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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game

You might not take him for it at first glance but Scott Pilgrim is one bad dude. One day he’s browsing music with his girlfriend – Knives Chau, age 17 – and the next he’s fallen deeply in love with the mystery girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers. The only catch for Scott – other than having a girlfriend already – is that Ramona arrives with some hefty baggage, namely, her 7 Evil Ex-Boyfriends. For them to be together, Scott must fight and defeat each and every one of Ramona’s previous love interests. And apparently, clean up the streets of Toronto, which have become infested with an unusually diverse bounty of riff raff.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a game developed by old-school gamers for old-school gamers; it’s an arcade style brawler in a time when the arcade style brawler was supposedly dead. Borrowing heavily from the NES classic River City Ransom, Scott Pilgrim is a beat ‘em up heavy on grinding for experience and farming for money. What that essentially means is you won’t be blasting through levels a la Streets of Rage or Final Fight, at least not in the beginning. Starting out you should expect to play the first couple of stages several times before actually completing them, as there are no mid-level continues and you will die. The thing to remember is during each failed attempt you’re acquiring both money and experience to improve your character, and perhaps more importantly, learning the games strategies.

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Although the gameplay might look simplistic, Scott Pilgrim has one of the most diverse and varied combat systems found in a game of its type. Instead of giving the characters tons of flashy, but ultimately useless combos, the cast has a smaller set of simple to execute moves that all serve very specific purposes. As your character levels up he or she learns new moves, ranging from dash attacks, ground attacks, air recoveries and even a tactical roll. Starting out at a measly level one your character feels pretty basic and underpowered, but it’s a clever design choice to force you to learn to work with the moves available to you. As new moves are gained they wind up complimenting your existing skill set, rather than replacing them outright.

Mixing and matching moves, along with learning to control screen space, is what Scott Pilgrim really boils down to. Although the enemy AI can occasionally be dumb, thugs will generally try to surround your character and use any available object as a weapon to bludgeon you. Thanks to the wide variety of options, crowd management feels as good in this brawler as it ever has. For example, Scott could execute a special attack to push back the aggressors, call in a striker, use a knockdown attack to ground a few enemies, Judo throw an enemy into his comrades or simply dodge into the foreground or background. Of course screen placement is equally important and you’ll always want to give yourself as much room to evade and maneuver as possible, while cornering enemies to finish them off with easy juggles.

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Of course once you throw in another three players a lot of those strategies you’ve been honing get thrown right out the window; with support for up to four players locally, Scott Pilgrim can turn into absolute madness. No, the game doesn’t have online multiplayer, and what’s even sadder is it doesn’t have drop-in/drop-out play at all. While online play would have been nice, this is a retro experience, a game meant to be played with buddies in the same room. Ubisoft has gone very much out of their way to recreate a game of a certain era, and having to assemble the gang as you did as a kid, is your small part to play in that recreation.

Although the River City Ransom vibe is the most apparent and prevalent found in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the game is littered with both obvious and subtle references to dozens of 8 and 16-bit classics. What’s impressive about these nods is the breadth of titles represented and the elegant way they’re wrapped into Scott Pilgrim’s ridiculous, eclectic fiction. As bizarre as it all is it all somehow falls neatly into place; it isn’t just a shout out to the games we enjoyed as kids, but also to us, the gamers, with a wink and a nudge.

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With all the classic gaming love on display, Scott Pilgrim is fittingly presented with some of the most striking and beautiful pixel art ever created. Rather than constrain themselves to true 8-bit, as the Mega Man revivals have done, animator Paul Robertson and his team set out to do something we could only dream of as children. Animations are fluid and varied, but more importantly have a lot of character, which reinforces the overall tone of the game. Combining the talents of Paul Robertson with the revered chip tune band, Anamanaguchi, and Scott Pilgrim’s neo-old school presentation is near flawless. Stage tunes are catchy and high energy, getting you pumped up for some fisticuffs, while sucker punching your ear drums with a dose of 8-bit nostalgia.

As far as beat ‘em ups go Scott Pilgrim vs. The Word is a dream come true. It’s the rare old-school title that embraces its retro roots but justifies its classic, antiquated game design. The initial slow pacing will likely turn away players that are just looking to pound a few skulls and the lack of online play will be a sticking point for many, but these are silly, minor excuses to not play one of the finest brawlers in years.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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