September 9, 2010

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game (PSN/XBLA)
Ubisoft Montreal, Aug. 10 (PSN) & 25 (XBLA) 2010
By Glenn "The Clash at Demonhead" Given production@hippopress.com

Bryan Lee O’Malley, Canadian alterna-cartoonist, part-time rocker, completes the circle by allowing his retro videogame-obssessed character Scott Pilgrim to translate from pen to pixel in the retro beat-’em-up Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game. A perfect reminder of why kids these days have it easy what with their fancy three-dimensional polygons and their Master Chiefawhoosits holding their teeney little baby hands through.

Scored by NYC chiptune punk band Anamanaguchi and art directed by Paul Roberston (animator of the retro-game short film Pirate Baby’s Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game wears its indie cred on its sleeve. Like the titular character, The Game is rife with 8-bit and ’80s/’90s arcade era throwbacks. Classic side-scroll brawling mechanics a la Double Dragon or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade cabinet form the throbbing core of this frantic melee. Players choose from among Pilgrim and his hipster-cum-canuck posse and heavy attack-light attack-jump kick their way through seven gloriously pixelated districts of Toronto. Fighters can call into tag attacks from off-screen allies, spend GUTS to perform area-clearing specials as well as the classic pick-up-fallen-foe-and-throw-him-at-enemy’s-head maneuver. Downed baddies, which, unfortunately, include some zombies in just a skosh too late pop culture meme, grant experience to level and unlock new combo attacks. You also collect money to purchase health-restoring foods and power-amplifiying gear from city shops in a manner EXACTLY akin to NES classic River City Ransom. As should be no surprise, each level is capped by a frantic boss battle with one (or two) of Pilgrim love interest Ramona Flowers’ evil Ex-Boyfriends. Sometimes they summon floating devil ladies to hurl hellfire at you, sometimes you are battling against energy waves of vegan psionic power.

Scott Pilgrim gets may things right. It moves like I’m back pouring quarters into Turtles in Time and character attacks respond to my twitching battle fingers like a fresh round of Bad Dudes. The animation is ridiculous and wonderfully over the top in its eight-bit bombast. with chunky explosions and full-screen flashes in a gleeful abandon. But a lot of SPvtW:The Game inks over the pencil lines of River City Ransom. While this isn’t horrible, per se, the amount of gold leaf placed on the nostalgia side of the scales far exceeds the innovations of gameplay or charm. As a heady whimsical reminder of the teeth-grating difficulty of ye olden brawlers, Scott Pilgrim succeeds. The enemies are unforgiving and even with four players at once blasting indie rock vengeance through a snowy Canadian metro, Pilgrim routinely pushes your frantic button-pushing button to the edge. The worst complaint? Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game gives you an out against this difficulty through the most unimaginative solution; level grinding. It is only through repeated clearing of previous levels that you get the strength to win. While this is true to form for older role-playing games, it is a mechanic that brawlers usually eschewed. Granted, the challenge curve of previous brawlers, as well as the ability to simply purchase you victory via quarter, was more forgiving. Still, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game is tough to argue against for $15. A solid B+Glenn Given