How to wear your dragon
Scarf is the latest game to come from a Spanish indie developer, one which joins the likes of RiME, Gris, and Blasphemous in fusing a unique art style with an otherworldly narrative. You play a character born (or perhaps grown?) in the sea, who comes across a red dragon on the beach. Feeding it an orb reveals its origin story: it arrived in your world after some Bad People — which you appear to be the kin of — sliced its mother into threads and then used those threads to cross dimensions. The dragon befriends you and you’re tasked with tracking down the pieces of its mother that were stolen, so that it can return to its own world.
And then, naturally, the dragon turns into a scarf.
Reading that back makes me wonder if I’m in the midst of a fever dream. Yet Scarf is surprisingly unsurprising in much of its eight-hour running time. With no enemies to speak of, the game is essentially a 3D exploration platformer with puzzle elements. Your character, Hyke, is blessed only with running and a single jump initially, but soon the titular fashion accessory jazzes up his wardrobe of abilities, adding in a grapple swing, double jump and a glide.
There are three colourful worlds to traverse in total, spanning the tried and tested platforming gamut of desert, forest and ocean. Each area sets you the task of finding the individuals who stole pieces of the dragon mama, but in order to do so you’ll first have to collect different glowing runes to add to your scarf and open up the way forward. To its credit, the game does a great job of making each area feel genuinely different, even if they are basically empty of most other life. When other creatures do appear, they’re part of a puzzle rather than window dressing. Feeding apples to rabbits or scaring off crows with masks and air cannons is the most interaction you’ll experience outside of your search for dragon orbs.
Thankfully, the platform elements hold together well. “Gentle” is the best possible way to describe the feeling of wandering around, jumping over rocks, swinging between platforms and gliding around beautiful vistas. The camera pans out when you enter a new area and gives the illusion of a massive world to explore, but in reality Scarf is basically linear and each portal world is designed in a modular way. You can attempt to retrieve your scarf runes in whichever order you like, but the process is ultimately similar in each world.
It’s comforting in some respects; you can almost see the familiar gaming cogs whirring away beneath the saturated veneer. And that is ultimately both Scarf’s strength and weakness. You’ll rarely be in a position where you don’t know what to do or where to go, and even when you get there and have to figure out a puzzle, everything is so well signposted that a few seconds scouting around the vicinity will undoubtedly uncover everything you need. Do you need to hold down a pressure point to keep a platform in place? There’ll be a handy box around the corner you can drag over. Do you need to find a pink crystal to place in an iron holder to light up a bridge? One of them will almost certainly be visible with a press of your right thumbstick to view the area. This is 3D platforming at its most forgiving; even mistiming a jump and plummeting into deep water will return you close to where you failed.
The controls are reasonably tight aside from a floaty jump which caught me off guard a few times when hopping between watery stones. Gliding and grappling is both straightforward and fun. My biggest gripe is that these were the only uses for the scarf and I don’t recall a moment where they were used in tandem. It felt like a missed opportunity to do more with the mechanics. Similarly, the emotional relationship between the two protagonists would have benefitted from more. If your scarf-dragon gets depressed and its colour fades to white, you may be tasked with feeding it more glowing orbs to recover your powers, a bit like giving barrels to Trico in The Last Guardian, except here your controller is likely to remain in one piece. Otherwise, interaction is kept to a minimum outside of its utility to navigate the world.
Part of that may be deliberate. There’s a murkier thread running throughout Scarf which is waiting for you to unpick. The storytelling is opaque, which seems to be the theme for similar games such as Journey and some of the titles I listed at the beginning of this piece. The female narrator at the start presents a quest based on betrayal, pitching you as the redeemer who can right the wrongs committed upon her by the glowing inhabitants of each portal world. However, exploration of each area will uncover caves marked by shadowy tablets, which contain dark orbs. Collecting these “inks” reveals a different side of the story with a male narrator, which frames your journey in a completely different light. Collecting six of these inks will unlock an alternative ending, and choosing whether to continue down your original path or discover what is being hidden from you is a genuinely intriguing prospect. There are other collectables in each area as well: toys, tools and so on, but these felt more like padding than offering anything of worth to seek out.
Soundtracked by a lovely series of orchestral pieces (and occasionally drowned out by intrusive ambient SFX), Scarf draws you in despite its familiarity. There are flashes of innovation: a white orb that lets you walk underwater, or a game of hide-and-seek with one of the people you’re trying to capture, but there’s little here that hasn’t been seen or done before. Luckily Scarf cribs from some of the better titles in the genre. Uprising Studios’ indie roots only show in the sluggish frame rate when you’re on the ocean bed or the pop in when it attempts to show too much of the world at once. It’s a warm hug for a chilly winter month, ideal to wrap yourself up in for an evening or two.
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