Last modified: September 11th, 2022
Scaler is a PS2-era game that a grand total of 3 people have ever heard of.
I’m being sarcastic, but seriously, this game did not get a lot of traction.
I acquired a copy by pure and complete accident – I joined a video game trading website, in which you send in your old games for points, and then exchange your points for other people’s used games. For joining on a referral, I received a small amount of free points, and, greedy as I was, immediately browsed the library to see what I could get for “free”. At this point I was so burnt out of every PS2 game I owned, having played them all to death.
Something new stood out at me. Scaler. The cover art didn’t thrill me, and it looked like it could be really bad. But it was a platformer, and I loved jumping around… plus, you played as a blue lizard-man. Okay, fine, I thought – it’s free, the only risk is wasting my time, right?
I was treated to an incredibly fun, if not sometimes startlingly difficult, adventure through a lizard-based world with incredible level designs, fun mechanics, amazing creatures, and a huge amount of variety.
The game has two gimmicks: 1.) the ability to scale certain walls and structures by climbing, and 2.) Scaler’s ability to shape-shift – in each level, he has one alternate form, and you can switch between this, and his default bipedal lizard form, at any time. The first time you play one of these levels, you must “earn” the alternate form by defeating a mini-boss.
Look at these lizard-monsters you can transform into!
Regardless of your form, Scaler always has his blue-and-yellow color scheme. I love how threatening and monstrous these are! What a delight that a game allows you to play as creatures that most other games would only consider enemies.
They all have different abilities – from shooting projectiles to creating organic bombs to flying. Some of these mechanics are fun, and some are irritating, but they mix up gameplay more than most games and they use these mechanics very well. I just regret that we only get ONE level of the flying form and ONE level of the swimming form. There’s a very fun noteworthy level wherein you heavily use the spiked-ball-monster form, who can roll at high speeds.
I’m thrilled that all of these things are even considered “lizards”! I’m thrilled that this whole world is based on LIZARDS!
The world design reflects this; a bizarre alien-fantasy world which toes the line between high fantasy and sci-fi extremely effectively, with bugs everywhere and glowing swamp plants. It’s beautiful but it’s not traditionally “pretty”, with glowing swamps and primordial mud pits. It definitely feels like a world that has evolved differently than our Earth.
Before I show you too much more published game content, I need you to look at the concept art. This game has some of the most staggeringly creative concept art I have ever seen, most of it by artist Thomas Wilson, who is now the creative director at Beenox, the company that created the VERY EXCELLENT Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time!
So while this game didn’t have commercial success, it had incredible creative direction and art development.
Two of these pieces are from the game’s manual. There are character profiles that show a human and lizard form for several characters, but there’s clearly a lot of cut/unfinished content, and we only get a tiny taste of these were-lizards. The protagonist is a human boy who gets transformed into a lizard-person and brought to the lizard world, and we can see concept art for other lizard-shifters, but we get very little of that in the actual game.
The enemies are, overall, slightly less exciting than the protagonist’s alternate forms – but that’s because a lot of them are cartoon-eyed lizard-people. The monsters that don’t try to be anthropomorphic are all fantastic.
The Trapper, for example, is a four-faced monster that lives in mud pools, which you must sneak past or it insta-kills you with its’ clawed tentacles.
Our main mode of transport is also an awesome creature, the Repadactyl, a six-eyed manta-ray like flying beast:
There’s also background creatures that don’t even interact with you that are awesome, like giant fast-moving flying serpents in the level Koradus. I recall being obsessed with catching glimpses of this creature while I was playing. Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t get a clear screencap of one of them.
Please take a look at the longplay that I’ve linked here below. And definitely check out Thomas Wilson’s ArtStation linked above to experience some truly amazing concept art.