Scarf, a review of a poetic but limited platformer



A review of Scarf, a poetic but somewhat limited plaform that comes out after a truly laborious gestation that lasted many years.

What does it mean to be a hero? This is not an easy question to answer, despite the deep sedimentation of its conceptualization in our culture, the result of many revisions over the centuries. More precisely: how do we define a hero in an ethically ambiguous moral situation? How does one distinguish him from a villain? Does performing incredible deeds while serving an oppressive power make one a hero? Probably for that power yes, which will tend to celebrate everything that preserves it as such, but for others?

These and other questions are, or would like to be, the thematic focus of the game whose review you are about to read: Scarf.

Gameplay

Some scenarios of Scarf are really beautiful

Scarf began to be talked about in late August 2018. The game of Uprising Studios immediately struck for the visual style and for the gimmick of the scarf around the neck of the protagonist, a blue anthropomorphic being, which reminded many without too many mysteries Journey, you also want because of the desert setting of some scenarios. Since then it has been a lot of water under the bridge, many had even given the game for dead, but in the end it really came out.

The gameplay begins with the birth of the protagonist, who immediately makes the acquaintance of the scarf. The latter is not an inanimate object, but a sentient being in the shape of a dragon, part of a larger and more powerful entity, trapped by some rebellious servants, who have created their own worlds using its energy. Our goal is to enter these parallel universes and search for their creators, to suck their souls, so we can open the entity’s portal and restore the original balance in a way.

It all adds up to an adventure consisting of just three big levels, in which we have to jump between platforms and solve some puzzles to reach our goal. In the course of our wanderings, we will also be able to find some memories, which will give us access to what is the real story behind our mission, actually quite clear from the start, considering the aggressiveness of the scarf. These memories are theoretically hidden. We say theoretically because in reality they are easily identifiable, thanks to the real signs placed in front of the places where they are kept. For example, we found all nine of them (three in each world) in the first game. For the rest of the levels there are other collectibles to find: drawings, also very easy to spot, and toys, less visible because they are very small.

Limits

Are we the good guys or the bad guys?

The main problem of Scarf is that it is all here, in the sense that it is resolved in a linear sequence of jumps and puzzles really simple that, in most cases, require only to perform the only action available to move forward, without offering great motivation to deepen the scenario. Theoretically, the focus of the gameplay should be the scarf itself, thanks to the powers that gives the protagonist: a double jump, the ability to glide, to launch using it as a slingshot and to cling to the handles (like grappling hook). The trouble is that they are almost all underused and the level design does not do much to emphasize them in a creative or original way. It’s better with the spheres that raise the water around the hero, which at least offer an interesting scenic effect, but even in these cases just follow what is the only way from time to time available to not have problems.

Considering that in Scarf you don’t fight and that the platform adventure part offers a very poor challenge, you’ll understand how the game struggles to arouse interest, except for its visual style, which we’ll talk about shortly. Everything seems too obvious and direct. The only relevant sections, at least because they require a minimum of exploration, are those open, ie large areas where you have to go around to retrieve the embroidery of the scarf to be used to unlock the steps, otherwise inaccessible.

Scarf's puzzles are super easy, even when they don't look like it

Even in these cases the puzzles are very simple (press the plate with the block placed a meter away, move a giant flower to create a platform, lower or raise the water of two pools using two levers and things like that), but at least you have to make the effort to locate the embroidery. There are very few variations on the theme. Each level has its own characteristics that should give you more specific difficulties. For example, in one there are strong winds to be exploited with the hang glider, while in another there are animals that should be frightened or attracted by collecting objects and so on. Unfortunately, even these features are poorly exploited, due to a flat level design, which sometimes seems to forget them or that, simply, is not interested in giving them space. So they are used in the most basic way possible and end up becoming dead letters in a short time. To say: we arrive at the end of one of the worlds in a room full of rays that create a barrier around one of the beings whose soul we have to suck. On the surface it seems like a very intricate situation, but in reality we soon discover that it’s enough to reach the four levers connected to the rays to solve everything.

Artistic Direction

What will these ancient and silent places hide? Nothing.

As mentioned, Scarf’s strength, probably the only one, is definitely its visual style. Or, at least, it should be. In fact, the developers have done everything possible to make it evocative, making us cross large natural scenarios (a kind of large island, a desert world and a more lush) full of ruined temples and silence. At least from the point of view of scenic Scarf works, although it has a decidedly derivative imagery, which immediately brings to mind the aforementioned Journey and other titles that have made similar choices.

Some passages are still really nice, despite the polygonal minimalism, and give some interesting visual compositions, made of vast environments, ancient and motionless, which seem to hide who knows what mysteries. Their only problem is that they do not bind much with the underlying theme of the game, resulting a bit ‘alien to what is the story told (in truth really thin).

Scarf powers are underutilized

That is, they are made to be beautiful, but they do not have a great weight on the narration, limiting themselves to a generically evocative function of reference to certain atmospheres, sought after no matter what. They do their duty, they also like them, but they leave the time they find. The music goes in the same direction, even if it is more pregnant and present, in its basic discretion. In general, the artwork makes sense in its own right and works as a whole. Let’s say that each level is a kind of big picture that can be admired on its own, as long as you forget its function. Whether this is good or bad depends very much on how one interprets the whole experience.

Comment

Scarf is a very simple game that offers a limited experience. It ends up being a relaxing platformer that doesn’t engage the player much in the little more than three hours it lasts. The only real attraction it offers is its visual style, though that alone doesn’t justify the undertaking. It’s not terrible, because in the end you can play, but it never really hits the bottom and reveals its few cards too quickly, not giving the player any room for maneuver within it. It seems almost one of those works “inspired by” that capture only in part the spirit of their source, but failing to be as incisive and, above all, radical.

PRO

  • Artistic direction works
  • Relaxing, while it lasts
  • Very linear
  • Underused game mechanics
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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