In 2004, creator Bryan Lee O’Malley introduced readers to Scott Pilgrim in Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, the first in a six-part saga about the struggles of a twenty-something year old slacker learning to grow up and change from past life mistakes. On the surface level though, the story revolves around Scott’s quest to vanquish the seven evil exes of one Ramona Flowers to win her heart. This aspect helped to inject the slice-of-life story with a healthy dose of influence from mediums like video game and Japanese manga, evolving it into something truly unique, especially when coupled with O’Malley’s distinct visual stylings.
This same week in 2010, the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim was released in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a condensed version of the series by Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. As was the style at the time, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World received its own tie-in, aptly titled Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, but it was far from the standard, rushed to market products that polluted store shelves. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is a magnificent homage to classic arcade style games that also elevates the genre and does so while staying true to the source material. About the only glaring flaw about it is that as of this writing, it doesn’t exist for anyone to buy.
Like the comic and movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game tasks you with defeating Ramona’s seven evil exes, the twist here being that you can actually do so as Ramona herself along with Scott and his band mates from Sex-Bob-Omb, Stephen Stills and Kim Pine. In lieu of fully voiced cut-scenes or a heavy amount of text, Scott Pilgrim communicates its story mostly through gorgeous looking pieces of art between stages, created by none other than O’Malley himself. About the most text you get is a description of each evil ex when you meet them, and for those unfamiliar with the Scott Pilgrim universe prior to playing, it helps to build expectations for people who are seeing things like a vegan with psychic powers for the first time.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World wears its video game inspiration on its sleeve from about the second you launch it. The character select screen is a throwback to that of Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES, and clever nods like this continue throughout the entire game. The final stage for example features among other things a typical brawler elevator sequence, a boss that’s a cross between Resident Evil’s Tyrant and the main villain of a Final Fantasy game, a section that’s straight out of the Technodrome from Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles, and concludes with something that fans of Mega Man 2 will surely appreciate. It’s also worth mentioning that all the bosses have that wonderful Konami “flash” to show how much damage they’ve taken All of these Easter eggs are never beaten over your head, and not once do they wink at the camera so say “SEE?!!SEE?!!.” Instead it respects the audience who would be attracted to a game like this, letting them know that the designer’s passions align with that of the players.
Played as an arcade style beat ’em up, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will be comfortable to anyone who has played games in this style, from classics like Capcom’s Final Fight to comic book fare like The Punisher. What it clearly borrows most from though is the game in the Kunio-Kun series known in the west as River City Ransom. Quick reflexes are still a plus as you move around Toronto, Ontario Canada bashing on those who stand between you and the exes, but there’s also a lite RPG system here that all but eliminates the repetition associated with the genre. Fighting not only gives you experience which in turns unlocks new moves, but downed foes also drop money.
Scattered throughout stages are shops where you can buy food and other items, all of which help build your character’s stats. When you buy something, it’s somewhat annoying that you can’t see what perk it will give you, but as you return to areas, you’ll immediately know where to run to and what to buy to get the boost you need. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has a very clean over world map, further going with the Nintendo references as it reads very much like that of Super Mario Bros. 3, that makes it easy to jump back to a store and then immediately get straight back into the action.
When starting out, Scott Pilgrim may seem like it’s too tough and you could very well burn through all of your lives getting to even the first evil ex. Even when you’re on the losing side, it’s never the fault of the mechanics as like it is in the best in the genre, hits, whether they’re from your bare hands, Ramona’s hammer or random items you pick up off of the ground,all feel satisfying and never fail to connect, that is unless an enemy is blocking. Things only get better as you climb levels and gain new abilities, like getting to attack downed enemies, counter and double jump. Plus, it’s great to get payback on early level enemies that gave you a hard time after getting stronger, including the evil exes who make for some terrific boss fights. A large part of what will drive you to get through each stage is seeing all of the evil exes, from skateboarding movie star Lucas Lee to Todd Ingram who morphs into something straight out of Akira.
Scott Pilgrim can be played solo or with up to four players locally and online, but the latter is only if you have the necessary downloadable content. While a game like this is always better with friends, it’s easy to also enjoy by yourself. Each character has their own feel, and an added bonus is that they all have their own ending cinematic, giving you plenty of incentive to go back multiple times with all of the primary cast. There are secrets to uncover for those who put in the time to explore too, from subspace highways that are great for farming cash to hidden shops that house power-ups with better perks.
A basic description of the art direction of Scott Pilgrim is that it “looks like a retro game” and that isn’t exactly wrong. A more apt description would be that it feels like it came from a studio who bucked the trend of 3-D, continuing instead to hone the craft of 2-D art. This is true for both its visuals and its soundtrack. Everything from the cast, to the enemies and environments are meticulously designed with highly detailed, colorful assets that are a joy to the eyes and appear as if they were plucked out of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s mind. Stages transition from simple Toronto streets, to clubs and a ninja palace, and you never once stop to question it as it all seamlessly flows from one level to another.The soundtrack, composed by the band Anamanaguchi, is like the best of the Konami arcade era brought to modern times, with not a single track making you want to turn down the music, even as you repeat levels either because you died or are going back to get level up. It would be not out of the question to call it one of the best soundtracks ever featured in a comic book game, if not a contender for all games licensed or otherwise.
The depressing cloud hovering around Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is that is hasn’t been available to purchase since 2014 due to licensing rights, and because it was only ever released digitally, there’s really no way to play it unless you already own it or know someone who has it on either their PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. This game would get updated with new characters and modes, so even if you have the base game that was released back in 2010, the possibility exists that you don’t have the full Scott Pilgrim experience if you missed out on these things. You can redownload the game if you still have the license, but the DLC will forever to be lost to you, along with some trophies/achievements, a reminder of just how fleeting digitally released games can be.
Not only have fans wanted publisher Ubisoft to resurrect Scott Pilgrim, but so have Bryan Lee O’Malley and Edgar Wright. Ubisoft is presently embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal and have had to let go powerful individuals in their company due to heinous wrongdoings. Over the years, it has been alleged that one such individual, Serge Hascoët, held a tremendous amount of power over what games the company produced. While the blame solely can’t be placed on just one person, in the past he has denied such things as a King Arthur game from the creative director of Dragon Age, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that his influence hasn’t been a hindrance. As Ubisoft has to essentially go about rewriting their corporate culture now, it’s sad to say that bringing back Scott Pilgrim is probably not at the top of their priority list.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is a lot of things, from a respectful adaptation of a beloved indie comic darling to a love-letter to games of yesteryear. Above all else though, it’s simply a great time whether you’re a fan of the books, the film, or even if this is your introduction to this universe. This is all due to a near flawless blend of art, music, and a gameplay loop that never really ceases to become dull or repetitive. If you haven’t ever experienced Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, do so anyway you can, and if it’s still sitting there on any console you own, now might be the time to replay one of the best comic book games there is.