Monday, 30 August 2010
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal
Published by Ubisoft, Universal Studios
Genre Beat 'em up, RPG
Platform Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network
Release date(s) August 25th 2010
One could be forgiven for thinking that Bryan Lee O'Malley has sold out, with his critically acclaimed comic book series Scott Pilgrim being adapted this month into both a big budget Hollywood film and a licensed videogame by Ubisoft, a company with a history of crappy licensed games. Comic book adaptions and licensed videogames are usually terrible, it's one of life's most painfully consistent truths. Fortunately, any fears I may have had were dispelled after roughly five seconds of starting up this game.
For those who don't know, the Scott Pilgrim comics are essentially the I Ching of mid twenties slackers. Scott Pilgrim is a archetypal twenty something male; plays bass in a band, unemployed, never quite grew out of college, skeezy enough to be dating a 17 year old and going nowhere fast.
To most people it's a mundane existence, but in the melodramatic frame of Pilgrim's pop culture and videogame obsessed mind it's a cataclysmic battle between good and evil. Every inch of this world is interpreted for us in this context through his eyes; objects and activities are intermittently given videogame style status indicators, daily life is a collection of statistics and levelling up, and conflict is resolved through over the top anime/street fighter styled combat. Scott Pilgrim meets the girl of his dreams, literally, and in order to be with her he must defeat her seven evil exes.
Videogame culture permeates everything about this series, so it makes perfect sense that the videogame adaption should be a retro throwback celebrating the 8/16-bit era complete with stylized graphics (from legendary pixel artist Paul Robertson), classic gameplay, and above all nostalgic music (from legendary chiptune band Anamanaguchi).
The graphics really are quite fantastic for anyone who is a fan of that old school style, but doesn't feel archaic, with enough flash and style to compare favourably to any game on XBLA. While I adored the style from the first moment I started the game up, I can imagine that this might not be the case for anyone who was not a gamer back in the early 90s, or is not especially enamoured with the old schol style.
The music as well deserves special note for being mind meltingly awesome. Anamanaguchi is known as the biggest name in chiptune music and you can see why from playing this game. Each track of the soundtrack is perfect; nostalgic and fitting for each specific setting. It really is almost worth the price of the game for this reason alone.
The gameplay meanwhile harkens back to classic streets of rage style 2d scrolling beat 'em ups, with stat building RPG elements and stores in which to spend all the coins you pick up from fallen enemies. I've spoken a lot about the style of the game, but Ubisoft have done a very good job at creating some fun gameplay, simple enough to get into but with different moves and plenty to keep you playing for a while.
Unfortunately, the game design itself is somewhat ill considered. Clearly this game is designed to be played with multiplayer, and indeed there is fantastic 4 player co-op in this game. Hoever, playing solo can be a frustrating and repetitive affair due to the difficulty which is balanced towards 4 players, requiring a solo gamer to grind and level up. In addition, there is inexplicably no online mode present, nor is there the option for extra players to drop in and out during gameplay.
In addition, Scott Pilgrim recreates many of the limitations of games from this era. Controls and collision detection feels a bit rough around the edges, while depth perception can be frustrating, particularly on one level which takes place on the roof of a bus where moving too close to the edges results in falling off.
If you have a couple of friends to play with, or the persistence to get through it on your own, then I fully recommend this game. Even if you have neither of those things, it's worth checking out just to play a few levels and absorb the geek chic awesomeness (at 800 microsoft pts, it's not especially pricey).
Old school graphics
Old school music
Frustrating solo gameplay
Lack of multiplayer options