Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Fret Nice: Pain is the Name of the Game.

I am Canadian. Like most of my kind, I have a somewhat complex relationship with my cultural identity. I am proud of my country, but there's no hiding the fact that we tend to fall rather short of the mark when it comes to our art: movies, TV shows, music and so on. I could really write an entire article on what I would consider Canada's apathy towards quality. Instead, today, we'll be looking at Ubisoft's latest release: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a game made in Montreal, based on a movie filmed in Toronto, based on a comic book also set in Toronto, written by Bryan Lee O'Malley: a guy from London (Ontario...also in Canada). The whole game is one great, big, happy, Canadian love-fest. In a subtle sort of way of course.

Before we go any further, it's time to face one hard fact. Videogames based on films tend to suck. We're talking bottom of the barrel here. Lest we forget the games based on these movies:

  • Eragon
  • Street Fighter: the Movie
  • Spongebob Squarepants: the Movie
  • ET: the Extraterrestrial
  • Cliffhanger
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula
  • Blues Brothers 2000
  • Wayne's World
  • Terminator II
  • and Waterworld (especially on the Virtual Boy)

Let's not visit this shit-heap again.
Let's not visit this shit-heap again.

I could go on, there are a ton of these games. The only exceptions seem to be games that are made long after the movie's release such as The Warriors, Ghostbusters: the Video Game or The Godfather.

The reason for this is simple: movie tie-ins, like video games, sell better when they are released just before or at the same time as the related movie itself. As a result of looming deadlines, these games are often started long before the movie is completed, and sometimes even before they're started. Game designers don't get a chance to explore the source material properly or speak with people involved in the movie and end up often losing touch with what they're trying to create. Add in a hectic schedule, and it's a recipe for disaster. I'm sure that these game designers would much rather make a decent game, but the resources don't seem to be available.

Enter Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Unlike most of the games listed above, the designers actually had the creative assistance of Bryan Lee O'Malley, the creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, ensuring that the game stays more-or-less true to the source material.

So, there's all this talk about how the game was created, but what about the actual game itself?

Scott Pilgrim is a twenty-something slacker and bassist in a band named Sex Bob-omb. He loves Ramona Flowers, a twenty-something delivery-girl for In order to date her, Scott must do battle with and defeat Ramona's Seven Evil-Exes: a motley crew of her ex-lovers, with backgrounds so diverse and abilities so honed, they could easily be a party of adventurers in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Players control either Scott, Ramona or Scott's band-mates: drummer Kim Pine or guitarist Stephen Stills.

The characters.

Although each character uses the same basic attacks, each character fights in a distinct way. Scott uses a combination of punches and kicks. Ramona uses what appears to be a some soft pushes along with a big-ass hammer that she pulls out of her bags. Kim punches, but also uses her drumsticks and to a certain extent, her sexuality. Stephen Stills on the other hand uses his hands and elbows with wrestling-inspired attacks.

Sex Bob-omb

So, there's not a lot of plot here, as most of the angst and humor of the comics and movie have been removed. You play as character, you walk around the streets of Toronto and you beat some heads. It's very simple.

And that's where Scott Pilgrim vs. The World excels. It's a love note to the 8 and 16-bit videogames that 20-something slackers, like Scott enjoyed for hours on end. The simplicity of the story-line, is reminiscent of the that in the games like River City Ransom, where Scott Pilgrim vs. The World seems to pull most of its inspiration from. In fact, you'll see references to Street Fighter, Super Mario, Double Dragon, Mega Man, Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Kirby, (along with a gut-busting Guitar Hero reference) and many more, almost bursting from the screen.

River City Scott Pilgrim.
River City Scott Pilgrim.

Gameplay is also just as simple. You'll move your character, use both light and heavy attacks, desperation moves, summon assistance from a perky little obsessed high schooler named Knives, and heal your co-players with a simplicity that one often doesn't see in modern videogames. Beyond the basics, your characters will also gain experience, which can allow them to level up and learn new abilities, all of which can be mastered in a matter of a few seconds. The final touch, and my personal favorite is that everything that isn't nailed down can be used as a weapon, and if it is nailed down, chances are you can break it. Adding to the nostalgia factor is an excellent chiptune soundtrack by Anamanaguchi. Far more complex than anything you'd ever hear on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it still conjures memories of mid-80s videogames.

And the fighting kicks ass too.
And the fighting kicks ass too.

Like you would expect with a game owing this much to the past, it is entirely made with sprites reminiscent of something that you might see on an NES or Sega Genesis game. Much more importantly though, the sprites still manage to come across with an art style that is very recognizable from Bryan O'Malley's comics.

Since a beat-'em-up game can't include long scenes filled with band practice, romance, conversations and analysis into the characters, the plot is only loosely based on the source material. By way of concession though, the game is chock-full of references to the comics themselves. The stores, items, attacks, secondary characters and even some of the minor enemies are all pulled directly from the books and movie. Even the character statistics (hit points, strength, defense, speed and guts) are a direct pull.

