Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

First Matt Jay’s Review:

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a dangerous game to review. It’s a title that’s built to be impervious to criticism. The fanbase is already built in and anyone who was going to buy it already has. And any criticism I can hold against it will be defended as ‘retro’. When a game attempts to invoke a retro feeling by emulating game mechanics and stylistic themes, it should also fix the things that didn’t work at the time. Scott Pilgrim doesn’t really fix any of these things. It does a fantastic job of visually representing those elements and giving you the feel of classic beat ‘em ups with sprite art by Paul Robertson but gameplay-wise it doesn’t hold up so well. Most glaring of the errors and oversights is the exclusion of online co-op. A downloadable game in 2010 not having online co-op is absurd. Even if they were trying to be more like the old games by forcing four people to actually be near each other to play together. The game also has no drop in/drop out ability, so if you’re on level 4 with your buddy and he has to go to work, you’re totally fucked.

I’m sure most of you have seen the trailers for the film or read the comics by Bryan Lee O’Malley so I won’t go into the plot of the game. And if you haven’t DO SO! It’s a great comic series. Hell the game itself doesn’t really go into the story. 6 volumes of an awesome comic released over half a decade and a full-length feature film directed by Edgar Wright and the game doesn’t even have cutscenes. You’re dropped into scenes and environments from the comic with no explanation of why or how you got there. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film you’d be totally lost. So let’s talk about the gameplay.

Scott Pilgrim harkens back to the beat ‘em ups of yore by including the classic elements like a giant ‘GO!’ telling you to move on and being able to pick up anything and throw it. Scott is the well-rounded Mario character, making him a fine choice for any situation. Kim Pine is the weaker waif who can jump higher and heal herself but gets the crap kicked out of her. This bugs me because she was going to be my main but it’s impossible to play 1 player with her. More on why the treatment of her character bugs me in a minute. Stephen Stills is the heavy with more health, stronger attacks and better special moves. Ramona is quick and can lay some heavy hits with her hammer but can’t take a lot of damage. None of the characters are portrayed too well as actually characters as I mentioned with the games lack of anything resembling a story but Kim Pine gets the worst of it. All of the women that show up in the game are a little over sexualized to parody the way women are treated in games but if you know anything about her character, you should know it doesn’t really fit her. She attacks things with her butt, makes out with Knives for a special attack and is so …bouncy. It just didn’t really fit for me. And she’s about as defined as any of the characters get. Even in 8 and 16 bit games, little nuances and animations can give characters lots of depth. In SP they’re pretty interchangeable except the way they look and attack.

The gut meter is for your special attacks. The meter also works as part of your health bar. If your health meter hits zero, the number in your gut meter will split in half and be added to your health rather than losing a life and the special meter goes to zero. This is cool because it keeps you from dying but with the incredibly long levels and no health powerups your special meter is way too valuable to be used for attacks. The first level can take up to 20-25 minutes and ends with a boss fight. They have no checkpoints. If you die at the boss, you get to do the whole thing over again. I didn’t finish any of the levels on the first try. It gets worse later when the levels can have several boss fights in them and long walking and fighting portions between.

The game really is built to be played by four people, making the oversight of online even more of an issue. No matter how many players are on screen, the game won’t scale the number of enemies. It’s always the same. Sometimes there will be an objective like destroying a bomb before it explodes and at the same time there will be 2 or 4 guys attacking you. This brings up my concerns with the leveling system in the game. Scott Pilgrim has a leveling and stats system that’s pretty broken from the get-go. Defeating enemies gives you experience to help you level but all each level up really does is unlock new combos. They don’t do a lot to help your stats. Stat boosts are gained from buying things in shops like CDs, books and clothes. Each of the items is named after a random fictional band or book including Lost at Sea (O’Malley’s first published GN) or Kupek (O’Malley’s band (also on the film’s soundtrack)). The problem with this is the names give you no real indication of what they will upgrade so buying them is a gamble. And since this is the only way to boost your stats, the game forces you to go to the shops or you’ll eventually hit a brick wall of difficulty. Since each store has different items and they’re pretty expensive, this means playing the same levels over and over. It’s a beat ’em up with grinding. And certain items, like the bionic arm, available in the first level, give you a super upgrade. The game can go from incredibly difficult to way too easy. You can max out your stats just by farming cash and spending time near this shop in the first level. I got to a point before the game was halfway over where every enemy took one hit to kill. The balance of difficulty and stats in this game is a mess. Also available in the stores is food. There are two types of food, snacks and meals. Meals must be eaten in the store to up your stats and health and snacks can be taken with you. These items also become necessary because there are no food item drops in the game. In most beat ‘em ups you’d expect a cheeseburger or a taco to fall out of a trashcan that you just smashed over a dude’s head but if there are no shops in a level, your health can only go down.

