Has there ever been a game tie-in that has managed to capture the spirit of its subject so faithfully as Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game? This beat-em-up and the character share a lot of things in common after all. They’re both initially quite off-putting, as you try to see the good in them, before slowly turning your opinion around in spite of a few extremely questionable decisions they make. The only real difference is that Scott may be a better brawler than he is a musician, but the opposite is true for Ubisoft’s cult 16-bit throwback.
(Image credit: Ubisoft)
Release date: January 14, 2021
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Google Stadia
Before I get into my TED talk about why the Anamanaguchi soundtrack is one of the best of the era, let’s dig into what Scott Pilgrim actually does in his precious little game. Following the broad beats of both the graphic novel series and the movie, you and up to four mates can choose from a handful of characters to kick the everloving snot out of Toronto’s surprisingly large gang of goons. Once you get to the end of each level, you’ll have an evil ex-boyfriend of Scott’s new paramour, Ramona Flowers, to defeat, whose powers range from mystical (Matthew Patel) to Vegan (Todd Ingram).
Yonge Street Fighter
As you can tell, the graphic novel’s plot lays the perfect foundation for an old-school beat-em-up, and it’s one that this game shakily builds on. Whatever character you initially choose – you’ve got a choice between Scott, Ramona, Stephen Stills, Kim Pine, and included DLC extras in Wallace Wells and Knives Chau – has the same basic moveset and stats, which you level up by beating chumps up and buying stat boosts from stores dotted around the places you wander through. It’s a rudimentary system that wants to add depth to the experience, which it eventually does, but not without introducing a fair amount of grinding to begin with.
The main issue stems from what your fighter can and can’t do at the start of the game. While you’d hope for a natural evolution of your powers to take on all-comers, instead the early hours seem like you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back, forcing yourself through levels so you can get abilities that dramatically improve your chances. And by that, I mean, having to unlock a counter feels a bit stingy.
And even once you’ve unlocked your fighter’s various abilities, you then need to pour money into improving their stats to stand a chance at some of the later levels. Add on a general impreciseness to the way characters handle – picking up weapons is unpredictable, platforming sections are fortunately rare because your character moves at either turtle or Sonic speeds – and the early impressions, especially for the nostalgic like me, are of memories being very rose-tinted.
Fortunately, preserving with the grind reveals a more engaging experience. Once you’ve unlocked a few extra moves and made Scott a bit harder (and better, faster, stronger) does the fun begin. From juggling enemies in the air, jumping on their heads, or just throwing them off the edge of stages, it’s a combat system that hides a hyperactive glee after you’ve committed a bit of time to it. With levels designed to be replayed (or tackled with a gang of mates with offline and online co-op), there’s also a palpable joy from going back to swat aside enemies who once gave you tonnes of grief.
While these moments of crowd control can be extremely entertaining, if you were hoping that the game’s bosses would offer up a proper examination of your skills, then prepare to be mildly disappointed. For a game about battling 7 evil exes, you might expect some memorable boss fights, but Scott Pilgrim’s big bads work because of their visual and audio flourishes – from Lucas Lee grabbing a skateboard or a particular stage of the Gideon Graves fight which looks like something out of a Corenberg movie – instead of the actual fighting. In many ways, this sums up why Scott Pilgrim actually keeps you hooked in.
Rockit and Roll
You see, despite the frustrations with the game’s combat, this might just be one of the most well-realised tie-ins ever. The 16-bit art style captures the tone of the comics near perfectly, alongside the humour of the comics. References to Mario’s overworld screen raise a chuckle, while watching a special item disappear in front of Scott’s face will smuggle some laughs from fans. Similarly, the game’s chiptune soundtrack sounds like it was recorded for an unreleased Nintendo game and popped seamlessly on top of this, making it as wonderful and memorable as any retro tune you’ve heard.
It’s basically one of those rare instances where you’ll be willing to fight through your misgivings just to enjoy soaking up the nerd chic on offer. And considering this remaster gives you a chance to experience the full game plus every piece of content that was released for it before it got delisted, then this undoubtedly an easy sell for fans.
All this being said, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend Scott Pilgrim for the merely curious. This is a big pixelated love letter to obsessives of the series or a very specific type of beat-em-up from the 16-bit era, and to pretend that others will be able to stomach some of the game’s purposefully anchrasotic touches because of how good the Anamanaguchi soundtrack is or the fact that Joseph from the comics can be spotted in the background is probably a bit disingenuous. But if you fall into that camp, like myself, there’s a good chance you’ve already played this game and will enjoy a brief trip back to the heady days of 2010. It might not be Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, but it’s certainly not going to fill you with Infinite Sadness either.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Code provided by Ubisoft.