Retro-Inspired Brawling Fun
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game
When they came out the Scott Pilgrim comics were hailed for their marrying of manga style, fun writing, and retro gaming sensibilities. When the movie came out, it doubled down on all that could work in a live action format -- retro-inspired pixel art adorning many of the scenes, songs and chip tunes from classic games setting many scenes, and so many sound effects that could only come from the NES and SNES eras of gaming. And, of course, in both instances the very concept of the story, a guy beating up evil dudes until they turned into coins, comes straight from video game logic.
It really comes as no surprise, then, that the movie then begat a video game as well. Well, okay, the movie coming out inspired the release of a video game as well. That's the most accurate way to say it, although it's also fair to say that had the movie not been made it's unlikely we would have gotten a game, at least not in 2010 (when the movie was released). Still, it did bring the inspiration full circle: a game, based on a movie, based on a comic, based on video games. It was somehow quite fitting, and that's even before you get to the fact that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game is an absolute banger of a brawling beat-em-up. It's just that good.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game it's most direct inspiration from the Kunio-kunStarting as a fighting game befoe spinning out in sports titles (and other adventures) of all shapes and sizes, the Kunio-kun series is one of the most diverse, and hilarious, to ever grace both sides of the Pacific. franchise. It's a stage-based combat brawler with the heroes beating up thugs, goons, and bosses until they explode in piles of coins. I would say it's most direct inspiration is River City Ransom as that game made famous the "reducing things into coins" mechanic, but that game wasn't stage-based. Still, you can feel that vibe running through the game as you collect coins, visit shops, and power up your heroes -- Scott, Ramona, Kim, and Stephen (plus, via DLC, Knives and Wallace) -- as you progress through seven-plus stages around Toronto.
The game really is very open about it's setup. Each section of the game, with its battle against an evil ex (and one extra boss that you should expect if you read the comics or watched the movie), is it's own properly themed stage. But once you've completed that stage you're put on the overworld map and are allowed to go back and forth between completed stages (and the next one you have unlocked). So if you get a bunch of money and want to revisit the first stage with all its shops, you can. It's a free-form way to play the game that lets you feel like you can tackle it at your own pace.
The stages really are quite fun and varied. We go from Scott's home area in Toronto to the film studio for Lucas Lee's next movie (with fun traps based on classic movie set pieces). There's the club where the Clash at Demonhead perform, a subway car in motion, a Japanese ninja training house, and more. Each area feels distinct, and no ideas are ever reused. Most games at least reuse stage concepts eventually, but Scott Pilgrim avoids that, to the game's benefit.
The game itself is really lovingly designed. The characters are well animated, big, and distinct, feeling like their counterparts from the comics. All the design, really, comes from the comics with very little pointing to the movie's inspirations. If I had to guess, the game was put into development at the same time as the movie, and all the designers had to work with was the comics, so they went in that direction. Again, it's a game inspired by the idea of the world, even if it's named after the movie. That's why we have the the characters we do, looking as they do, and the stages and bosses looking and acting as they do. The game is authentic to the design inspirations it had.
Would I have wanted more nods to the movie? Maybe some voice acting from the actual actors playing their characters? Eh, I don't know if that's really needed. This is a nice companion piece to the movie and the comics, distinct enough to feel like it's own thing without having to feel beholden to anything more than the franchise's world. This way, whether you've seen the movie or not, or read the comics or not, you can still feel like you got the proper Scott Pilgrim experience, and that feels much better.
Along with the fantastic art that feels authentic to the comics, we also have a great soundtrack. The music has a solid, chiptune vibe, all thanks to the work of Anamanaguchi. That band (who, it should be noted, were brought back to work on the soundtrack for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, making yet another meta link along this whole franchise) created a whole soundtrack that feels fresh, varied, and is absolutely full of bangers. My personal favorite is the opening track of the first stage, which absolutely bops and gets you in the mood for some great brawling action, but there's honestly not a bad track in the album.
And the game plays so well. The controls are smooth and responsive, and it never feels like the game has to cheat, or put in purposefully unfair challenges, just to add length to the game. It's a modern brawler with retro theming, and it feels properly balanced and perfectly fair. Each character also feels well designed, with their own set of moves and specials. You can simply button mash your way through the game and enjoy yourself, but you can also learn the little intricacies of each character to find the sweet spot in how to play them. It's a level of tuning that makes the game feel so much deeper than you'd expect from its length and number of stages.
Plus, once you've gone through the game ones you can play through again with a New Game+. You're able to keep going through, grinding up and making your character more and more powerful, until you're like a god in the early stages. Happily, there's still just enough challenge even in the end game that, whether overpowered or not, you'll still need to be good at the game to get through properly. It's a game where clearly the designers thought about the long term playability and let the players have all the options they could ever want.
It's rare I find a game that I want to describe as "perfect", but I almost feel like that descriptor fits here. Could I find little things to grouse about? Maybe, but I also feel like I have to twist myself on my head to make that happen. This is a game that delivers on all its promises and provides a thoroughly fun and absolutely enjoyable experience. And, thankfully, it keeps coming back, on digital store fronts and in various physical releases, so if you want to play it you can. Give Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game a chance. I'm sure you'll fall in love with it.