Editor’s note: This review is based upon the PlayStation 3 Downloadable Game. The Xbox Live Arcade version should be identical.
I’m going to level with you and be completely honest. Until a few weeks ago when the trailers for the film adaptation began airing on TV, I had never before heard of Bryan Lee O’Malley, Knives Chau, Kim Pine, Stephen Stills or Ramona Flowers, much less Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
While I was away on a much-needed vacation, between rainstorms, there wasn’t much to do besides sit down and watch the old boob tube (I had left my PS3 630 miles away, and I was feeling no love for my PSP. During this time, I was bombarded by the Scott Pilgrim trailer at least a dozen times within one evening. Each time I saw it, though, it just made me want to learn more about it.
I entered into Scott’s world through an evening at a movie theater. After the viewing, the thoughts that kept racing through my head were, “Need to get home. Must play this game. Can’t wait.” Thankfully, during the middle of my vacation, we on the PlayStation Network were graced with the ability to buy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game (released Aug. 10, 2010 – our friends who choose the Xbox Live Arcade are slated to receive the game on Aug. 25, 2010.)
Published by Ubisoft and developed by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Chengdu, let me start off by saying that this game is addicting. So much so, that after the second night of thoroughly playing it, I kept dreaming about it – waking up every 30 minutes with the strong urge to play it some more and beat it.
I have yet to read the original graphic novels that served as the big bang for this universe, but the game loosely follows their plot, which, unless you’ve been living under a mountain, you should know that basically, Scott Pilgrim falls in love with this mysterious girl named Ramona Flowers, but like any relationship, there are going to be some issues and obstacles that have to be addressed, and overcome. In the case of our friend Scott, those issues happen to be the League of Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes, who each seek to fight Scott in a duel to the death before he can proceed toward -any- meaningful relationship with the ultra-cool Ramona.
It goes to show that Ubisoft’s partnership with Universal Studios and Oni Press ensured that a whole lot of love (pun intended) and attention to detail was poured into this game, with O’Malley and Edgar Wright having their hands in some of the development. Scott Pilgrim: the Game is an homage to both its graphic novel and film adaptations. In fact, all three work together so well hand-in-hand that any persons wishing to create a movie, video game or graphic novel based off of either of these formats should take special notice to the availability of Scott Pilgrim entertainment on the market today.
The graphics are presented to us in oversized high-definition 8-bit, but instead of canned-and-stiff 8-bit animation, everything flows more along the lines of a solid 16-bit or even PSX era game. Characters may bear a heavy outline, but they are filled with life, and highly resemble their drawing style from the graphic novels. Every tiny expression from walking, running, jumping, taking a hard blow to the face or pummeling the snot out of an enemy is brought to the screen with awesome detail that doesn’t stray too far from the 8-bit heritage it emulates. Even the level backgrounds and environment have believable life and style in them. Instead of speech bubbles, characters instead emphasize their facial expressions and body language with “emoticon bubbles,” which add even more to the unique pizazz of this game.
Gameplay is intensely fun, especially if you feel nostalgic for the glory days of gaming. Playable characters include the titular Scott Pilgrim, his two friends Stephen Stills and Kim Pine and his love-interest, Ramona Flowers. Scott Pilgrim: The Game can best be described as a brawler with the heart of a RPG. Controls are kept fairly simple, with standardized buttons mapped for quick attack, powerful attack, jumping and moving. Special moves are carried-out by the shoulder buttons, and each playable character has different animations for their attacks, as well as different special moves. For instance, Scott does a sweeping roundhouse as his special move, while Ramona swings her sledgehammer around in a whirlwind. If a player can defeat five enemies in a row without being attacked, they go into hyper mode, where the character pulsates with energy, can attack faster, jump higher and move much faster. More powerful moves can be unlocked by gaining enough experience points and leveling-up.
Health is measured in Heart Points (HP) on a scale of 100. As mentioned before, there are RPG elements to the game, so it is possible to increase your stats to raise your overall maximum HP to a total of 200. Gut Points (GP) are the secondary counter at the top of the screen, and are primarily used to perform special attacks and summon strikers to assist them temporarily whenever in a pinch. It is possible to unlock more strikers in the game, but that is only accomplished by encountering them randomly on the world map and defeating them in battle.
As the game starts out, you can summon Knives Chau as your striker, but what action she performs is different for each main character. When Scott summons Knives, she temporarily stuns enemies with her “LOVE” attack, but when Ramona summons Knives, she produces a massive cup of espresso, which causes Ramona to go into hyper mode (more on that in a bit.)
Firstly, when a player defeats enemies, they (almost always) explode into a small shower of coins. These coins act as in-game currency that can be used in various shops throughout the game’s seven main stages, to purchase items that replenish HP, GP, or permanently increase stats to make their character more powerful.
Hand-in-hand with combat, scattered throughout each stage are objects that can be used as weapons. They range from baseball bats to skateboards, rocks to beach balls and bricks to katanas and a few things in between. These weapons can be used to bludgeon the daylights out of an enemy, slice them to shreds and all around help you defeat them with increased ease.
