Charles Caleb Colton was the first to note that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but, it is my opinion that, if you showcase unique delivery across various media coupled with flattery and fill it with Canadian content, then you can create a franchise that is sure to influence popular culture well into the future.
Such is the case with the Scott Pilgrim series; this critically received series of 6 graphic digests, created by Bryan Lee OMalley, has developed its own cult following, ever since the release of the first volume back in 2004. The story developed such a following that, along with the video game, the Scott Pilgrim inspired movie is currently being delivered across North America.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: the Game is a loose adaptation of the graphic digests. Featuring many of the sub-culture references that have made the comic series so successful and adding in many game specific references this title has finally hit the Xbox Live Marketplace. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal (Canadian), the game is presented as a side scrolling, beat em up as a nod to the games of yore, similar to Double Dragon and River City Ransom.
The story is straight forward; you are required to travel through a map of Toronto to battle the seven, evil, ex-boyfriends of Ramona Flowers. These evil, exs all seek to control Ramonas love life by crushing the flourishing romance between Scott Pilgrim and Ramona. Your job is simple; choose from 4 playable characters (Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, Kim Pine and Stephen Stills) beat the various minions and destroy the evil, ex-boyfriends. For those new to the Pilgrim universe there is tremendous value in seeing the movie, or better yet, picking up the comics, as the game glosses over several plot points that may distract from the overall enjoyment of the game.
The visuals are instantly recognizable as a nod to the 8 and 16 bit gaming of yesteryear. The blocky, pixel infused graphics are a bit unsettling at first, until you realize that it is all part of the throwback aspect that the game is trying to achieve. Along with the nostalgia you will find yourself collecting coins (all CanadianLoonies, Toonies, Elk head quarters and more) as you defeat the various enemies. This money is then used in different areas to upgrade your player or purchase food (health) items (or pay off Scott and Wallaces debt at the video store). There are so many gaming references in this offering that you will constantly go back to different areas just to see them again (I loved seeing Marios plumber tube in the map of Toronto (Canadian). The final fight sequences are so reminiscent of other boss battles (both in style and visually) that the developers have even thrown in an unlockable Boss Rush mode.
In keeping with the theme, the controls are overly simply: fast hit, hard hit, block, jump and special attack. I have personally downgraded other games that follow the simplistic throwback control setup, but those other titles were trying to offer a new experience whereas, this game is trying to take us back to the glory days of gaming. Another nod to the 80s control scheme are the cheat code inputsthere are various ways (supposedly) of unlocking different aspects of the game using up, down, left, right and the button inputs (this really takes me back, even though Ive only unlocked one bonus).
In order to ensure the theme is maintained across all parts of the game, the developers have brought on Anamanaguchi to create the soundtrack for the game. Anyone unaware of the Chiptune created music scene (myself included) will be blown away by how the group, Anamanaguchi utilize a hacked, 1985 NES, to create such stellar music. Not only are you instantly drawn into memories of past games but you will quickly find yourself humming the tunes long after the controllers are put down.
This title is not without fault; although many of the minor glitches feel as if they may be specifically created to emulate the glitches of older games. There are collision detection issues, where you are sure you are set up to make a hit but you are just a bit too far awaythis is not a huge issue and again it feels more like this is a planned/panned issue. An obvious oversight comes two-fold and involves the multiplayer aspect of the game. First, the developer included 4 player co-op in the game unfortunately this is available locally only, so I wont be teaming up with Variation in Vancouver for some pixel bashingsecondly the 4 player multiplayer becomes crowded very quickly and it can be easy to lose sight of where you are or even who is attacking you. Swarms of enemies appear on screen to challenge 4 players and a sort of pandemonium begins to take place (reviving your friends is a challenge when sorting through 20+ other characters on screen).
This is by far my favorite XBLA title. Coming in at 800 Microsoft Points ($10 Canadian), this seems like a worthwhile 3-4 hour adventure, but you need to consider the value added extras that lurk just below the surface. There are unlockable characters to play, unlockable game modes to experience, all while trying to increase your ranking on the online leaderboard. On top of the regular play through, on the Average Joe setting, you will want to go back to various levels (if only to increase your strength) and playing through in the harder settings will add an hour or more to gameplay while still making the challenges manageable. There are a lot of Easter Eggs in this game and more than once I had to pause to explain to my wife yet another in-game reference.
As a proud Canadian it is my duty to support almost every aspect of this franchise but, as a fan of the original graphic series it is my pleasure to immerse myself into the Scott Pilgrim universe. Do yourself a favour (Canadian spelling) and pick up this great XBLA title and do the world a favour by supporting (thereby, showcasing) a truly outstanding Canadian production.