Fast forward to 2020, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition is now available across a litany of systems, with additional content and both previous DLC add-on packs. But has time been kind to this 2D side-scrolling brawler? After 11 years, it’s time to jump back into Scott’s worn sneakers and beat up hordes of baddies to find out.
The brawler follows an extremely loose adaptation of the comics and movie. Scott Pilgrim is tasked with defeating would-be girlfriend Ramona Flowers' exes before he can begin dating her. The League of Evil Exes has some dirty tricks up their sleeve, from Lucas Lee's skateboarding prowess to Roxie Richter's ninja skills. You've got to slay them all, including the ultimate evil ex, Gideon Graves.
But what of the "Complete Edition" moniker? It refers to added content, such as the long-awaited online multiplayer mode. Previously, the game debuted much to players’ chagrin with no support for online play. This version includes it as well as both DLC characters, Wallace and Knives. Anything you previously needed to purchase for additional cash is now here in one colorful little package.
In a not-so-subtle River City Ransom homage, this beat-’em-up tasks you (and up to three additional players) with fighting your way through seven different worlds, each divided up into smaller digestible chunks. After selecting a character from Scott, Ramona, Kim and Stephen, it’s time to jump into a technicolor, fictional version of Toronto to stave off the evil exes.
At its core, the game is incredibly simplistic. Advance little by little as a variety of enemies spawn in to tear you limb from limb, beat them to a bloody pulp and then continue to the end of each stage. Vanquish a boss at the end and then soldier on to the next area. It's a retro-flavored adventure through and through, from the way enemies fizzle and fade out to the way they drop coins.
No matter which character you choose, your move list always includes ways to punch, kick, grapple with and throw the bad guys, which often run the gamut from street thugs and actors in alien costumes to ninjas and robots, naturally. But each has a set of signature moves as well as abilities they earn after leveling up too, from Scott's tactical AoE strike and his powerful punch to Stephen's face-melting guitar playing and aerial strikes.
You'll level up as you defeat enemies and earn new moves, but there's also a bit of a metagame when it comes to improving both stats and earning XP, too. It isn't immediately obvious, but you can game the system by figuring out the right things to purchase from the shops hidden throughout each level. Whether you do so by defeating enemies or smashing piggy banks during the short “Subspace Highway” sections between levels, you’re going to want to save as much money as you can to shop at these places. They offer movies, snacks, beverages, music, books and other curios. Each are paired with an intriguing name and price tag, as well as a vague description like "A classic role-playing video game" or "The most famous Japanese noodle soup.”
Going in shops will reveal a product list without any actual information on stat boosts or similar details. Instead, you must purchase items with your hard-fought cash to see what they offer. You’ll receive permanent HP, stat and XP boosts, but this isn’t immediately obvious, nor does the game do a good job of explaining it.
That means, unless you want to experiment and spend your cash on things that may not be helping you as much as you think they are, you’ll want to consult guides to see what the items you purchase give your characters. Otherwise, you’d never know that there are, indeed, ways to buy extra lives beyond the one given to you in-game. And when the game can be ridiculously austere on purpose and due to questionable design decisions, you’re going to want those additional chances.
The game makes valiant attempts at rekindling that old-school arcade spirit, but this is often to its detriment. You get a set number of lives to complete a certain area. If you fall too many times without being revived, you’re out. If all players fall, you have to start an entire area over again. This wouldn’t be such a problem if combat weren’t so irritating sometimes.
There are several enemies on-screen at once, which means you’ll have to do some multi-tasking when staving off the meat sponges ready to absorb your blows. It can be difficult to tell which plane you’re on and where your enemies are standing, which results in throwing punches and missing, leaving you open to some damaging blows. It may seem as though you’re lined up perfectly with who you’re hitting, but you often aren’t. This is one of the game’s biggest issues and it hasn’t been tweaked at all. It’s the quickest ticket to draining your health and often a reason to put the controller down before you rage quit.
Frustratingly, friendly fire also plagues your play sessions with others, despite creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s 2012 comment that the concept “doesn’t exist” in the Scott Pilgrim universe. It certainly did back in 2010 and it’s here in the game’s revival, too. It might not seem like a very big deal. You could just stay away from other players and be careful, after all. But it’s far too simple to thwack another player in the head with a sturdy baseball bat.
It happens so often that, despite the abundance of weapons dropped during scuffles, you're almost better off not picking one up at all. You won’t try to grab a weapon and end up picking up your co-op partner instead, either, also a common annoyance. It might be funny to bludgeon an enemy to death with Ramona Flowers, but that player has to watch you slowly drain their health, too. It’s easy enough to die, so you don’t need to continue to fuel each others’ fire.
These issues aside, the game still manages to be a fun homage to an era gone by. It may begin to drag on a bit once you’ve eviscerated dozens of nameless enemies, but you can always drop out and come back to play later to pick up where you left off, if you’re willing to lose a bit of progress. The chiptune soundtrack by Anamanaguchi is your constant companion through all of this and its infectious optimism goes a long way to keeping you interested in replaying stages again and again until you discover their secrets (and the best way to min-max item consumption.)
If you’re one of the Scott Pilgrim fans who mourned the game’s delisting and have been patiently waiting for the day when you could invite friends to smash Gideon Graves’ head in, you’ll be pleased with this re-release. It doesn’t really add much to the original game beyond multiplayer and a few small tweaks here and there and it still suffers from the same problems the first iteration did. But it’s an enjoyable throwback that’s worth settling in and playing through with fellow Pilgrim fans so you can revel in knowing you’ve been there and done that.
Photo courtesy of Ubisoft