Scott Pilgrim: The Game offers a local offline co-op shared screen experience, though it surprises me to see that the same cannot be said for online co-op. Regardless, co-op mode is fun, and offers a small amount of new options to an already outstanding game.
Teammates can revive each other if one player is on the verge of losing a life, lend each other money for use in shops, work together to simultaneous taunt enemies to gain their attention and otherwise help each other make it through the stage a little easier. In co-op mode, even more enemies populate your screen’s real estate, and with four players going at once, it can be described as pure chaos. Single player devoured the most of my attention, though, since I rarely have anybody available to join me on the couch for some co-op fun. Perhaps a patch enabling online co-op will be released later?
The game’s sound effects are perfect for the type of game that it strives to be. Every punch, kick and thudding fall to the ground are accented with a delicious digital crunch that old school gamers grew up listening to. The music is unique and refreshing to hear on every level, and was created by the chiptune band, Anamanaguchi, from New York. The tracks never seem to get old, much in the way that people still love the level theme music from their favorite games of the past. (Among my personal favorites is the music of the Dragon’s Den level – it’s very cool and easily my favorite!)
In between the main stages and Battles of the Exes, there are “Subspace Highway” areas that act as bonus levels, where more money can be earned, and flying piggy banks can be attacked to get to the goodies inside. These levels are laid-out identically to glitched NES-style levels from the past, including graphical error codes covering up portions of the playable area (E01, for instance). Large Mario-style question mark gold blocks can be punched for coins until the blocks deplete and become dull brown and used… just like in Mario. In terms of other bonuses, players can also enjoy a boss rush mode, as well as a hidden zombie horde mode that can be unlocked through a cheat code!
With subtle references to popular video games of the past dashed throughout every level, combined with its own unique Canadian originality and humor, you can be hard-pressed not to smile when you play through Scott Pilgrim: The Game. It is best-suited for fans of brawlers like Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Double Dragon, River City Ransom and other classics. However, anyone looking for a game to casually pick-up and play can be guaranteed to find plenty to love in this attitude-filled love story.
The Pros: Scott Pilgrim: The Game has received several awards, and a short play-through of any of its levels can explain why. Filled with plenty of action, an entertaining story, memorable music and very challenging gameplay, players will be hard-pressed not to want to pick up their controller in the middle of the night to continue an autosave and try to win Ramona’s heart, over and over again by beating the crap out of her evil exes and their armies of thugs (including “emo” kids, ninjas, zombies and robots!) The trophies include some fun challenges to attempt after you’ve finished the game and are looking for another reason to pick it up and play again. The trophy for reaching a boss without taking damage is perhaps the most difficult to unlock, in my opinion. And with a different ending for every character, as well as every difficulty, Scott Pilgrim: The Game has a ton to offer for those completionists out there.
The Cons: The music really is great, and I love it. However, it would be nice to be able to play your own music from your XMB every now and again while playing. The game offers only offline co-op, which is a bit surprising. It isn’t detrimental to the game at all, however. Sometimes, the pause menu can take a little while to appear after pressing Start. Ubisoft could’ve taken a page from Square-Enix by allowing you to purchase more than one item at a time while in shops, and in some instances, it seems impossible to block attacks and avoid getting ganged-up on too quickly. It also wouldn’t hurt to have some sort of on-screen short tutorial that explains to players that if they don’t use the money they’ve collected to upgrade their stats and purchase a few extra lives (where available), that the game will be incredibly more difficult – or challenging, however you prefer to look at it… but after playing the game a bit and reaching those later levels, you surely figure that part out for yourself. Sadly, grinding for money is necessary if you want to purchase those expensive Canadian upgrades to your stats, but with gameplay this fun, all it takes is a quick playthrough of a few previously-beaten levels and you’ll have more money in no time!
On the fatally “con” side, I experienced only two instances that made me have to reset my 60GB launch PS3. Once was in a ninja garden area where I fell into water and didn’t die, but couldn’t jump out of the water or be killed from the nearby enemies, and the other was a freeze-up while navagating the world map. These issues very rarely happened though, and thanks to the game’s autosave feature, I was able to pickup where I left off with ease, and minimal (but still present) frustration. Having a manual save feature would be handy, too, but it’s unnecessary. And for your information, I was unable to replicate the glitches in over seven additional playthroughs of the game, so the chances of you encountering them should be slim or none.
The Conclusion: For a price tag of only $9.99 on the PlayStation Network (and 1200 MSP at launch) it’s hard to argue about the amount of entertainment and challenge you’ll get for such a fantastic tribute to the games you’ve loved in the past! I highly recommend you buy it! If you are still curious, download the demo and try it first – you won’t be disappointed.
As a side note, now that I’ve seen the movie and beaten the game, I plan on buying the graphic novel series, and that’s saying a lot for someone who has only read three graphic novels and a handful of comic books seriously in his life! It really wasn’t that difficult to make me love this game.
You can contact Joe (TigerFox) at email@example.com.