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Nitpicking great games: Scott Pilgrim vs the World

 Scott Pilgrim vs the World is proving to be a pretty divisive game. Obviously, a franchise with a strong base in video game and nerd culture is probably going to have fans who like to play video games, but there are plenty of people who dislike old school nostalgia in general or Scott Pilgrim in particular. Add in a media blitz for a movie starring a typecast actor and you've got a bubbling font of negative reactions.
But hey, there's a video game somewhere behind all that crap, and it's a pretty good one, too. Personally, I've been waiting for a game to be made with Paul Robertson's art style since I saw the Pirate Baby Cabana Battle and Kings of Power 1000% animations, along with his other work on Mechafetus and elsewhere. "Why isn't there a game with graphics like that?" was a thought that ran through my head for years. Now we've got one, and it's beautiful. It sounds great too, with music by chiptune virtuosos Anamanaguchi. Unfortunately, when you actually start playing the game is where things start to take a downturn.

 Obligatory wall o' text breaking pic
 Obligatory wall o' text breaking pic
The gameplay is generally solid, but there are a few things I have to bitch about here. This game can be fairly difficult, and lots of that difficulty comes from the fact that your recovery time after being hit is just crazy long, which leads to you getting comboed until you get knocked down. Now there's nothing wrong with that in a sense, but what would be great is if there were a way to break enemy combos. You have a counter move, performed when you block right when an opponent's attack is about to his you, but it doesn't work when you're in a hitstun. Enemies tend to hit fast, so that counter move and blocking in general is almost completely useless. Combine that with the fact that it takes a surprisingly long time to get up after being knocked down, and combat can quickly get frustrating when fighting tough enemies.

As you progress through the game, you unlock new moves and abilities. This isn't a bad thing, but I think it's been poorly implemented. Some of the things you unlock should be standard issue, especially the air recovery, which speeds up the game by mitigating those long knockdown times I mentioned. The fact that said air recovery is the second to the last upgrade you get (meaning you'll play almost the entire game without it unless you grind) makes this even worse. There is also only one move that can break an opponent's block, and the only way to get it is to buy it from a secret shop halfway through the game. Considering that enemies block a lot, and sometimes just stand there blocking for inordinate amounts of time, I think this was a bad decision.

Moving on, there are four characters to choose from, but they are disappointingly similar. Ramona moving slightly faster and Stephen Stills having slightly more HP are the only differences I could find. Kim probably hits harder or something. They all have the same moves (unlocked in the same order and using the same controls), the same number of hits in a standard string to knockdown an opponent, same jump heights, the works. The only real differences are the attack animations and their (largely useless) strikers. I was looking forward to the replay value four characters would provide, but it seems to be pretty nonexistent since they all play exactly the same.

Too bad the intentional glitchy graphics in the Subspace areas aren't the only bugs in this game.
Too bad the intentional glitchy graphics in the Subspace areas aren't the only bugs in this game.
Finally, and probably my biggest complaint, is the bugginess of the game. Four times now I've gotten stuck in a level and had to restart because the game simply refused to scroll to the next area. Certain parts of levels will sometimes cause the game to stutter noticeably, especially when the buses and cars appear in the first level. A few times during a co-op game today I ran into a bug where it was as if my character was sliding on ice while moving up and down. I would tap a direction and stop, and she would continue sliding in a stand animation until reaching the edge of the screen. This continued until I entered a new area and happened twice during about an hour of gameplay. Once I saw a boss get stuck on the side of the screen and glitch out, luckily I was still able to attack and kill him. Once the music cut out on me and wouldn't return until I reset the system. When accessing the menus from the map screen, it takes about three seconds from the time I press the button for the menu to actually appear (this might be related to the model of PS3, I've read accounts of people with and without this problem but it happens 100% of the time on my system).

I think the clear culprit here is time constraints caused by the game needing to come out to coincide with the movie. No doubt that's also why there's no online co-op mode. Releasing a game this buggy just to be out the same week as the movie is inexcusable, and hurts the game in the long run (Unless they patch it. Which they probabaly won't do.).

Despite all this, I really enjoyed the game and still think it's worth the ten bucks if you like Scott Pilgrim and/or old school video games. If for no other reason, buy it for Paul Robertson.