By BigBob 2 Comments
After reading through the Scott Pilgrim comic book series and seeing the great movie, I had to play the Scott Pilgrim video game just to complete my indulgence. I already knew from previews that this wasn't going to just be another movie cash-in, and after playing it a while, I can safely say that it's amusing and creative, and has an excellent soundtrack. The pixelized character art and unique sense of humor make it a joy to experience.
To -play-, however, is another thing. I'm very much aware that Scott Pilgrim is a faithful homage to River City Ransom, but my first impressions of the game were "Okay, how is this any different from every other beat-'em-up released in the past few years?" You steadily walk to the right, beating up foes, gaining money and experience points that get you new abilities and items and...*yawn*. In the end, all that's setting the game apart is its setting, which is really strong, don't get me wrong, but there are so many fundamental problems with the genre that very quickly turn me off. I'm only halfway through the game, but I'm already required to grind my ass off in order to progress, which pretty much kills the fun. It's the same repetition that caused me to give up on Castle Crashers, another XBLA beat-'em-up that's very similar to Scott Pilgrim.
My main problem with these beat-'em-ups is that they reward persistence, rather than strategy or skill. In a large crowd of enemies, it's difficult to defend yourself. Most of the abilities you acquire require you to button mash even more, not less, as trying to pull them off as part of a combo is annoying, and it's more effective to just hammer the punch button until everything is dead. Thanks to the art style, it can also be difficult to tell whether you're actually next to an enemy or on a different plane, so precision moves are left in the dust as the more reliable punches and kicks continue to take precedence. The block button's nearly useless, and trying to pick up a baseball bat to defend myself is difficult in a large crowd of enemies, considering you have to be pixel-perfect before the game figures out you're trying to find some strategy. Add to this an annoyingly sluggish Scott, and the basic gameplay is an exercise in tedium.
Of course, the "classic" style beat-'em-up is so etched in our minds that it's hard to imagine what the more modern versions of the genre are. To be completely honest, they're everywhere. Batman: Arkham Asylum fits it perfectly. God of War. No More Heroes. Even Kingdom Hearts is a damn Beat-'Em-Up. You really wouldn't think it looking at them, but don't all of those games require you to run into a bunch of enemies and rapidly mash "attack" until everything around you is dead? The fighting is a core part of their gameplay, just as it is in Scott Pilgrim or Castle Crashers. But those games also realize that fighting tons of enemies can't hold the game up on its own. Batman has stealth elements and a Metroid-esque maze, God of War has plenty of platforming and puzzle solving, Kingdom Hearts has the whole "RPG" aspect down with its character development and boss fights, and No More Heroes...is probably the weakest of the games I just listed. Not coincidentally, it's also the closest thing to the classic beat-'em-up formula. Even the core game mechanics offer a level of depth that Scott Pilgrim can't compete with. Batman throws tons of enemies at you, but it also lets you know when an enemy's about to attack so you can counter, and gives you warning when an enemy picks up a weapon to throw at you. All of these elements communicate to the player the information he needs to get through the fight. Comparatively, Scott Pilgrim's battles may as well be obscured by a cartoon dust cloud.
Don't get me wrong; Scott Pilgrim's not a bad game. At 10 dollars, I don't feel ripped off, and it's certainly got plenty of charm in its art and music. The problem is that it doesn't want to evolve; it's an homage to old-school gaming, and with it, takes all of the flaws with it as well (I might as well mention Dragon Quest IX here, which also has issues growing up). As a game to blow off steam, it works well, though the necessity to grind in order to finish the game doesn't help its case. As a comic book adaptation, it works pretty well, and I really can't see any other ways the series could be adapted to a video game format. Just remember that "retro" is not synonymous with "quality".