If there’s anything to be said about game preservation and the prevalence of digital media, Scott Pilgrim generally tends to be at the top of most people’s minds. Honestly, who could blame them? It dropped in conjunction with the release of the 2010 film, only to be delisted from the PlayStation Store and XBox Live Arcade only four years later.
Since then fans of the game have been clamoring for a port, any port, to make its way to modern consoles and hopefully see a physical release as well. Hell, series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley has been hoping to see Ubisoft finally release this game over a nearly six year wait.
Thankfully, they finally listened to the cries of fans and got to work bringing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition to digital storefronts, with Limited Run Games handling duties for physical copies of the game. How long it will remain on modern(ish) platforms remains to be seen digitally, but at least Ubi listened to the fans and brought forth a game people have been wanting for forever and a day.
Developed by Engine Software/Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft Chengdu/Ubisoft Pune Production and published by Ubisoft, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition released on January 14, 2021. It’s currently available on Xbox One, PS4, PC (Via Ubisoft Connect and Epic Games Store), Google Stadia, and Switch. The Switch version was played for this review.
The Power of Love
Regardless of how you approach any Scott Pilgrim media, you’re gonna run into the basic premise of the story at any level. In a way, it might be semi-related to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that way, where minute details and characterizations might end up being different depending on what medium you pick up, but you’ll know at the end of the day that you’re a weird British dude whisked away from certain destruction by your alien best friend trying to survive.
Scott Pilgrim is basically the same way. You’re the titular slacker twenty-something bass player who finds himself crushing on the arguably Manic Pixie Dream Girl Ramona Flowers. In order to win her love proper, Scott has to defeat her seven evil exes. This is, at least, how Scott’s story tends to play out.
While the movie and graphic novel series might go into quite a bit more detail, the game tends to take a more bare-bones approach to the story. Keeping in tune with the 2D brawler style and the era they’re harkening back to, anything story-related is generally left to quick interstitial stills between stages and a unique ending depending on what character you choose to play. This isn’t especially disappointing considering that this was considered more of a companion release to the movie, but I’m sure some people would have liked to see something slightly more fleshed out than what was presented here.
Personally, I’m alright with the direction they went in here. While the plot of the source material is clearly present, it’s definitely not the first game to plant itself in the era it hearkens back to and behave in a similar manner. Since the graphical style feels more rooted somewhere in between the 16- and 32-bit era of gaming, it makes sense. But it being represented here at all, albeit weakly, plays out well enough that it’s somewhat forgivable. Regardless, the story was obviously not the focus here.
It’s Called a Grind, Bro
Since we’re dealing with a retro-styled brawler firmly rooted in games like River City Ransom, it’s not all that surprising to see the primary focus being put here more than anything else. Calling the game Complete Edition isn’t that much of a stretch, as DLC characters Wallace Wells and Knives Chau were the only post-launch additions made available. Though at the base level you were able to choose between Scott, Ramona, Stills, and Kim before you set out to the Super Mario Bros 3-style world map of Toronto.
Regardless of who you choose, the game tends to fall in line with other brawler-types in the fashion that has a base of basic combat moves along with other special moves. Using these special moves will drain what’s known as your “guts” points (think of it as MP of sorts), and you’ll be using either assist moves or a special technique. Each character has a unique version of each type of move to varying degrees of effectiveness, but it’s usually best to keep an eye on your guts to use those resources effectively. Having a fair chunk of guts will revive you if your health falls to zero, but it’s not an endless resource. You’ll be able to buy recovery items for health and guts in various stores scattered throughout the game, but that requires having the cash to drop on it.
Which is where we lead into the one major sticking point for newcomers to the game. In order for you to kick ass effectively, you’re going to need to invest time into the RPG-style stat system. Playing the game normally will level you up naturally, which does come with new moves and some stat boosts. However, you’ll need some serious dough to boost your stats to something resembling a formidable fighting machine. Unless you decide to indulge in the various cheats found in the game (a rarity these days), you’re going to be spending a lot of time replaying stages and paying frequent visits to the Subspace Highways found throughout to get the money that you need.
While it does fall in line with the genre it’s referencing, the grind that can come with it does rear its ugly head. If you’re used to this sort of thing, that’s all well and good. Though if you’re just looking for something to breeze through, this ain’t it. Even on the lowest difficulty, it’s no slouch. So you basically need to invest this kind of time in stat boosting to get anywhere. Sure, the short runtime might not be too much of a deterrent, but I feel like this could be a bit of a turnoff for some.
