19
Aug
10

Mini Crit: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game?

That’s your title?

Just appending The Game after a colon screams shitty cobbled together movie cash-in to anyone who’s had to suffer through 20+ years of shitty cobbled together movie cash-ins. Way to paint your game as the next tier of a synergistic marketing campaign dickheads.

Especially when your game is actually good.

That’s because Scott Pilgrim vs. The Game (which is what it should have been called) draws as much inspiration from gaming’s past as it does from the comic series/movie it’s based on; the lazy reference point in fact being River City Ransom or, for those of us who didn’t own a NES, Streets of Rage. Scott must fight his way through seven 2.5D levels, defeating the boss (evil-ex) at the end of each. You do this with the aid of two attack buttons, a block and a jump, with a further two special moves that deplete your ‘guts’ points. Bish, bash and indeed bosh.

Importantly, despite the pixel art graphics and chiptune audio, this is no mere recreation or even parody of the side scrolling beat ’em up, both of which being styles that tend to slavishly recreate all the flaws inherent within their chosen genre. It’s an homage (Edgar Wright would be proud) to gaming’s past, leaving it free to modernise key systems to try and remove some of the flaws and annoyances found in those early titles.

The most obvious of these is a levelling system. Those of you who may decry the needless addition of character levelling to any game as a cynical attempt to artificially create replayability will be reassured to know that it’s just as pointless here. Killing enemies grants XP which unlocks extra moves. Most of the moves feel like they should have been there from the beginning, with only a few of the latter ones feeling like they add advanced tactics to the combat.

More successful is the upgrade system. Killed enemies drop coins which can be used at the shops littered throughout the game to buy items. As well as recharging your health and guts points these items can also upgrade Scott or one of the three other initial characters in strength, speed, willpower and defence. It means that even failed attempts to complete a level are rewarded as your character’s stats are persistent meaning any money earned on that run will carry over to your next attempt, bringing you closer to another upgrade to aid progress.

This reduction of frustration is one of the triumphs of the game. Unlike its old-school forbearers, SPvTW:TG’s only punishment for losing all lives is to be kicked back to the start of that level, not the entire game. Levels also aren’t timed, leaving you free to explore and, more importantly, nip back to a shop to recoup your health, without ever feeling the need to recklessly hurray forward before you run out of time. These are essential changes because, initially at least, it’s a bloody difficult game.

The result of this is the game is an absolute joy to play, evoking for a certain segment of gamers the warm nostalgia of biffing your way through unlikely streets full of adversaries without providing the stark realisation that gaming was hard as fuck back in those days. It’s also chock full of references to gaming’s past from graffiti on the walls right through to specific character animations, all of which are nestled against the Toronto hipster-scene setting of the comic to provide a game that feels strangely modern in all its reminiscence.

Wherein lies a problem. This clash between retro gaming and the original comic series may as well have been laser targeted for me, especially as I also know enough about the chiptune scene to freak out slightly on hearing Anamanaguchi were doing the (brilliant) soundtrack. If you’re in a similar position then the game is essential and chances are you’ve already bought it. Can it be recommended to those unfamiliar with the source material though? In some respects yes, as the majority of references are passive and limited to inconsequential things like ancillary characters lining the street or the fact that the only 1-up earned in open play comes from defeating the third boss.

It’s fun either way and the majority of the plot is eschewed for visual touches, like the dialogue which is replaced with text message-esque emoticons. My flatmate, who has no knowledge of the series, has enjoyed numerous co-op sessions only occasionally stopping to ask why his special move was a 17 year old Chinese girl who grants his character health by snogging her. Presentation aside it’s a clear genre piece and it’s that which should inform how much enjoyment you’ll get from the game and not whether you understand why the high score screen is titled “The Best 24 Year Old Ever!”

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