Review: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game’ Gets It Together
It's fair to say that most video games based on movies or comic books suck. There are a few exceptions -- "Spider-Man 2," "Marvel vs. Capcom" -- but by and large, if it's a tie-in, conventional wisdom suggests you get a friend to buy it so you can play it at their house without wasting your hard-earned cash. That's just the way licensed games go. They can't match the story of the original, because video games require interactivity, and when translating a book or movie to a video game, something has to give. Sometimes it's faithfulness and sometimes it's quality, but whatever the reason, most licensed video games aren't any fun to play.
Except... "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game" works. It's fun! It's old school! It feels like Bryan Lee O'Malley's "Scott Pilgrim!" What're the odds of that happening? What's even stranger is that "Scott Pilgrim" is good in part because it sacrificed accuracy in favor of gameplay. Wait, that doesn't make sense. Isn't getting rid of accuracy one of the sins licensed games always commit? Hit the jump and I'll talk you through it.
"Scott Pilgrim" isn't accurate, but it is faithful. Where the book relied upon clever dialogue, dynamic action scenes, and emotional resonance to tell its story, the video game has access to... one out of three. Rather than trying to try and fail to be absolutely true to the letter of the book, they chose to be true to the spirit of the book. That means lot of references to classic video games, incorporating the bone-crushing difficulty of old school titles, and having some fun with the world.
"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game" is chock full of video game references, like when Scott gains the ability to use Ryu's shoulder throw and Chun-Li's head stomp from "Street Fighter II." When you travel through the Subspace Highway, the beginning and end of each area is full of corrupted graphics, just like in old Nintendo games. A "Guitar Hero" inspired mini-game appears during one boss fight, even. O'Malley seeded "Scott Pilgrim" with dozens of references over its six volumes, and this game is the payoff for all of that.
One thing that anyone who played games in the '80s remembers well is that video games used to be hard. Barring the occasional "Ninja Gaiden" or "King of Fighters" end boss, most games these days have been dumbed down for the mass market. Not "Scott Pilgrim," though. This isn't quite old school hard (you have infinite continues and three lives apiece, in fact), but it's pretty tough. Enemies take a lot of damage before going down, and have no trouble ganging up and beating the snot out of you before you can even clear half the screen.
The bosses are just as old school as the gameplay. They are tough, with screen-filling attacks that do massive damage. Good luck stunning them, too. But, just like playing games back in the day, they sometimes fall prey to cheap loops and combos. If you can trap a boss in a corner or up against a barrier, you can go to town with the grapple punch. You can stand over bosses and block until they stand up, wait for their first attack to pass, and then get in some cheap shots.
Finally, "Scott Pilgrim" is essentially a funhouse mirror version of the books. You will recognize the broad strokes of the story, the seven evil exes made it into the game intact, and you'll see several familiar faces, but the presentation is almost totally different. You have an overworld map that you tool around in (Remember "Super Mario Bros. 3"?), Knives Chau is your emergency striker, and battles against the exes are presented with a fighting game-style introduction. Everything is bigger, a little twisted, and yet still perfectly in line with the idea of the "Scott Pilgrim" books.
While the books just say that Scott is the greatest fighter in the province, and you accept it because it's part of the story, "Scott Pilgrim" forces you to prove that you're the best. You're going to fight hundreds, if not thousands, of goons on your way toward Ramona's heart... unless you manage to score one of the other endings. For ten bucks, you get hours of fun, some clever twists on an old favorite, and a nice reminder of the way games used to be, with maybe a side of righteous anger at the fact that you can't beat a certain stage, just like in the good old days.