Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game
From the cusp of the 8-bit revival revolution, Ubisoft has managed to up the stakes to a classy HD 16 or so-bits. If Turtles in Time, Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Streets of Rage conceived some sort of old school super baby on Super Mario World’s world map, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game would be born.
With all the hype lately, it’s hard to believe that several months ago I had never even heard of Scott Pilgrim, but the tale told through video game references is actually very good and lives up to all the press the series has been getting.
The game has a very stripped down version of the comics’ plot which revolves around a boy who wants to be with a girl, but discovers he must first not just fight but defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. I was pleasantly surprised to see the game was not only based on the art from the comics but was also an old school beat-em-up with a look and feel that matches the series and ignores the movie. This is strictly a game based on a comic, not a game based on a movie, and with the last book in the series recently published, the game keeps spoilers to an absolute minimum. The only real plot spoiler comes from the ending, though there was obviously a lot more to it that simply wasn’t told because it didn’t fit in with the abruptness of the old school format.
The game was clearly made by people who grew up gaming and still love it, with old school references and mechanics that call back to the pixel days of yesteryear but with a polish many past games never had the privilege of receiving. The story is told briefly through mostly static scenes and text before you even get to the Start Menu. Chip tunes by Anamanaguchi are the game’s sole soundtrack, and they’re fantastic tracks. In fact, on launch day players were already demanding the game’s soundtrack be sold.
Scott Pilgrim has three difficulty levels, and upon trying the “medium” equivalent and losing I switched to the more comfortable “average joe” - the lowest difficulty. I still found the game challenging, though this may be because the game seems to have been built with local multiplayer in mind, as there are enough enemies to warrant backup. After choosing which of the four main characters you’d like to play as - Scott Pilgrim, Scott’s love, Ramona Flowers, Scott’s band’s drummer and ex-girlfriend, Kim Pine, or “the talent”, Stephen Stills - you begin on a charming Super Mario World-style map as you unlock each evil ex’s neighborhood. Each level is a different Toronto setting, ranging from back streets to the shopping district, movie sets, a concert venue, and even a robot factory, and all look identical to their comic book counterparts.
You can even enter stores and use Canadian money you’ve beaten out of people to buy food, music, or books to restore health and up your stats, or enter “Subspace” - an area built for money-making that looks the way a dirty NES cartridge played (letters, numbers, and giant pixels at the edges of the screen). These are both taken directly from the comics, which is why the series as a game works so well. However, if you have never read the comics or seen the movie the game is still very enjoyable.
The aforementioned shops are essential, as the purchases are all tied to increasing your character’s stats. You do level up with experience, but this only helps you attain new moves without increasing speed, defense, strength, or other stats -- all things you’ll need as Ramona’s ex-boyfriends and their minions become more and more evil. Should a level become too difficult, there’s always the option of grinding for Canadian money and revisiting an old area in order to purchase more stat upgrades like a burrito or a book about cooking vegetables. Even at the max level of 16 I had trouble lasting to the ends of the last couple of levels, but going back to the Shopping District to read up on body building helped me pack a harder punch, and learning to cook vegetables built up Scott’s defense. I was then ready to roll.
The autosave feature is well integrated in Scott Pilgrim (coins dropping into a piggy bank icon cutely indicates “saving”). At any point in any level you can go back to the world map and in doing so your stats and level for that character will be saved. You can then continue with that character or choose another. Each character retains the stats you’ve built up for them, and character data can be reset from the Options menu if you ever feel like starting from scratch.
Some players will detest the lack of online co-op, but to dismiss the game or harbor hatred because of this ignores the obvious intention of the creators to create an awesome side-scroller beat-em-up while capturing the spirit of the time period its style was based on, and that style focused on playing with friends in the room with you. It’s simply another piece of the nostalgia puzzle Ubisoft has put together. As for the inability for other players to drop into a current game, all I can say is that the autosave feature makes it easy to exit a level, grab a friend, and jump right back in.
After pummeling, jump-kicking, throwing turnips, tossing guitars, and exerting a fiery blaze at your enemies, there’s still more to do. By inputting down, up, right, down, up right, down, up, right, right, right from the Start Menu you will unlock zombie Survival Mode. This mode ranks the character of your choosing in an online leaderboard based on how many zombies you KO and how long you last. I had 74 KOs in approximately 5 minutes on my first try on “easy” with a level 16 Scott. As of Thursday morning, the top ranking player had over 850 KOs within about a half an hour. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, even if you’ve already completed the game.
Other fun codes exist as well, like changing dropped coins into rabbits and chicks ala Sonic The Hedgehog (Up, Up, Down, Down, Up, Up, Up, Up), or enabling blood (X, Circle, X, Square, X, Circle, Circle for the PSN version). These codes are derived from their past generation counterparts, the first code being an actual Sonic cheat and the second being a Playstation equivalent to a Mortal Kombat cheat (as of this review the XBLA version has not been released, so these codes are based on the PSN version). This has sparked full discussion boards of players trying to use cheats from games referenced in the series to see if they activate any cheats.
If you’re not sold on Scott Pilgrim’s seven-level single player mode being worth the $9.99, consider the craziness that having Scott, Stills, Kim, and Ramona kicking ass all at once could become - especially in Survival Mode. Should a character get KO’d, a friend can revive them Gears of War-style, and if a player loses all their lives they can activate the character’s ghost and steal a life from a friend whether they want the player to or not. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game is an incredibly fun single player game, and playing with friends makes it all the more kickass, especially if they’ll lend you in-game money to buy sushi.