A Shinier River City Ransom
Scott Pilgrim vs the World - Ubisoft Montreal Studios, PSN, Xbox Live Marketplace
Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a fun straight up old school beat 'em up game update of River City Ransom based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. The graphic novels are jam packed with pop culture and video game references, and the game adaptation is no different. Every screen it seems is filled with references whether they affect the gameplay or not.
The story is very basic with no time given to fleshing it out beyond its central premise. You play as Canadian Scott Pilgrim who is in love with a girl Ramona Flowers who happens to have seven evil ex-boyfriends (some are actually girlfriends), and in order for the two to be together Scott has to defeat them all in combat. Once you beat each boyfriend there's a small cutscene of Scott and Ramona kissing and acting all lovey dovey.
The first game screen is a map modeled after Super Mario Bros 3 complete with pipes. In Each level you'll go through beating up anything from thugs, paparazzi, men in dinosaur suits, ninja, robots, zombies, and end each section with a boss battle with one of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends. You have a weak and strong attack, block, jump, super move and the ability to call in a friend for a support attack. As you beat guys up you gain experience points, and when you level up you gain new abilities such as head stomps, elbows, dodges, slide kicks and aerial attacks. Your other stats are hit points, guts, strength, defense, speed and willpower. Your guts meter allows you to use super moves by pressing R1 but in typical arcade game style, the meter goes down the more you use it, and shortens your lifespan a bit. When you run out of hit points, your guts meter can restore some health, provided you have any left.
Since the game is so much like River City Ransom let me just say: Every one of the sentences in this paragraph can be prefaced with "Just like in River City Ransom." Beating up guys gives you coins which you can use to buy items in stores like food, sushi, books, CDs and premium expensive items. You have no idea what the heck any of these items do until you spend your money on them. They all either restore HP, guts or give you permanent stat buffs. Premium items give significant buffs that can make the difference between defeating a guy in five hits or only one hit. Before getting these premium items it's helpful to grind for money to raise your stats otherwise you'll get the crap kicked out of you in later levels. In addition to your regular attacks there're a wealth of objects such as bats, swords, rocks, and barrels that you can use to attack or throw at your enemies. Also you can pick up unconscious guys and use them to attack other enemies. Items and enemies can be juggled as long as they don't hit the ground which can lead to some nice combos if you manage to time it correctly.
What got me most excited about this game was Paul Robertson, the pixel artist for Pirate Baby Cabana Street Fight 2006 which is a Neo-Geo style looking beat 'em up animation that looked like a game everyone wanted to play but couldn't. For me, his pixel art and animation are the real highlight of this game for their fluidity and variety. Though not as detailed as Metal Slug, the animation evokes the same nostalgic feeling appropriate to the source material. I kind of wish that the game could exhibit more of the ultra violence in his personal work, but I'll concede that it would be out of place in this particular game. The wide variety of enemies and environments keep things looking fresh throughout the game.
If anything holds Scott Pilgrim back it's the control and some basics in the combat. Just like in RCR the default walking speed is pretty slow so you have to double tap the D-Pad to run if you want to advance to the next screen at anything but a snail's pace. Also the hit detection is such that if you're on a separate plane but otherwise smack on top of your enemy you still can't hit him. The other thing that makes it feel stiff is that your character cannot move in the slightest as they do their attacks. I think control more like Final Fight or Castle Crashers which lets you move even the slightest bit as you attack would've made the combat feel more fluid. Also it would've benefit from the hit detection style of those games as well. It's not until you've significantly powered up your speed stats that you feel more mobile, but even then it still manages to feel sluggish. Another small gripe is the game takes its sweet time when you want to look at your stats, buy items in a store or exit a store.
The game also supports up to four player local co-op which I haven't been able to experience yet, but I've played some two-player co-op which especially when you're playing with low level unbuffed characters is a lot more fun than solo. There are also co-op super moves which encourages you to try to get all your friends over to see what they're like.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a fun game teeming with retro nostalgia and video game references, but adheres a bit too closely to its River City Ransom origins. The list of unlockable moves makes the combo system more interesting than RCR, but until you have a fully powered up character things like the control make the game feel sticky and sluggish. If you love River City Ransom and want to play it again with a shiny gloss of sprites, excellent chiptune music, leveling up, and a new combo system then I'd say it's worth spending the $9.99 to download it. Even if you haven't played RCR, but just like beat 'em ups I still think it's worth the price. Oh and if there's one thing different from RCR is that there's no animation for when you eat food at the store, what's up with that?