I won't have it said that Scarygirl is an ugly game. Trash its wonky physics, clumsy controls and dull-as-dirt platforming all you like, but if you deny that it's wonderfully whimsical slice of loveliness we're going to have to fight.
The game exists in a surreal universe, based on the graphic novels and vinyl toys of Aussie designer Nathan Jurevicius. It's a fairytale by way of The Mighty Boosh, or mythic folklore as told by Tim Burton. It's imaginative, hyperactive and colourful.
You play as the titular Scarygirl (as named by her hyper-intelligent octopus foster parent), a pale-faced orphan with floppy black locks and a tentacle where her arm should be. She sets out into a hodgepodge of weird worlds to discover the meaning behind her troubled dreams.
This takes her to such places as the Old Man Mountains, a chilly hilltop region carved to look like big-nosed gents in pilgrim hats, and the Owl Woods, where tree branches jut out at unnatural right-angles like that old pipes screensaver from Windows 95.
Every stage is alive and active. Enemies don't just litter the playspace, but they leap out of far scenery and pounce in from just inside the screen. Two-dimensional levels splinter off into multiple paths, and areas you didn't explore peek out of the backdrop to tease what you're missing.
Scarygirl's trappings are more charming and creative than anything that's been on Xbox Live Arcade recently. In one stage, a gigantic wooden slide peaks in the far horizon, dips into the level and opens in the foreground. Enormous spiky cannonballs roll down its slats and fire into the screen, and in such a way that you'd flinch yourself if this was in stereoscopic 3D. I was so dumbfounded by the set-piece that I got Scarygirl smooshed into a puddle of psuedo-goth grey. Twice.
So it's such a colossal shame, then, that the underlying game itself is so tired and unimaginative. TikGames wraps these wonderful illustrations around rote platforming sections and repetitive button-mashy combat, which both stubbornly contradict the inventiveness of Jurevicius' art.
The platforming, for example, is built from bits and pieces of a thousand other platformers I've already beaten, but never with the same care or attention. You'll bounce on trampolines, hop over rotating platforms, perilously dodge spikes and swing from hooks. It's got other bits borrowed from Donkey Kong and Mega Man, and nothing in particular of its own.
Our little sugar-coated goth doesn't tackle these obstacles well, either. She doesn't have the bounce of Mario or the elasticity of Rayman. She's slow and stodgy in her clumsy waddle, and floaty when jumping. You'll have to rely on her helicopter-like tentacle arm to glide safely between the hardest platforms.