Scott Pilgrim Vs The World PS3, Xbox 360 Review
There’s a good chance that, about six months ago, you probably hadn’t heard of Scott Pilgrim. If you’re cool, of course, you’ve been aware of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s incredibly successful graphic novel series for a few years or so. But you’re more likely to have picked up on it recently, thanks to the frankly staggering amount of marketing being thrown at the series’ upcoming film adaptation. I say ‘upcoming’, it actually came out today in America. But I’m not in America, so shut up.
For those who’ve not read the books – shame on all of you – they revolve around Scott’s infatuation with Ramona Flowers, a girl who just to happens to have a League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends who will stop at nothing to ruin her future love-life. And so, if Scott wants to keep dating Ramona, he has to defeat each one of the evil exes in mortal combat. The books’ entirely matter-of-fact adherence to video game logic earned them a place in the hearts of nerds the world over, along with other pop-culture and music references that made the whole thing very – for want of a much, much better word – ‘zeitgeisty’.
So, how do you make a video game about a brilliant graphic novel that owes a lot of its success to a series of polite nods towards video games? Why, you make a brilliant video game that owes a lot of its success to a series of polite nods towards the graphic novel, obviously. What we’ve got here is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up that loosely – very loosely – follows the story from the books. You can play as one of four characters – that’s Scott, Ramona, and Scott’s bandmates Kim and Steven – and proceed to run around beating the crap out of miscellaneous thugs, scenesters and emo kids.
Let me say that again: you can beat up emo kids in this game. £7.99, man.
It’s worth noting that literally everybody behind this game is amazing. The art was handled by the obscenely talented Paul Robertson – if you don’t know who he is, he did a couple of incredible animations in the style of ’90s scrolling beat-‘em-ups, and everyone went completely nuts, saying he should totally work on a video game. Well, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is that video game. While the setting doesn’t really allow his imagination to shine on a regular basis, he still manages to have fun with a few of the boss encounters, and even the more mundane stuff is all beautifully animated.
The music was done by everyone’s favourite chiptune punk band Anamanaguchi, whose work suits the game’s ethos perfectly – clearly a product of the modern age, but with the trappings of pure videogaming nostalgia. The fact that all their songs are catchy as shit also helps.
Finally, the people at Ubisoft Montreal who actually put the game together (with a little help from Ubisoft Chengdu), are the guys responsible for TMNT on the GameBoy Advance – a game that you and everyone else ignored, despite it being one of the best scrolling beat-‘em-ups in years. It’s not even listed on Metacritic, although Wikipedia confirms that it does exist and we didn’t just make it up. Unless we wrote the Wikipedia entry while we were drunk, or something.
I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far by saying that, aesthetically, this game is just about perfect. As a tribute to a comic that’s a tribute to video games, the blocky yet highly-detailed and sublimely animated pixel-art combined with a loud, energetic chiptune soundtrack could never have been anything less than a perfect fit. Still, what’s the fighting like, eh?
For the most part, it’s brilliant. An entirely robust fighting engine has been crafted here, with a whole host of different moves each with their own characteristics and applications. The trouble is, you have to unlock the vast majority of them by levelling up your characters. That’s nothing new, of course, and action games with RPG aspects tend to be utterly great. But there’s something about their implementation here that grates a little. Generally, whenever you unlock a new move, you’ll find yourself thinking “Well, that’s really useful and all, but I could’ve used it when I was getting my ass kicked ten minutes ago. Thanks a LOT, game. Jerk.” Unlocking new cool stuff is great, but not so much when it just feels like stuff you’ve needed right off the bat. Still, get all the moves unlocked, and there’s one hell of a brawler to be found here, especially when played in co-op. Experimentation with items often pays off in wonderful ways, thanks to the game’s basic-but-functional object physics. Throw a signpost at a guy and sprint at him, then as the sign hits him and bounces off, give it a swift roundhouse kick to send it straight back at his face again for a second hit. Or if you’re pummeling a guy in front of a bar and a second enemy starts running up behind you, do a quick reverse-elbow to send a nearby barstool flying at him, knocking him off-screen and allowing you to carry on battering the first guy without missing a beat.
Pretty fun stuff, then. But not perfect. Presumably to make sure the game gets released in time for the movie, (on the PS3, at least – the 360 version doesn’t come out for a few weeks, presumably because Microsoft couldn’t bear to have a multi-format game during their Summer of Arcade promotion. Arseholes.) a few glitches have slipped through. The enemy’s AI isn’t always great, with characters occasionally hanging around off-screen or just failing to appear at all, making you wonder who you’re meant to kill in order to move on. Worse yet, there’s talk of people losing their saved progress. We’d like to assume these issues will be patched out, but hey – Far Cry 2 suffered from almost identical problems, and that never got fixed. And it’s from the same studio. Maybe they left it in on purpose here as a totally meta video game joke.
…Actually, that’s brilliant.
The lack of online co-op is also a huge shame, as this is a game clearly meant for multiplayer. Playing on your own on anything but the lowest difficulty is hard, and the unforgiving mid-level checkpointing (read: THERE ISN’T ANY) means you need to start the level again if you lose all your lives. I could live with this, were it not for the fact that once you’ve finished a level, there are often mid-level checkpoints at which you can dive back in if you want to, yet they apparently don’t count if you fail part-way through the level before finishing it. Cruel, and pointless.
Of course, just as people who don’t play games tend to miss a bunch of clever references in the books, those of you who’ve not read the books are going to miss stuff in the game, too. It’s not essential to have read the books before playing the game, but a lot of things aren’t going to make any sense. Why were all those people dead when I walked into that concert? Why did that skateboard appear and then just vanish without letting me use it? And why is that guy getting harassed by the Vegan Police? Wait – Vegan Police?
Still, if you’ve not read the books, that’s your problem, not the game’s. Sort your life out, man. Then buy this game. It’s effing great.