The controls all around are an issue. They can seem stiff and more than a few times you’ll feel like a death wasn’t your fault. The running is slippery and always feels like you’re running on ice, and not just because you’re in Canada. Blocking is useless in the game and if an enemy gets you stuck in a combo or a juggle, you’re pretty much stuck that way until they’re done. The 2D-sprite based visuals are gorgeous but they can mess up your perception of the depth of the screen. If a villain is just one inch above you, your character can end up wildly punching at the air. The enemies, especially those with erratic move or flight patterns that you can’t replicate, can cover much more of the screen with an attack than you can. The button to pick up items and the attack button are the same. This often leads to picking up an item by accident, which traps you in the pick-up animation and leaves you open to attacks. The game also gets confused a lot as to which you want to do. Trying to pick up an enemy or item can easily miss and if you end up smacking an object it can bounce off something and hit you to cause damage. It can be cool to whack an item between you and an enemy over and over again like playing wallball with a hipster’s face but if you’re fighting 11 guys and there’s shit all over the floor in-between you it can be a real cluster-eff. Also, when you max out your strength, hitting a beer bottle can make it bounce back and forth across the screen like a goddamn pinball.

A lot of the villains are really creative the first couple times you see them like fighting dudes in Godzilla suits on the set of a Lucas Lee movie or a costume party full of people in goofy costumes but they can get really repetitive. Being a beat ‘em up, the levels and fighting can also repeat itself a lot. When I saw the preview screen of the Guitar Hero sequence I thought the game would feature many different parodies of different games, letting you play a bunch of modes that would mix up the experience but it ends up just being a straightforward beat ‘em up from beginning to end. The boss battles and the fight with Knives’s dad are really creative and fun but sometimes getting to them feels like you’re just slogging through the same repetitive fights with the same enemies you’ve seen again and again. There are many nods to other classic games like the Mario 2 character selection screen and the Mario 3 overworld but I’d like to have seen some references to other game types.

The game is also full of bugs. I’ve read reports of many people’s games freezing, not unlocking trophies, or missing certain parts of the game altogether. I personally had three moments where I was running around with 0 HP and parts where no enemies spawned and I was stuck on one screen. This and the freezing issues can be MURDER if you’re at the end of one of the super long levels.

While Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a gorgeous game with some fantastic tunes by chiptune band Anamanaguchi, the gameplay is a mess. It doesn’t manage to do anything new with the genre with boring, repetitive gameplay and has some game-breaking balance, design and coding issues. With a patch to add online, better co-op, balance the difficulty, add a competent, balanced leveling system, proper item drops and fix the controls, I think we could have a really fantastic game. Right now it’s just not anything that special. It tried so hard to feel like classic 8 and 16 bit games. And it did. It just feels like a bad one. If you’re a fan of the comics I’d recommend just watching a Youtube Let’s Play video and sticking with Castle Crashers. Unless you just have a PS3. Then… keep waiting for Castle Crashers.

C- Great visuals, messy gameplay and balance issues, and no online.

And now Alex’s review shall commence:

Matt hits on a lot of the bad aspects within Scott Pilgrim vs. the World but they did little to stop me from enjoying my time with the game. The game does get a little repetitive, especially if playing alone, but that’s something I’ve come to expect from the beat ‘em up genre. I’m not saying it’s an excuse and it would have been nice if Ubisoft would have tried to develop the genre but it was not unexpected. In fact, that isn’t really one of the major problems of the game, but rather it’s the feeling that this game could have benefited from a little more development time to fix up some rough edges. It’s a familiar story to movie tie-in games and while Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an entertaining game up there are moments where you’ll wonder if it’s even worth finishing.

First of all, the game looks gorgeous. The Scott Pilgrim books have always begged to be turned into a video game and with its many retro gaming references it only seems right to use pixel art for the visuals. The result is a striking blend of old and new with bright crisp colors that could only be done in today’s HD era combined with some blocky 16-bit nostalgia. The many visual nods and references to moments in the graphic novels makes this game worth checking out for any fan. The fact that you can pay off Scott’s late fee at the video store or travel through subspaces marked by a door with a star showed that the developers cared about the license.

It’s hard not to compare Scott Pilgrim to Castle Crashers. Both are retro style beat ‘em ups with HD visuals and RPG elements released on digital platforms. Scott Pilgrim got the updated visuals right but didn’t fare so well with the RPG elements. In fact, I’m not entirely sure this game needed them. Castle Crashers kept it simple with you being able to spend skill points in different areas every time you leveled up. In Scott Pilgrim you’re forced to go back to the “shopping area” of the first level and purchase CD’s, books, or video games to level up different skills.

The major problem is that at first you don’t know what the items will do, so you’ll start off by wasting money regularly. In fact, I bought the Speedy the Hedgehog game half expecting it to let me play a little parody game based on Sonic. Unfortunately, that was not the case and instead I obtained +50 to my Speed skill. Many of the items are also redundant with lots of food and drink items to boost your health and multiple items to boost different skills. The fact that you actually have to go back to a level and fight through some enemies just to get to the store you want just makes it more frustrating and a big waste of time.

