Scott Pilgrim XBLA Preview

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has now arrived on Xbox Live following its release on PSN last week.The 8 bit style game sees lovable loser Scott fight for the love of his lifer, Ramona Flowers. To get the girl, he must defeat all of her evil exces……

Scott Pilgrim: The Game is made to appeal to your sense of nostalgia. A beat-em-up in the vein of old 8- and 16-bit classics with a purposefully pixelated art style, your mission is simply to get from one end of the map to the other while beating the crap out of everyone who gets in your way. And, for a game that celebrates the simple pleasure of button-mashing, it’s highly effective.

If you ever tried to imagine what a Scott Pilgrim game might look like, chances are it looked a lot like the recently released PlayStation Network (and eventually Xbox Live Arcade) game from Ubisoft. Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is, like the series of books it’s based on, a love letter to video games. But it still manages to stand on its own as a solid side-scrolling beat ’em up, one that just so happens to feature some incredible pixel art and an amazing chiptune soundtrack.

Smartly, the game puts little focus on its story. You’re treated to an opening cinematic that briefly explains the events of the game—that Scott needs to defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes in order to date her—and there are brief story sequences in between each level. This set-up gives the game a much broader appeal. If you’re already a fan of the books then you already know what happens; if you have no interest in the story, the game doesn’t force it down your throat.

The game effortlessly weaves together nerd-culture references (from Super Mario Bros. to Akira) with levels and playstyle created to remind you of games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and River City Ransom. Miniscule background animations and character details ensure that, even when you’re just wailing away on clones of enemies you’ve seen in every other level, they all look distinct. And like RCR (or more recently, Castle Crashers) you also level up your character — earning new powers, greater strength, and more incentive to keep going, the further along you go.

In terms of how it plays, Scott Pilgrim is a definite throwback: it feels like River City Ransom, Turtles in Time, and Streets of Rage. But more importantly, it feels like Scott Pilgrim. You’ll travel through streets, clubs, and movie sets beating up crowds of goons as you go. Weapons are plentiful, and at times it feels like you can pick up pretty much anything around you and wield it menacingly. Whether it’s a traditional weapon like a baseball bat or a garbage can, or something a little more unique like a snowball or a Dixie cup, you can use put it to good use. There are some light RPG elements to the game as well, and you’ll unlock new abilities and attacks as you progress. And since each playable character levels up independently, this encourages multiple play-throughs using each of them.

Like its source material, the Scott Pilgrim game isn’t shy about its influences. Instead, it shows them off proudly. The in-game map looks like it was ripped out of Super Mario World, only instead of the Mushroom Kingdom it displays the frigid wasteland of Toronto. You’ll beat up cars like in Street Fighter and collect coins like in, well, every other 2D game there is. Not every bit of homage is obvious and you’ll continuously spot new ones as you move through the game.

Much has been made about some of the names attached to this game—namely pixel artist Paul Robertson and chiptune band Anamanaguchi—and with good reason. The game both looks and sounds incredible. Though decidedly old-school, the visuals are about as good as pixel art gets. Which is to say they’re amazing. The main cast of characters look like digitized incarnations of their comic book counterparts, and the backgrounds are full of details to distract you. The enemy sprites do repeat a little too often, however, which can result in a few strange situations—why a tubby TTC driver is hanging around a swanky club I’ll never understand. The soundtrack is, to put it simply, brilliant. Every single song is catchy and sets the mood perfectly, so much so that chiptune fans will probably want a copy of the soundtrack for when they’re away from the game.

But as enjoyable as it is to mindlessly bash through wave after wave of enemies, you’re going to have to grind to get through the later stages; especially if you’re playing on your own. Money you earn from battering your foes lets you buy apparel and food (both of which boost your stats). Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell what stats will get boosted until after you’ve laid your money down. But pretty much every item addssomething to your character, even if it’s a modest hit point upgrade — and you’re going to need a lot of hit points to make it through the later levels.

See, even though you have unlimited continues, Scott Pilgrim is brutally difficult. Even on the lowest difficult setting (Average Joe), I had to grind through the later levels over and over again, earning enough money for new upgrades, just to be able to survive long enough to make it to the boss. And the same cheap tactics you use on your opponents to trap them in corners and mercilessly wail away at them? Well, they can do that too. The only way to prevail against the never-ending waves is to boost your stats… or employ the help of a few friends. Getting more characters on screen makes the action even more chaotic, but, you can revive downed allies and share hit points to make even the most grueling levels a breeze.

But what makes Scott Pilgrim so great is the details. And it’s more than just the not-so-subtle references to other games. Enemies drop Canadian coins. Ramona beats up thugs with her trademark bag and infamous +10 Against Boys hammer. You can buy poutine to replenish your health. And there’s even a hidden survival horror mode with zombies.

If you’re a fan of the series, than the simplest way to describe the game is this: it just feels right. The gameplay, the music, the visuals, the Easter eggs… they all feel very Scott Pilgrim. But even if you aren’t steeped in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s world, there’s still a lot to enjoy, as Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game features a solid old-school game underneath all of its fan service. The uninitiated may miss out on a lot of the charm, but the game might just inspire some players to go and read the books in the future. You know, like, with jet packs.

And that highlights Scott Pilgim’s real problem: the lack of any online multiplayer. If you want to play with friends, they have to be sitting on the couch in the same room with you. And if someone comes up and wants to join a game in progress, you have to exit out to the main menu to bring them in. You can’t have friends jumping into a brawl mid-level. As a nostalgia-inducing romp through colorful worlds, Scott Pilgrim is a great time-waster. But even if you’re not a twenty-to-thirty-something with fond memories of River City Ransom (or a huge fan of the Scott Pilgrim comic/movie), the detailed art and driving soundtrack from Anamanaguchi should be more than enough reason to give this retro-inspired brawler a try.


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