Thursday, January 14, 2021

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (PS3)

Back in 2010, Ubisoft developed and released Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game as a tie-in to Universal’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, both based on the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels. Though the game released to critical acclaim, Ubisoft delisted it and its DLC from digital storefronts on December 30, 2014, as Universal’s license expired. For the longest time, no new users could play it legally and the game subsequently turned into a poster child for the dangers of digital-only titles. However, in August 2020, Ubisoft struck a deal and announced a miraculous re-release, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition, which would also include both pieces of DLC. To tie in with this new release, it felt right to go back and play my copy of the game to see how well it held up after a decade. It turns out that it aged pretty well, but there’s still some jank that I hope the re-release irons out.

Though the game loosely adapts the original comic, the core premise is exactly the same: Scott Pilgrim is in love with Ramona Flowers, but he must defeat her seven evil exes if he wants to stay with her. After this intro, the game presents the story very minimally, with no spoken dialogue and only brief text descriptions of each of the exes before their respective boss fights. Each of the seven playable characters, counting the DLC, also has their own ending, one of which follows the canon ending of the source material while the others go off the rails. Considering the genre that the developers went for, a 2D brawler, this presentation actually works out well, since it helps maintain the game’s momentum without bogging it down with pointless details. Besides, the bulk of this story isn’t as important to this adaptation as the gameplay.

The original four playable characters; L-R: Scott Pilgrim,
Ramona Flowers, Stephen Stills, Kim Pine

Speaking of the gameplay, it’s still pretty good. At the beginning, players pick from one of four characters, Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, Kim Pine and Stephen Stills, though completing the game with all four characters unlocks Negascott and the DLC packs also add Knives Chau and Wallace Wells. Up to four players can play at a time, either locally or online, the latter enabled with the Wallace Wells DLC pack, and each character has their own unique moves and abilities to help them stand out.

Like a traditional 2D brawler, players have to fight through waves of enemies before they can continue through each stage. Apart from each character’s unique moves, players can pick up and throw weapons littered throughout the environment to gain an advantage. If you do it right, you can juggle enemies and weapons for continuous damage, though if a thrown weapon hits the player again, they’ll take damage. The game also encourages teamwork during co-op play, as players can revive each other, perform team attacks and taunts or even give each other health and money. As in RPGs, characters can also gain XP to level up by defeating enemies, with a level cap of 16 that isn’t too hard to hit naturally, and earn money after defeated enemies explode into coins. Players can also visit various shops and buy items to refill their HP and GP, permanently increase their stats or take certain items “to go” and have a safety net on their HP and GP if their HP hits zero.

If you’re sufficiently powerful or know what you’re doing, the game doesn’t actually take too long to complete and doesn’t feel too difficult. However, if you’re playing by yourself and starting from zero, the game’s difficulty rears its ugly head fast and you start digging for any advantage you can possibly get. Between your money, HP and GP, resource management takes on a greater role while playing this way and you can worry even more about losing a precious Life. Fortunately, losing all your HP isn’t the end of the world, as up to 50 GP will then convert to HP and extend your life. Under the right circumstances, you can even continue playing while your HP and GP are both wiped out. But you can also expend GP to perform a crowd control move or, unless you’re holding a weapon, summon Knives Chau as a striker to assist you, so you have to balance gaining a quick advantage now or holding back GP to live a little longer later. Should you inevitably lose a Life, however, all enemies currently onscreen are briefly knocked out, giving you a short window to prepare for the continuing onslaught.

Resource management is important when playing solo.

Throughout each of the game’s seven chapters, you may also stumble onto doors marked with a star. If you pass through them, you’ll enter a Subspace Highway, which not only lets you bypass parts of a level entirely, but also break blocks like in Super Mario Bros. and knock out flying piggy banks to earn additional money. Finding these helps alleviate some of the difficulty of the game or cut down on time either for regular play or speedruns.

Certain shops item can also bust the game wide open. One particular item, the Bionic Arm, available exclusively at a secret shop in Chapter 1’s Shopping District, dramatically increases your Strength stat by 50. If you can afford two of these, you’ll max out your Strength at 100 and have no trouble whaling on enemies while you work on affording boosts to your other stats. However, the Bionic Arm is a bit pricey and your hard-earned money is better off saved up for the ultimate game breaker, paying off Scott’s Late Fee in the Shopping District. Once you do, you can infinitely purchase 1-Ups, XP and stat boosts for only $4.95 a pop, which gives you the most bang for your buck in the game.

Of course, your reward for reaching the end of each Chapter is a boss fight against each of the seven evil exes and Negascott. Each boss presents a unique challenge for the player and are well-designed while also staying true to the source material. It’s a win-win for fans of brawlers or Scott Pilgrim.

