which was odd, even lazy. Moving and disappearing platforms are also the bulk of gameplay. They’re were enjoyable enough without hurting your brain. A few puzzles and platforming sections were a bit outlandish; they were enjoyable but didn’t feel organic to the areas you were exploring. However, there were a few ideas which were interesting: The Meadow dealt with water and when solving a puzzle to free the dragon, there was one under the ocean and figuring this out felt good as it was unexpected.
Control: Adequate But Abilities Lack Finesse
The main character has no name, so we’ll call him “Boy”. And Boy does have a decent repertoire of moves by the end of the game. By allowing the scarf to “consuming” beings, you gained abilities. These were things like a double jump or being about to glide around the area with wings. You could also grasp grapple hooks and use slingshots to access new places. While I enjoyed the abilities, there are caveats. It was difficult to change from one ability to the other; say grappling a hook to then gliding, I felt there was often a delay in button input. Flying was awkward as your character could decide to go in the opposite direction first.
Actual character movement wasn’t bad, controlling him was the issue. There were the usual times of falling into water or missing a jump. The wee guy felt good enough to move around but doing actions felt inconsistent as stated.
Tone: Shows One Side – But Tells Another
This gets a mention because I genuinely think it is all over the place. For the most part, I believe the game is about the wonder of exploration, of seeing new things. Uprising Studio did well at times for creating a light-hearted experience with the Boy. You were able to do small extracurricular things while exploring, such as bowling, riding a horse or even play hide & seek. This last one I appreciated the effort but was quite frustrating with limited AI & overall, isn’t fun.
I mention this because its actual story progression shown throughout the game is the opposite: it is quite serious in its’ brief moments. While overall, the relationship between you and the dragon is nice, the dragon, when encountering anyone else, is very hostile and will suck out their soul. The games presentation within the environment is imagery and nonverbal. However, when you find an “Ink”, it is brief story exposition by a narrator which would have been better served as a cutscene shown as you travelled through an area.
It would be completely remiss of me not to mention that I had actual gameplay problems while playing. There were two instances where I needed to restart the software due to game breaking bugs. One was during The Meadow, where you move lily pads to create a pathway. Once I completed the sequence….. I accidently fell in the water. I respawned where I died – but all the lily pads had been reset, so I was stuck. Thankfully there was no autosave point here. The other instance was a game-breaking bug which I hope gets fixed. Within the Mountain section, you eventually cross an ocean and in doing so, it crashed repeatedly in the same spot. I believe I got passed this section by sheer luck.
Graphics & Audio: Good Enough To Look At, Disappointing To Listen To
For a small team, I loved the art design for each of the three areas. The backgrounds were great and the art direction for the main areas were especially good. The boy himself, and specifically his flowing scarf, was simple but pretty detailed. There was a decent amount of animal life as you went by – birds, lizards and insects scattered around. I particularly liked their use of shadows & colour within temples. However, effects and graphics like fire looked basic up close and there was a ton of pop in or anomalies like wheat stock suspended in mid-air. Cutscenes when they arrived were well directed.
When it comes to audio, I didn’t like it. Ambient sound is most of your experience, there is very little music. When music is used, it is nice, mostly piano, and stringed instruments – but it never felt organic; it would begin when you entered a specific area – as soon as you left it’s sphere, it disappeared. Sound was a mixed bag. Things like a waterfall sounds good but when using headphones but the actual reverb was too loud, it felt uncomfortable. Sound effects in general for nature(birds) were very stock and repetitive. Coupled with the minimalist music, it all felt odd. The Boy himself has a repetitive grunt and very loud footfall. I felt he had no personality. The narrator explained the story during cutscenes, and he sounded fine. However, they are too short to leave any lasting impression, the main takeaway from this game sadly.
Scarf was played and reviewed on PS4.