However, the combat in general is competent and not super complicated. The usual punches, kicks, grabs, blocks, boost modes, assists, and special moves are all represented here, and executing them isn’t really much of an issue. General cannon fodder tends to pack a pretty substantial punch, so having the skills and strategy on hand to take them down in a relatively easy to understand way does help with the pick up and play aspect of it all. Having tight controls definitely helps here as well, even if the gameplay might be considered a touch shallow for some.
I would say that the biggest strength that this game has is in couch multiplayer. Having a crew of up to four remains to be the best way to play this one, though right now most will have to settle for online play if they want to squad up and take down the hordes of Gideon and his League of Evil Exes. Network issues might pop up, but it’s there to be used. Teamwork and communication is obviously key here, but being wary of each other’s surroundings is also something to be wary of as well. Having the ability to revive, especially in tight circumstances, is welcome in this setting. While nothing is stopping you from running through the game in the serviceable single player mode, the most fun you’ll have is with friends.
There are some extra modes here, though none of them feel especially deep. Boss Rush is exactly what you think it is, Survival Horror is basically just taking down waves of zombies, Battle Royal pits you and your friends in an up-to-four-way battle to the death, and there’s Dodge Ball. That’s not to say that any of these modes are bad, far from it. But most of these extra modes seem more like simple value adds and exercises to play with the engine more than anything else. I’m sure with the right friends, some of these modes are pretty fun. But calling them fleshed out additions to the game would be a disingenuous statement to make.
Admittedly, I might be laying it on a bit thick and expecting a bit much from a game with a $14.99 price point (digitally, at least). But even at this asking price, some might have hoped for slightly more meat on the bones from a gameplay perspective. But really, the amount of content here is a decent enough value to forgive that.
Salt of the Earth
Really, the one thing that people seem to remember the most fondly from this game is the overall presentation. Some tend to really latch onto the graphical presentation, and that’s completely valid. While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this put into motion via a smattering of online shorts, it’s still nice to see O’Malley’s art style front and center here and be as well-animated as it is. While the total package has characters presented in a chibi-fied sort of way, it’s largely faithful to the look and feel of the graphic novel it borrows from.
Since we are dealing with a game that makes no attempts to hide its own reverence and references to other video game franchises, it’s somewhat amusing to see a 2D game like this not only behave in a manner similar to its influences, but also take the chance to take as many chances as possible to throw a reference their way as well. Some might find that choice to be a little weird, but it fits with the rest of the game. It looks and feels like you’re playing in the graphic novel, and the framerate is (albeit deliberately) consistent with 32-bit era games.
That said, the sprite work here is still as fantastic now as it was when it was released. For what was basically a low-budget project, they put quite a bit of detail into the movement and flow of characters and foes alike. It might be painted on a retro-styled canvas, but it definitely did not limit itself to that technology. While certain elements feel a little overdone (you’ll know it when you see it), it all flows well enough.
Sound effect wise, it’s pretty clear that the developers achieved the previously mentioned era goal. If you know the vibe that most beat ’em ups of the 90s sound like, this will feel right at home for you. Everything here hits that retro sound design vibe, and it doesn’t feel all that overdone. It just feels like they hit what they were going for here, and I feel content with that.
However, the obvious standout in the sound department absolutely has to be the soundtrack produced by the chiptune punk rockers known as Anamanaguchi (pronounced on-UH-mon-UH-gucci). Having been lucky enough to hop into that fandom somewhere in between the album Dawn Metropolis and this soundtrack, it walks the line of being a standalone album of theirs and a perfect fit for this game. Nearly every track here is a treat for the ears, and I’m glad that Limited Run has also re-released the soundtrack as well. Personally, I find it best for people to find out how good it is for themselves, but rest assured that newcomers to the band may find themselves latching onto their other work as a result of this soundtrack and maybe even catching a show (when things are safe, of course).
Getting the Band Back Together
Seeing Scott Pilgrim re-emerge onto digital storefronts is a reminder of why game preservation is so important. While I’m happy to see that Limited Run stepped in to bring us the physical release that fans have been wanting for years, I still find myself a little worried that physical games in general may end up becoming a thing of the past.
This shouldn’t deter you from at least giving Scott Pilgrim Complete a look if you’re on the hunt for some more beat ’em up content. If you’re fresh off the likes of Streets of Rage 4 or River City Girls, I feel like this stands next to them pretty handily. Couch multiplayer fans will feel comfortable enough taking in the short runtime, even with a few rough edges. Certain elements here ultimately amount to nitpicks, but the total package still holds up today.
If you’re looking for a fun trip to Toronto, this game is as solid now as it was back in 2010. Just be sure to get a few friends together for maximum enjoyment.
Review copy purchased by reviewer for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Feature image courtesy of Ubisoft.