In keeping with the air of a retro game, you can also get more out of the game through cheat codes. These include a reference to the blood code from Mortal Kombat, starting each level with the Power of Love sword from Chapter 7 and two additional game modes, Boss Rush and Survival Horror. Boss Rush pits you against every boss fight from the game in a row while Survival Horror lets you fight wave after wave of zombie enemies.

I also loved the art style, with 8-bit sprite work designed and animated by Paul Robertson. The visuals perfectly capture Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art style while adding in its own visual flair, including incredible explosion and laser effects. Actions feel like they have weight to them and at times it feels like a living comic book without leaning too far in that direction. There are a couple glitches here and there, like an enemy arm that lingered on Knives’ sprite until I entered a Subspace Highway or the game occasionally drawing an enemy facing left and right at the same time, but these issues are fairly rare and don’t really take away from the enjoyment.

Paul Robertson's sprite work is incredible.

Unfortunately, as much I appreciate the well-designed gameplay, there are some lingering issues, some of which I hope the re-release could address. The one that stood out most for me related to buying items. You can’t actually see the effect of the item you’re buying until after you complete the transaction, meaning that unless you memorize the effects or look at a guide, it’s possible to waste money on something you didn’t want at that moment, like accidentally buying a health item while already at full HP. All you get beforehand are humorous descriptions of each item, which didn’t feel like enough to make good purchasing decisions. The transactions themselves, especially back-to-back, are also a bit slower than I would’ve liked, since you have to press confirm after you finish each one, then wait a couple seconds for the shop to let you select another item. In another shop-related issue, the door for Dee’s Tex Mex has a weird hitbox, as it’s actually a bit to the right of the door and I’ve had an enemy punch me into the storefront.

The shop is easy to use, but a bit clunky.

I suppose this sounds nitpicky, but in later chapters, some enemies feel like simply buffed reskins of enemies from earlier chapters. What’s not nitpicky, however, is that I sometimes had a hard time registering a stomp on a downed enemy instead of a character’s unique super move. Chapter 7 also drags a bit, with no less than three fights against Gideon before it finally ends, and Gigadeon, the most creative of the three, actually goes down very easily if you stand in just the right spot. Also, although additional players can drop in at any time, no one can drop out unless you exit to the main menu.

If you’re playing alone and go out of your way to complete the game with all characters, prepare to watch the end credits many times, as they’re unskippable. That wouldn’t be much of an issue with a shorter sequence, but this one lasts several minutes, so you may as well go off and do something else while it finishes. It also doesn’t help that after adding in the online multiplayer, the credits get even longer.

Gameplay issues aside, I really appreciated how well the game paid attention to the lore from the comic in spite of its “loose adaptation” mentality, especially when it came to the Evil Exes. For the most part, their drops match the book: Matthew Patel drops $2.10; Lucas Lee drops “like $14 or something” and an unusable Mithril Skateboard; Todd Ingram drops a 1-Up, which also makes grinding his boss fight the cheapest method of gaining 1-Ups until you pay off Scott’s Late Fee; and the Katayanagi Twins drop an extra $2, mirroring their $2 “Twin Bonus”. The fight with Negascott also occurs in a dark forest and Roxie Richter explodes into animals upon defeat. As the story takes place in Toronto, Canada, the in-game currency is Canadian Dollars, though the game doesn’t explicitly say so.

Anamanaguchi provides an 8-bit chiptune-esque score and it really slaps. The tracks are generally catchy and some are pretty memorable, including “Another Winter”, “Cheap Shop” and “Vegetable Rock”. I did run into an issue once where some layers for “Another Winter” stopped playing when I jumped directly into the Shopping District, but this stopped when I restarted the game and never came up again.

Anamanaguchi's soundtrack is a perfect fit.

After the game’s initial launch, Ubisoft released two DLC packs. The first of these, the Knives Chau Add-On Pack, launched to coincide with the home video release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in late 2010, cost $2 USD and added Knives Chau as a playable character along with two new game modes: Battle Royal and Dodgeball. These modes are more like minigames than Boss Rush or Survival Horror, but are neat additions for the original asking price. As for the other pack, the Online Multiplayer + Wallace Pack, it cost $5 USD and added Wallace Wells as a playable character along with the oft-requested online multiplayer function. This pack released three years later, in early 2013, but doesn’t seem as substantial as the Knives add-on, particularly with the implementation of Wallace. Gameplay-wise, he’s almost a carbon copy of Stephen Stills and story-wise, his ending doesn’t even have text, just a splash image of him sitting in a chair as confetti rains down. Even if the developers intended this as a reference to the bad ending of an old-school brawler, the lack of text doesn’t make this feel any less lazy. Considering the original price of this pack, you’d better have loved the online.

For all of its lingering faults, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is still legitimately fun and perfectly captures the spirit of the source material while remaining accessible to those who haven’t read the comic or seen the film. If you can get past some of the jankier points, like the clunky store and unskippable credits, you’re in for a great time, either by yourself or with some friends.

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