After beating its seemingly never-ending first level, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s thumping 8bit soundtrack fades out and a rare silence descends upon the room. “It’s a bit crap, isn’t it?” offers one of my three co-op partners, throwing down his controller and returning to Instagram. “Yeahh, I’m not loving it” another laughs awkwardly.
I turn to my girlfriend – my last co-brawling hope: “It’s kind of clunky…Sorry!” Turncoats, turncoats everywhere. The worst part of this co-op coup? I find myself quietly agreeing with them. After years of the internet lauding Scott Pilgrim vs. The World as a side scrolling classic, I expected to instantly adore this retro-looking fighter. Instead, I find myself reluctantly pummelling pixel-art hipsters alone. Still, it’s hard to blame my traitorous flatmates – initially, Scott Pilgrim simply isn’t much fun.
Let’s explain why I started this game with such lofty expectations. If it wasn’t clear from the ‘Complete Edition’ moniker, this isn’t Scott Pilgrim’s first time around the virtual block. Originally released as a download-only title in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World enjoyed widespread critical and commercial success… until a 2014 rights’ holder hoo-ha saw publisher Ubisoft unceremoniously pull the game from virtual storefronts.
Now, seven years later, this cancelled release has been heroically re-platformed. Cue once-mourning Pilgrim stans falling ‘in lesbians’ with Ubisoft all over again. The question is then, has the Scott Pilgrim game really been worth the seven-year wait?
As we’ve already established, as far as first impressions go, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World doesn’t exactly knock it out of the park. While the infectious bleeps and bloops of Anamanaguchi’s 8bit score nail it from the off, clunky movement and unforgiving boss battles make the early game more of a chore than a charming throwback. Yet, like the coin-operated classics of old, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is all about the grind, and after a fair bit of perseverance, a compelling fighter slowly revealed itself during my lonely, lonely playthrough.
Abandonment issues aside, I’m a big fan of the film – so it was a relief to learn that Scott Pilgrim’s sole gaming outing wasn’t as dire as it first seemed. Once you’ve racked up enough experience and your chosen character(s) become less pathetic, frustrating beginnings slowly give way to a surprisingly charming sidescroller.
The problem is, however, you largely have to uncover the game’s nuances yourself. In a totally baffling design choice, Scott Pilgrim is a tutorial-free zone. Want an explanation of where to spend all those coins you’ve collected? Forget it. Wonder what the difference between a ‘willpoint’ and a ‘gutpoint’ is? Look it up, dweeb!
While retro purists might applaud this complete lack of onboarding as a ‘charming retro throwback’, forgoing tutorials in 2021 feels downright obnoxious. Instead, explanations for most of the game’s RPG systems are buried in the menus.
Equally bizarrely, no matter which pixelated protagonist or difficulty setting you select, you’ll start off equally unprepared for the scraps ahead. While no one expects to be handed a level one badass, it’s odd to see fighting game staples like an attack counter or dodge roll level-locked here. In practice, this means that plucky Pilgrim and his Canadian cohorts are stuck getting completely battered until you’ve fought enough goons to earn said basic abilities.
Still, after taking the time to dig through the menus, unlock some decent skills and buy some essential buffs, suddenly it was like I was playing a completely different game. Where once controlling Scott Pilgrim felt like supervising a particularly aggressive blob of jelly, now my geeky poster boy moved faster. His punches grew stronger. I was now playing a real sidescroller – and Scott Pilgrim’s once unforgiving gameplay loop became strangely compelling.
As my early frustration turned to enjoyment, I couldn’t help thinking that my in-game progress echoed Scott’s big screen transformation from intolerable loser to aspirational badass. If this was all a part of Ubisoft Montreal’s grand plan, then hats off to them.
Speaking of the film, if you’re also new to Ubisoft’s Scott Pilgrim, you’ll find yourself disappointed at the game’s story – or complete lack thereof. Based incredibly loosely around the events of the 2010 movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World sees players selecting one of four characters and punching their way through seven multi-level stages. The aim? To defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes.
While the film’s iconic characters fire off sardonic quips and quotable conversations at a breakneck pace, weirdly, there is almost no narrative to be found in Mr Pilgrim’s first and only video game. Despite the obvious potential there are zero punny character-introducing cutscenes. Hell, there aren’t even a couple of lines of ironic exposition. It’s a head-scratching omission. The source material undoubtedly shines thanks to its cast of quirky and loveable Toronto layabouts, and even once the gameplay loop had won me over, the complete lack of characterisation still rang consistently hollow.
There’s an argument to be made that this experience is purely focused on arcade thrills, but unfortunately even the gameplay is lacking in pixelated palate cleansers. It’s hard not to think that Pilgrim’s virtual adventure wouldn’t have benefited from a few exciting side missions or minigames to mix things up. Instead, the only distraction players get from the relentless combat are spots of incredibly poor platforming. Mercifully, these sluggish sections are few and far between.
This is a sidescroller after all – and ultimately, the seven multi-part stages you’ll find yourself fighting through are all about exhilarating arcade action. While it doesn’t quite hit the same highs as recent sidescroller revival Streets Of Rage 4, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s 8 bit violence eventually finds a satisfying rhythm. Thanks to some inspired enemy design – from mo-cap wearing goons on a film set to evil-looking elves – and brilliantly designed boss fights, there’s just enough charm to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to forgive its many grievances.
If we’re honest, it helps that it only costs 12 quid, too. This is undoubtedly an adventure that you’ll enjoy more in co-op and in a suitably Scotty P redemption arc of my own, I eventually managed to persuade two of my flatmates to help me take on the final boss. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?
Despite the film franchises’ wide-spread nerdy potential, this certainly isn’t a game that every Scott Pilgrim fan will enjoy. Yet if you set your expectations correctly, grab some (reliable) mates and prepare for a challenge – you’ll find a uniquely compelling co-op brawling experience.
- Has one of the best 8bit soundtracks ever written
- There’s a good amount of reply value on offer here
- Once you’ve levelled up, combat finds a satisfying rhythm
- Early game is infuriatingly hard
- A lack of information and painfully slow character progression frustrate
- Zero character dialogue and bare bones story seem like a waste of a great licence