By Marty Mulrooney
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game is an old school side-scrolling beat ‘em up based within the Scott Pilgrim universe. For those unfamiliar with Scott Pilgrim, he is the titular hero of his own series of graphic novels created by Bryan Lee O’Malley, which were recently adapted for the big screen by director Edgar Wright in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (reviewed here). This downloadable PSN/XBLA game is a tie-in of sorts, taking its art direction directly from the source material, with input from both O’Malley and Wright. The end result is a delightful blend of faux-retro excellence that is both addictively compulsive and a stark reminder of gaming years gone by.
For those unfamiliar with either the recent film adaptation or the books themselves, Scott Pilgrim has always made reference to video games within its narrative: the plotline centres around Scott’s quest to defeat his girlfriend Ramona’s seven evil exes, with each ex defeated in a boss battle of sorts. As a result, the game adaptation was ripe with brawler potential from the outset: after all, the framework was already largely in place.
Wisely, Ubisoft Montreal have chosen to dispense with any pretensions of conveying the source material’s complex storyline in such a small title: it is doubtful people unfamiliar with the franchise in some shape or form would ever seek out the game adaptation anyway. Regardless, it remains accessible to all, although true fans will certainly get a greater kick out of the environments, characters and frequent knowing winks and nods.
Up to four players can pick up a controller and enter the fight, but unfortunately this reviewer had to go it alone for the majority of the game. There is no online or drop-in multiplayer: each level must be started with all players ready to go. The difficultly doesn’t seem to adapt much for the amount of players active either, so soft-handed gamers – such as yours truly – may feel overwhelmed at first. There is a saving grace however: killing enemies results in a burst of coins, which can be saved up and used to upgrade your character in the various shops dotted throughout the levels. Losing all of your lives simply dumps you back to the Mario-style world map/level hub.
Thankfully, the game is so addictive that you probably won’t mind dying the first couple of times even if you do attempt it solo. Frustration soon turns into determination as you upgrade your character and begin to unlock new moves and kick ass. Kicks and punches make up the majority of your offensive attacks (with an occasional leap in the air for good measure), with melee items proving stronger yet riskier weapons as you can no longer block when using them. The block move itself is a lifesaver: most of the time you can literally hold it forever and no attacks will ever get through. Some may find this mechanic cheap, but I often relished the opportunity to easily defend myself and wait for the perfect moment to strike.
The boss battles can be brutal but are ridiculously entertaining. Every enemy from the books/film makes an appearance and it certainly raises your adrenaline when you finally complete a level and reach that last fight before victory. Sadly, the game’s old-school inspiration is taken very seriously indeed. Dying during a boss battle means replaying the entire preceding level all over again, which can admittedly become somewhat annoying but on the plus side allows you to grow stronger as you collect more coins and level up.
It should be noted that the original soundtrack by chiptune band Anamanaguchi (“loud, fast music with a hacked NES from 1985”) is worth the price of admission alone. It not only perfectly complements the game and its purposely HD pixelated visuals, but completes the retro package to perfection. I defy anyone to play this game and not end up humming these infectious tunes long after their console has powered down.
So, not everything is perfect. The learning curve is steep, with even the normal difficulty playing hard as nails in the beginning, especially for solo players. Some of the unlockable moves are slightly unfair too, requiring grinding techniques to unlock a full set of skills. Online multiplayer being left out isn’t a deal breaker, but would have certainly benefited players such as myself who don’t have a couch-full of friends on standby. Finally, the various shops dotted throughout don’t detail the benefits of their wares before a purchase, meaning valuable coins could be wasted without a quick glace at a walkthrough online.
Despite all of this, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game may be one of gaming’s greatest ever tie-ins. The graphics are bright and beautiful, the music is phenomenal and charm explodes from the screen with every button press. Your fingers and thumbs will ache but you won’t care. A superb downloadable title that, although still fun alone, is best played with a group of friends.
9 OUT OF 10