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August 20, 2010
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Review

By Jason Van Horn

I grew up on side-scrolling arcade beat'em ups: countless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games, X-Men in the arcade, and Double Dragon just to name a few. Though I'm not the biggest fan of Scott Pilgrim and have so far only read the first book, the old school brawler for the PS3 sounded like a great retro throwback, so I happily downloaded the game to give it a go. While it is a hilarious and fun nod to videogames and the nerd culture in general, several problems keep the game from being a real modern day masterpiece.

The story of Scott Pilgrim vs The World centers around a guy the aptly named Scott Pilgrim who starts dating a girl named Ramona. He really the likes the girl, but there's one problem (technically sevenish) keeping him from being able to be with the girl of his dreams: her seven evil ex-boyfriends. Players can take on the role of Scott, Ramona, Kim, or Stephen as they travel around Toronto, taking on each of these ex-boyfriends. Will Scott and Ramona live happily ever after?

First and foremost, this game was made for fans of the books: there are nods to things that only make sense if you've read the original source material. With that being said, though there's not much in the way of narrative besides an introductory cutscene to shed light on the overall story and a handful of level ending cutscenes, the idea of the story is easy to follow. You run around, beat people up, defeat the evil ex-boyfriends, and that's the end of that.

Unlike a lot of games in the genre from way back when, Scott Pilgrim actually plays like a mash-up between old school brawlers and RPGs. Whereas in earlier games you had the same move sets and stats from beginning to end, Scott Pilgrim and friends can only be a real threat after leveling up. Every so often your character will learn a new move, such as being able to kick downed enemies, perform flying air kicks, and being able to recover from a fall while in the air. While everyone has their own quirks and unique attack styles, moves for the most part are shared among the four main characters.

Besides earning experience by beating enemies up, the only way to beat the game is by collecting money from fallen enemies and using that to buy goods at the various stores scattered about the game's levels. By buying items at the stores, you can consume or use the item, giving you upgrades in one of several categories. Basically, by buying random junk whenever you have the money, you'll be able to last longer because you do more damage and can take it as well. While the upgrading system is decent, the game relies too much on it in solo play and even to group play to an extent as the odds are so stacked against you it becomes impossible to beat the game without leveling up in this fashion. So, since it's impossible to move forward in some later stages without being more powerful, you'll ultimately be forced to replay earlier levels to grind experience and earn the money needed to buy stuff.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World works much better when you're working with a friend to overcome obstacles, because suddenly the odds aren't as stacked against you, and enemies can be divided and conquered instead of letting them all beat up on one individual. Whether you're smacking down an enemy or enjoying one of the game's gags, Scott Pilgrim is an excellent party game. The problem is that though the game can support up to four players playing at once, there's no online capabilities whatsoever. So for all those loners who don't have any friends that exist outside the realm of instant messenger programs and message board forums, you're going to just have to play the game solo and work extra hard at overcoming the difficulty.

As mentioned, leveling becomes essential due to the amount of enemies, their cheap tactics, and inherent flaws with the game itself. When you find yourself with enemies coming at you from both sides, it's very easy to get juggled because you can't focus on one character over the other, and eventually you'll hammer on buttons out of frustration hoping something happens. Some of the enemies have lame tactics as well, such as charges that always seem to land, fireball attacks you can't seem to dodge, and problems such as ricocheting weapons that end up doing damage to you. If I throw a bat at someone or punch a stool, I don't expect it to come boomeranging back at me like a pinball. Another flaw with the game is that the enemies have the terrible habit of moving just off the screen, so that you can barely see them and let alone attack them in some cases. It's definitely an annoying flaw just wait till a ninja shoots a fireball from off-screen and catches you one too many times.

The evil boyfriends are much more enjoyable to fight, but it's funny that they're often not as challenging as some of the enemies that came before them over the course of the level (in fact the first three bosses are relative pushovers). Besides the boyfriends, you'll also have boss fights against jealous goth girlfriends and things like giant Titan Maximum robots.

While the gameplay and combat can be iffy in spots, I adore Ubisoft for mimicking the style of the graphic novels, and maintaining its wild, crazy, and yet infectious charm. An evil ex-boyfriend who mutates his arm like a character from Akira and a sub-space highway of techno colors where giant piggy banks fly in the air being just two examples. Gamers will also enjoy the various nods throughout the game that pay homage to classic franchises: the ghosts of Pac-man scribbled on a wall, question mark blocks that spit coins out like in Mario, warp pipes, one-ups, and Scott disappearing like Mega Man are just a few of the gags I really enjoyed. Besides the bright colors and wonderful comic styled graphics, the game's got a great rocking soundtrack, which is fully 8-bit and sounds as if you were enjoying an old NES game.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World can be a very fun game, but there are a lot of hurdles you have to overcome in order to appreciate the game at its fullest. For me and I'm sure a lot of other people out there as well the game's hiccups, such as the difficulty, cheap enemies, off-screen antics, and several other nagging faults leave Scott Pilgrim vs The World being a good diversion for a short bit of time, but in the end nothing of real worth to be remembered or keep me coming back for more.

3 out of 5


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