Scarf wears its influence on its sleeve – or rather, around its neck. Like so many adventure titles before it, the game’s design ethos takes clear direction from 2012’s critically acclaimed Journey. In Scarf, as in Journey, the player takes the role of a nomad exploring an ancient world. Unlike in Journey, they aren’t alone. Instead, they are joined by a polymorphic, dragon-shaped scarf that’s been forcibly separated from its mother. The game’s premise is simple, yet heartfelt: the nomad and scarf must journey together to retrieve fragments of a portal that, once activated, will finally reunite mother and child.
Scarf undeniably wears its influence well. Besides the eponymous scarf, the game has a similar matte vibrancy that resembles a painting bursting with colour, while also keeping it easy on the eyes even after hours of play. Its visuals are paired with an adaptive orchestral score which rushes to fill the space of open vistas and yawning caverns before receding into moments of stillness that make room for satisfyingly crisp ambient sounds.
A hop, skip and a slingshot
Scarf’s environments are fairly rudimentary – think forests and deserts – but each remains a strikingly distinct, sprawling landscape. Thankfully, the game rarely blocks the player off from an area indefinitely, granting freedom of exploration without the fear of paths closing behind them if they venture too far.
It also provides gentle guidance through visual signposting. Light particles gather around points of interest, fostering a sense of player agency without leaving them entirely without direction. Hints for puzzle solutions are displayed as hieroglyphs – however, it ought to be noted that Scarf’s puzzles present no real challenge for anyone remotely familiar with platformers. Weight switches, crumbling pedestals and water physics are all standard fare for the genre, and all appear in Scarf.
On the subject of platforming, the game’s controls are smooth and responsive, as is its camera. While the nomad’s movements can feel a touch floaty, the degree of platforming precision required is so minimal that it rarely becomes an issue. It does help that the game’s checkpoints are also very forgiving, and missing a jump over a bottomless pit will place the player right back on the ledge they fell from.
Notably, Scarf chooses to forego violence by entirely omitting a combat system. This was absolutely the correct choice. To include one would be frankly unnecessary – the game includes no enemies with whom to fight – but it would also do a crushing disservice to the spirit of its narrative.
Yes, you can pet the scarf
Over the course of the game, the player unlocks a range of abilities that grant them access to new areas. These are attributed to the scarf, which dutifully shapeshifts into a variety of tools. It’s a joy to see what new form the scarf will take, and transitioning between these abilities during a platforming gauntlet is remarkably seamless and very, very fun.
That said, the scarf is more than just a tool for the player to exploit. It’s responsive to the world around it, occasionally unwinding from the nomad’s neck to investigate the environment for itself. Without the scarf, the nomad is stripped of all abilities, leaving the player to feel its loss – and breathe a sigh of relief once it eventually returns to them. It’s a strikingly organic way to nudge the player into prioritising puzzles in the level, and also presents the scarf as its own entity, not just a hook that the game’s mechanics are hung upon.
Laundry lists for my laundry lists
Truthfully, Scarf is a bit of a collect-a-thon. There are portal fragments, sigils, orbs – and that’s before mentioning the hidden paintings and wood carvings that function as the game’s actual collectables. All too often, the player’s progress in collecting one set of items will be stymied by a barrier that requires them to hunt through the environment to collect another set of items. It’s… a lot. It also partially accounts for Scarf’s deliberately slow pacing, and while some players may relish the opportunity to stop and smell the roses, others may find it simply too slow for their taste.
But wait, there’s more stuff! Scarf’s levels are also peppered with a series of collectable cutscenes. These lore fragments are beautifully rendered in the style of neolithic cave art, interpreted by a solemn narrator. While they may initially appear disparate and confusing, the pause menu includes an option to replay each one so that the player can attempt to decipher their order and meaning. Once these pieces eventually fall into place, the heel turn in the game’s narrative is elegantly executed. This moment is too integral to the emotional crux of the game to unpack in a review, but suffice it to say that Scarf’s narrative themes are far more ambitious than they may seem at first blush, hiding a remarkably sobering social commentary on freedom and ecology.
As a platformer, Scarf doesn’t particularly break new ground, and veterans of the genre will hardly pause for thought when solving its puzzles. That makes it liable to be written off as ‘just another platformer‘, which is a real shame. A full playthrough of the game can be comfortably achieved in one sitting, and the valuable message that lies at the heart of its narrative is more than worth taking the time. Scarf isn’t designed to challenge or frustrate, but provides the player with the satisfaction of puzzle-solving and a gently introspective allegorical tale.