Cute but deadly
George: Scared of the Dark is the story of George, who’s scared of the dark. It’s a title that delivers on exactly what it promises. As a reformed nyctophobe myself, I can sympathise – although I’m not sure I’d have gone to the lengths George does over the course of his quest.
You’re launched straight into the tutorial after hitting play, appropriately for a game whose pace doesn’t leave much room to breathe. It’s a succinct demonstration of the game’s features and, despite being a tutorial, doesn’t ease you into things.
The game is an auto-scrolling platformer, and you navigate a world of chasms and floating islands with George’s abilities: tap to jump; swipe right to leap and swipe left to back flip. George is far more agile in the afterlife than I am in this one. These controls are deceptively simple to learn and far trickier to use.
There are ten levels in the game, and they’re randomly generated, meaning you get a subtly different experience each time you play. As you do, the game moves swiftly, which means that the gameplay is very reactive. And sometimes your reactions just aren’t enough. Jumps can be frustratingly easy to miss because the controls can occasionally be a hair behind your taps and swipes. Enemies and platforms have an unerring instinct for placing themselves in the worst place at the wrong time and ending a run.
Because the game moves forward at a fast pace, there’s little room to consider your moves – it can be frustrating to die when there’s nothing you could have done. The procedural generation is something of a double-edged sword in this respect. Because each run’s never quite the same as the last, it doesn’t feel as repetitive as it might. But that also means there’s no getting used to the levels. Combined with the at times unforgiving controls, this makes things a little harder to get to grips with.
Thankfully, the art of the game is beautiful. The vivid colours of the game’s stylised aesthetic make for an entrancing backdrop as you play. In fitting with the theme, the sky and environment shift as you move through the levels. The game’s style progresses along with George and the player, which is a nice touch. The game’s soundtrack is also well-crafted, setting the tone for the levels.
In short, George: Scared of the Dark is a gorgeously made game with an eye-catching style. At the same time, the appeal is too often marred by the frustrating gameplay. By their nature, platformers demand good reactions, and in George’s case, the controls can get in the way of this. There’s a lot of potential and charm here, and it’s a shame that the flaws prevent it from being entirely successful.