When I was thirteen, I tried to play the guitar. I wasn’t good at it right away, and I found that unfair, frustrating, and knew getting even a little bit better was going to take a lot of time, effort, and callused fingers. Playing Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a lot like playing the guitar.
I remembered playing this retro side scroller when it released in 2010, and as soon as the NES-inspired soundtrack started, I figured it would all start coming back to me. But just like how listening to Snow over and over won’t help you shred like Red Hot Chili Peppers, hearing the music didn’t actually imbue my fingertips with magic nostalgia skill. I tried out a few different characters, but each time could only get around halfway through the first level.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World isn’t the hardest game I’ve played. There will be players who can learn its ways quickly enough that they plow through it. But I’m no slouch: This was clearly a game built for grinding. It expects you to try and fail again and again, and with only seven levels, that’s how it offers an experience with longevity. For players expecting to pick it back up immediately, you might find the early stages slower going than the colourful carnage you remember.
You level up individual characters each time, so in switching characters to try them all out, I was unnecessarily resetting myself to zero. Once I stuck with Ramona Flowers, I started to see real progress, but it was still a bit of a grind.
I figured that since getting a band together is the best way to learn an instrument, the game would probably be easier in a group. After I recruited another player, it quickly became clear that Scott Pilgrim vs The World is meant to be played in co-op. We cruised through the first two levels in our first try, and only fell to the third level boss because we were low on lives, which carry over until game over. Since you can level up, eventually m-m-m-m-my Ramona could have cleared the first level on her own, but it’s definitely better in a group. For this updated re-rerelease, there’s online multiplayer too, which really opens the game up and means no one needs to struggle on trying to play guitar, bass, and drums alone.
Multiplayer brings its own issues, however. I paired up Ramona and Knives, thinking that sisters could do it for themselves, but they quickly started fighting with each other. Friendly fire is constantly on, so if Knives is over in the corner fighting off a bunch of ninjas, when Ramona slides in to kick ass, she ends up walloping Knives on the way through. On the tougher levels, the screen gets very busy, and that’s with just two players. Adding in two more, plus the handful of extra enemies they’d bring, and it feels like friendly fire is a surefire way to break up the band over ‘musical differences’.
(Image credit: Ubisoft)
While gameplay has issues, both solo and multiplayer, everything else is a treat. As far as graphics go, it’s a remaster of a ten-year-old game that even in 2010 embraced a retro aesthetic, so don’t expect anything technically ground breaking or eye popping. Still, the colours are wonderful, and the art is bursting with creativity in every department. Not many games are this fun to look at. The same goes for the soundtrack, which sticks to the simplicity of the videogame cartridge era, but has such an infectious rhythm it’ll stay in your head all day.
This creativity is ever present throughout the game. While the first level just brings some generic Toronto dudes as bad guys, as the game goes on the enemies increase in range. Level 2, on Lucas Lee’s film set, features men in Godzilla costumes, aliens in flying saucers, and Indiana Jones-style closing walls to escape from. The bosses—apart from Lee himself, ironically—swing for the fences too, adding in tons of visual effects and special abilities to make them feel like so much more than just a tough punch sponge, but instead a clearly defined old school videogame boss.
Considering the levels are essentially straight lines, there’s a brilliant amount of creativity in these too. Literally everything is a weapon, from a basketball to a mic stand to your own teammate. Since you can revive your partner at zero health without costing them a life, there’s a popular tactic for Knives and Ramona where, if either is ever on single digit health, the other picks them up and hurls them at enemies, clearing a path for easy revival while also dealing serious damage to everyone else.
You unlock more moves as you level up, but for the most part you’ll be finding randomly discarded items, picking them up, and hitting your foes with them. Even though it’s essentially the same thing over and over, there’s enough variety that it never gets old. Like playing the guitar, it’s a repetitive action, but it’s all about the way you repeat it. Just remember to duck when Knives picks up a bicycle.
Today, Scott Pilgrim vs The World feels somewhat let down by its insistence on grinding, even if teamwork lightens the load, and the action is never too deep. Still, just like Scott himself, the game makes up for this with whimsical creativity, offbeat humour, and absurd storytelling.