Scarf review for PlayStation, Xbox, PC

Platform: PS5
Also on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Handy Games
Developer: Uprising Studios
Medium: Disc
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

Some people may look at Scarf and think of it as just another Journey rip-off. I mean, no dialogue, no combat, the titular scarf that looks an awful lot like a certain red robe as it trails behind you – it’s pretty clear where Scarf gets its inspiration from.

I, however, look at Scarf as a Journey rip-off with one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen – which is why I kind of hate it.

Massive spoilers later on in this review, obviously.

But first, the non-spoiler reasons why I felt lukewarm towards Scarf: its lack of originality. It borrows heavily from Journey, and the game is only enjoyable to play when it borrows heavily from Journey and the hero has the eponymous scarf. With the scarf, the hero can double-jump, glide, slingshot across gaps – basically, do all the stuff that makes a platformer fun. When there’s no scarf, the game kind of drags, and there are annoyingly long sections during the game’s 2-3 hour runtime where you’re basically just trying to get the scarf back and make the game fun again.

To be certain, Scarf isn’t the first game to borrow from Journey, and the mechanics aren’t exactly a one-for-one rip-off. But when the worthwhile parts of the game recall Journey so heavily, it’s hard to give Scarf much credit.

My other big issue with the game – and here’s where we’re getting into spoilers – is the ending. Last chance to skip ahead, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Scarf’s story is something about a being of light trying to recapture the parts of it that were stolen away and return to its mother. All that remains are a few threads, which have helpfully woven themselves into the sentient scarf of the title. While some of this is explained, it’s never really laid out very clearly. Along the way during the fairly linear adventure, you can occasionally get more context by finding little works of art. At no time does the game ever indicate that the works of art are important, and given how linear it never feels there’s a reason to explore too much, since the game always feels like it’s funneling you along a set path. Early on I tried to explore my surroundings a little, but since I never found anything that seemed important, eventually I just followed the path the game seemed to be laying out for me. If I came across a collectible I’d pick it up, but since there wasn’t any indication they did anything, I wasn’t scouring every corner of every world to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. (As a sidenote, it also didn’t help that the game could be very finicky about where you could trigger certain actions: you usually had to be facing an object at exactly the right angle for the game to tell you to press an action button.)

Then you reach the end, and you discover that if you didn’t track down every collectible, you’d failed your objective completely, and your friendly scarf imprisoned you for eternity as a puppet for its mother.

To be fair, I guess, on the game’s Steam page there is a throwaway line saying that you can “gather unique collectibles to unlock an alternative ending.” Of course, to me that doesn’t exactly scream that failing to gather every single collectible means you fail the game, but maybe I just need to learn a lesson about unreliable narrators (which, really, isn’t a topic games explore nearly enough), and about the importance of exploring even when it’s not explicitly encouraged by a game – after all, you never know what you’ll find.

But the more likely explanation is that Scarf just thinks you’ll love it so much that you’ll overlook it wasting your time the first time around, and that you’ll go back and play it again – this time being sure to scour every map to make sure you didn’t miss any of the collectibles (which look like concept art) that are apparently so essential to communicating the game’s vision.

Unfortunately, it’s just not that good. I could see playing through Scarf once if you’re in the mood to play something that reminds you of Journey, but that isn’t as good as Journey. But beyond that? Scarf throws away whatever goodwill it might generate with an ending that shows it doesn’t really respect your time. Make of that what you will, and decide whether that makes the game worth your time at all.

Handy Games provided us with a Scarf PS4/PS5 code for review purposes.

Grade: C