The notion of turning Scott Pilgrim into a video game is the kind of idea that can make your head spin – a comic book laced with video game references, now becoming a video game laced with comic book references. Trying to implement something like this would probably have most developers reaching for the “bail out!” button.
While Scott Pilgrim Vs the World for PSN and XBLA is a movie tie-in, launching at the same time as Hollywood’s latest Michael Cera vehicle, it’s a big difference from the typical quick and dirty cash grab which gamers have been forced to become familiar with. It’s a pox which even the download services haven’t even managed to escape, with titles like the pitiful Kick Ass or woeful Watchmen: The End is Nigh.
Instead the video game adaptation of Scott Pilgrim’s adventures has the mantra of fan service built into its very foundations, fusing the rich pixel art visuals of cult internet sensation Paul Robertson, with the musical chiptune stylings of cult band Anamanaguchi. This potent mixture means the game instantly has a visual and audio panache which is lacking from 99% of other movie tie-ins, with the end result being the perfect homage to the geeky hipster world which Pilgrim inhabits. Anything less would have been an affront to the source material and fans can rest easy in the knowledge that their underground favourite hasn’t been sold out in a bid to bring him into the world of games.
Following the titular Scott, the side scrolling beat ‘em up has him needing to defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends of his beloved sweet heart, Ramona Flowers. Set over several, very different styled, stages, Scott (and up to three friends in the local co-op mode) must negotiate the levels and pummel the seven shades of Shinola out of everything that stands in their way. It’s an approach modelled on old school beat ‘em ups like Final Fight, mixing in elements from more recent successful examples of the genre, such as Castle Crashers.
Starting the game, before you even have a chance to snort a dismissive “Hipster, please!” you’ll be set upon by enemies. Along with light and heavy attacks, there are various special moves, unique to each character, which can be used to help dish out the pain. If that’s not enough then the stages are littered with all manner of objects to pick up and deal out extra damage – after all, nothing quitetops the satisfaction of repeatedly hammering an enemy with a basketball or cardboard box.
As well as ranking up with progress, defeated enemies drop coins which can be used to buy unlocks and stat upgrades between levels. This RPG-lite element might be a little superfluous to the actual bread and butter of the game, but it’s a nice additional element, without which the game would feel somewhat lacking. While there’s not much more to Scott Pilgrim’s basic gameplay, it handles it all in an extremely well crafted and satisfying matter. Those who grew up with this type of game, and have been hankering for a fleeting return to their youth, will certainly love it – if you’re able to play the game with an arcade stick then the illusion of being back in the Arcade is virtually complete.
Fans of Paul Robertson’s work have been dreaming of a playable version of one of his incredible pixel art videos, and Scott Pilgrim is certainly the realisation of that dream. Big, chunky sprites fill the screen, each one with gorgeously detailed animations to accompany it. And as easy as it is to concentrate on the visuals, there’s also a lot to be said for the subtle little touches given to the music, including the way it builds as levels progress and some nice little acoustic effects depending on the environment.
While the games retro heritage is on display for all to see, it’s also been given the refinement that you’d expect from a modern day title. The Pilgrim comics have always drawn heavily on Mario (amongst other video game references) and that vibe carries over into the game – everything from the warp pipe style interludes between levels, to the map screen layout, encapsulate the Scott Pilgrim that fans will know and love.
But the comparison doesn’t mean that the game is to be mistaken for little more than a direct copy of previous videogames, since it revels in the more surreal aspects which are also a key feature of Robertson’s videos. Expect flying pigs, intentional reality-tearing graphical glitches and even Akira style body morphs.
If Scott Pilgrim Vs the World has a problem it’s that Ubisoft have totally neglected to include online co-op. While the local co-op mode is fun, it overlooks the fact that the majority of people playing the game will probably want to do so online, especially since it’s become so integral to this generation. The absence is even more baffling when you consider this is produced by the company behind recent download titles like Turtles in Time, which featured a thoroughly competent online mode. When you consider that the game goes to such lengths to copy more recent titles like the aforementioned Castle Crashers, it’s impossible to simply square away the fact that it stops short of including one of the major features which helped make that particular game such a hit.
It can only be assumed that this mode was jettisoned because of the need to get the game out within the same time frame as the film, but even so it’s still a totally missed opportunity that would have undoubtedly drawn even more people into playing the game. Ultimately the exclusion of online doesn’t ruin Scott Pilgrim’s foray into gaming, but it does leave a huge question mark hanging over its head as to just what they were thinking by leaving it out of a title that had otherwise received so much care and attention.
In the end it’s the overall attention to detail which makes Scott Pilgrim Vs the World such a great title. Funny, challenging and with a neo-old school vibe that many games would love to be able to emulate even half as well as what’s on offer here, this is one for fans of Scott Pilgrim and those who enjoy a good arcade fighter.