There are also bugs and sloppy design decisions aplenty. The game has locked up on me several times forcing me to restart the system. There seems to be a weird loading problem where just pressing start to bring up the menu can take several seconds. There are also moments in most levels where an event needs to happen for you to progress and it will take an uncomfortable amount of time for it to happen. This happened to me when I beat the final boss and I just wandered around for awhile after he died wondering if I needed to do something else. Then suddenly the credits decided to roll and I set down my controller… and proceeded to watch really long credits.

The physics system is also wacky. It’s a cool idea to have items bounce around and repeatedly hit enemies but they also seem to always hit you. I guess in the Scott Pilgrim universe everything is made out of the same material as bouncy balls. I’ve thrown giant garbage cans only to have them bounce multiple times back and forth from one screen to the other. It’s funny to see an umbrella go flying around at the speed of light sometimes but it’s also frustrating because that umbrella can also hit you and no one likes to be hit by umbrellas, or swords, basketballs, boxes, pipes, suitcases, and other items for that matter.

As much as there is wrong with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World its hard not to enjoy the game when you have one or more friend playing with you. It’s hard to screw up a beat ‘em up and Scott Pilgrim still has that classic beat ‘em up charm. Also, many of the problems are hardly game breaking and I eventually got used to the leveling up system once I realized that you should just buy from the secret shop. Hint: Buy 2 Bionic Arms, some copies of Never Ending Fantasy, and a couple Speedy the Hedgehogs and you’ll be set. Oh, but screw that save system. Those levels are way to loooong to not have checkpoints.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gets a B-.

  • YOU’RE SOFT, RIGGEN!

  • Me not soft! I enjoyed the game! Even if there are problems going to a C would mean it was an average game to me and I enjoyed it more than an “average” game.

  • I also played it both multiplayer and singleplayer and the multiplayer was a blast. If I played the whole thing by myself my score might have been lower but that doesn’t reflect the entire game experience for me.

  • Yeah I really need to try that multiplayer. And we need Castle Crashers already

  • Haha. Luckily I have Castle Crashers for 360.

  • Pat Reddick

    Great review guys. I love when reviews feature multiple perspectives on a game. I feel like it brings more out than if just one person reviews a game. I hope we do this with more of our reviews.

  • I’ll probably ride Alex and Kris’s coattails some more with the Sonic Colors Wii and DS reviews

  • Kim isn’t bouncy so much as she’s rocking back and forth on her heels and the rest of her body is responding accordingly. I’ll discuss this review more in depth when I’m back at my computer.

  • Okay, I’m back at my computer. Unlike Matt, I’m not a huge Scott Pilgrim fan, I had no real desire to play the game, and I’m still not sure whether I liked the movie or not (great music though). Somehow, a friend of mine convinced me to give the game a go. It was a bit of a challenge, at first, but then I started understanding the flow of the game. The heavy reliance on items and the decreased importance of leveling up was definitely a surprise, but when I learned that the Canadian coins popping out of my enemies were useful, the game became a lot more fun. It’s definitely tough at points, but it seems like there’s a method to each area’s madness (even the fight with Mr. Chau, which reaped awesome rewards). I disagree with Matt’s opinion that the block button is useless, because during my and my friend’s runthrough of the game, we lived and died by properly timed defenses, and the block-based dodge roll. Unfortunately, due to playing the game for the brief amount of time I did, I didn’t have a chance to see that many bugs (although the save one got me once), so I can’t really say too much on that subject. I did have a chance to get to the last stage, but I got killed once I was there and switched to another game.

    Anyway, the game was absolutely gorgeous, the soundtrack was pretty great, the gameplay was fun (even if you had to use the analog stick to move at a decent clip), and Kim rides a Kirby-esque Warpstar out of levels. All of these combined would (assuming the game held up to closer scrutiny) incline me to give this one a [b]B[/b]. But those are just my thoughts after about 2 hours of play. I’ll be purchasing it for myself when I have a bit more money to throw around. It’s just one of those games that kept a smile on my face while I played it, and that’s something special in my book.

    (Also, having not beaten the game, do not consider these paragraphs an official review by any means)

  • Curses, BBcode doesn’t work in wordpress comments. 🙁

  • Isay_Isay

    Can’t argue with those reviews – the game is solid, but a fan will glean a little bit more out of it. Just started my 2nd playthrough last night with a better knowledge of what to do. I really didn’t notice the slipperiness until my speed was close to maxed out and if you don’t bump up your strength ASAP those boss battles drrrrrrrrag.

  • I thought of an addendum to my review after seeing the film. In the comics and the movie when Scott can’t overcome a challenge like defeating one of the ex-boyfriends, he thinks of another way to succeed. Like when he fights Lucas Lee and challenges him to a trick he can’t do or when Scott tricks Todd into ingesting half and half, thus losing his vegan powers. In the game there’s none of that. It’s just punch-punch-punch until you reach the end of the game. It would have been nice to see a more well-rounded challenge.

  • Well, this review got me thinking if I should really buy this game.

%d bloggers like this: