Scott Pilgrim is the best Megadrive game to come out this year. In the tradition of the greatest fighting games, it is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up that graphically utilises all 16 bits the Playstation has to offer, and yet it somehow manages to muster the processing power to pump out a rockin’ chiptunes soundtrack as well.
Yes, that’s right retroheads (read as: old folk), finally you have a game to compliment your collection of demake screenshots, one that won’t look out of place alongside your MAME library: an old-school, no-frills joystick-killing punchfest very much along the lines of Streets of Rage, Double Dragon and Final Fight. (If that sentence quickened your pacemaker, go ahead and add a full point to my review score.)
And to you young ‘uns, you whippersnappers who wouldn’t know your Charleston from your cha-cha; retro is always cool right? That’s why the elderly are so revered and why soon all fashion-conscious hipsters will dress in animal carcasses. And besides: Scott Pilgrim! (Add yet another to my review score if you have read the comics, you’ll like all the nods to them in this game.)
Anyway. Lifting the barest of premises from the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, this game involves you guiding up to four members of Scott’s band - Sex Bob-Omb - through seven levels of ass-kickery, each of which culminates in a battle with one of Scott’s girlfriend Ramona’s seven evil exes.
In keeping with the spirit of the aforementioned classic games, there are only three attack options: fast, strong, or special. You can use these while jumping or running for a bit of variation, or pick up and use one of the many weapons carelessly left lying around each level.
There are some additions to the old formula though; you can level up to gain new moves, and collect money that can be spent boosting your strength, speed, or defense. There is a block button, and when playing co-op you can resurrect fallen comrades. You can even pick up downed enemies and hit other enemies with them! Also, in a stunning development that sets Scott Pilgrim apart from most 90s-style brawlers, you can run across the screen in arcs rather than a straight line. Now that’s progress!
As with the novels, there are many cool nods to games of old: the Golden Axe pixie shows up, Mario and Street Fighter references are everywhere, and I'm sure I heard an audio sample from the Commodore 64’s awesome Raid Over Bungling Bay. And it will surprise approximately zero 90s beat-‘em-up fans that there is a level that takes place on a descending elevator. Yup, Scott knows where he came from all right.
So how does it play? Sadly, until you have leveled up substantially it’s a repetitive grind. Initially underpowered and slow, you must earn the ability to do elementary things like hit downed opponents. The unlocked moves really aren’t that spectacular either - there isn’t that sense of “Ha! Take THAT!”, but rather the feeling that you are cutting down trees with a chisel. I play fighting games to feel like I’m a badass ninja, not to feel puny and restricted move-wise. This is all remedied by the end of the game by which time you have beefed up your character and 200 hit combos are routine, but I fear many will have lost interest before that point.
One inclusion from this game’s ancestors I could have done without are the platforming parts. Although few and far between, these are simply horrible. It’s very hard to judge depth, and you don’t have tight enough control over your leaping to avoid plummeting offscreen much too often. Fortunately a tumble over a cliff here will only cost you a chunk of health, not an entire life, but frustration will set in quickly.
More grumbles: you can’t have players drop in and out of the game mid-level, things become hard to follow when three or more people are playing (although there is only local multiplayer, so many won’t strike this), and the shop menus are slow and uninformative. I also struck two game-ending bugs, but a quick reset got me back to the same level, thankfully.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. The spirit of the novels is here, and it’s a cheap game that’s easy to dive into for 10 minutes. If you are sick of cut-scenes, exposition, and fetch-quests this 5-6 hour game is the antidote you’ve been looking for.
On top of the main campaign is a boss rush mode which is pretty fun, and an easy-to-find cheat code unlocks a zombie horde mode, so overall it’s about eight hours of entertainment, more if you go back through the game with a leveled-up character (which I recommend, it’s very cathartic).
Oh, and all the ladies in the game have very bouncy breasts. So there’s that too, I guess.