The levels themselves are based on the areas the characters frequent during the time periods Scott faces off against each of the Evil Exes, with a few exceptions. Casa Loma has been expanded on significantly from it's original small role. Likewise, Mae Whitman's level is almost entirely new, and the second to last battle with the Evil Exes removes Kim Pine as a hostage (since it would be pretty silly to have her save a second version of herself). In addition, the battle with Knives Chau's father has been removed from the main storyline and turned into an optional boss battle, in a way that calls back to Super Mario Bros 3. The final two levels have almost nothing to do with the game or movie as the final book in the series was probably not complete by the time the game was being created (similar to the end of the film).

In place of conversations about love and quiet scenes of angst are short cutscenes showing cutely drawn versions of the characters interacting. Scott and Ramona are usually kissing and Kim and Stephen Stills are usually looking on unhappily. These scenes appear at the end of each level, even after a second play-through. They're just long enough to be annoying after the first time, and if you find yourself having to play through a level a few times, either for experience, money or just to get Mr. Chau to appear, you will find yourself hating those scenes.

First time: cute.  Fourty-second time: diabetes.
First time: cute. Fourty-second time: diabetes.

Normal difficulty is still fairly challenging, especially for players who aren't familiar to the old-school beat-'em-up genre, which is now almost entirely extinct within modern games. Harder difficulties are significantly more...well...difficult. Luckily, the game allows the player to stack the deck. Character stats, including level, carry over between difficulty settings, allowing you to use your Level 16 character with maxed out abilities in the Supreme Master mode. In addition, the game contains several cheat codes, which can be used to ease play without disabling the ability to collect achievements.

One secret character and one optional assist character can be found in game, but casual players will likely not put in the somewhat lengthy time required to obtain them. The game also supposedly contains a second secret character, which if the rumors are to be believed will be released as part of a DLC pack around the same time Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (the movie) is released on DVD.

The game also includes a boss rush mode, as well as a survival horror mode featuring zombies. Both options provide a different challenge from the normal game, but there are no bonuses or achievements for playing them, making them purely optional.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World's largest weakness is in it's repetition. The normal repetition seen in a beat-'em-up game (see enemies, defeat them, follow the glowing arrow to the next battle) isn't what I'm referring to. In order to completely level up your characters, max out their statistics, and receive many of the objectives, you'll need to play through the levels far more than once. This also is fine. The problem comes when you complete a level and are forced to see the same short cutscenes over and over and over again until you can see Ramona's pixilated hot pants when you close your eyes.

The game also suffers from a lack of customization. In the comics and movie, the characters change clothes, like the costumes that Sex Bob-omb wear when they open for The Clash at Demonhead, or the jackets they wear during the winter. The game could have easily allowed players to customize what their characters wore to a greater extent than selecting a dominant color for the sprite's shirt. It comes across as a wasted opportunity.

The enemy AI is fairly standard for the genre. However, a single enemy, a blond man with a blue shirt, who specializes in thrown weapons will take every available opportunity to block your attacks, making him extremely frustrating to fight, especially early in the game, when your characters deal lower amounts of damage. Similarly, the white ninja enemies have a habit of throwing fireballs from off-screen, making it extremely difficult to effectively defend yourself against them, and will have you shouting "what the fuck is that?!?" within a few short minutes.

The secret Subspace Highway levels are helpful for both saving time and collecting money (courtesies of giant flying piggy banks no less), but are extremely infrequent. If they were either more common, or provided more of a benefit to the player (such as allowing the character to skip through more of the level, or providing more money), they might have been worth the effort. As it stands, they barely register a shrug in terms of their importance.

This is the wrong level of excitement to have for the Subspace Highway.
This is the wrong level of excitement to have for the Subspace Highway.

When you finish the game, you'll be introduced to a credit list that is not only long and unskippable, but the game also doesn't save until it is complete. Most of the credits are also livened up by some commentary and staged scenes with characters and enemies from the game, but the novelty wears off fast, and you'll be stuck watching credits for over ten friggin' minutes.

Here's how it all pans out:

The Good
  • Extremely well designed beat-'em-up
  • Huge number of references to classic videogames
  • Inspired by and contains a surprising amount of minutia from the film and comics
  • Graphics and music inspired by the 8-bit and 16-bit era of videogames

The Bad
  • Unskippable cutscenes after the completion of each level
  • Hugely long, unskippable credit sequence when the game is completed
  • Secret features do little to add to the game experience
  • Enemy AI can be extremely frustrating at times
  • Character customization is very lackluster

All in all, the game is an excellent experience, and well worth the $10 admittance charge. If you think about it, that's probably cheaper than you can go see the movie for. The problems the game has are far outweighed by the sheer awesomeness and novelty.

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