Digital games can be a wonderful thing. They don’t run the risk of getting lost like physical game cards. You can fit an awful lot of them on one MicroSD card these days. They grant indie developers an easier option for distribution. Yet games like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game also highlight the biggest drawback of digital releases: only four years after the game’s initial release in 2010, it was delisted from all storefronts due to licensing issues. Just like that, a well-received and unique brawler was wiped from existence, and only those who bought it in its availability window could still play it.
In the years since, there’s been a consistent online push from fans who wished to see the game re-released for modern platforms, and after a whole lot of back and forth, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition finally came into being (and this time with a physical edition, too!) A decade on from its release, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game proves to still be a top-tier brawler that feels like a great fit for the Switch hardware.
For those of you who haven’t seen the film or read the comics, the story follows Scott Pilgrim, a slacker living in Toronto who begins dating a mysterious girl named Ramona Flowers. Unfortunately for Scott, the League of Seven Evil Exes is hellbent on controlling Ramona’s love life, so he must take them all on in bombastic fights to the death in order to win the right to continue dating her.
Cocky movie stars, psychic vegans and lesbian ninjas are par for the course here, making for an impressively distinctive cast of interesting characters to interact with. All of this is merely background information, however; the plot bears almost no relevance in the face of all the punching and explosive combos. Those of you looking for a gripping narrative will be disappointed by what’s on offer, then, but why on earth would you come to a beat ‘em up looking for a good story?
The real star of show here is the arcade-like gameplay, which centers on a simple loop of clearing out screens of baddies, looting almost enough change for the bus ride home, and continuing this cycle until you reach the Evil Ex for that stage. Each character has a light and heavy attack, and you can use these to chain together various combos to keep enemies juggled for as long as possible. If you find yourself in a tight spot, you can also trigger an area-of-effect attack which costs a few refillable Guts Points to pull off, or you can summon an ally to execute a powerful but costly move.
There’s a subtle aura of strategy underlying this gameplay which is part of what makes it so engaging. Unlike many other arcade brawlers – which can often feel like they’re devolving to a button-mashing mess – you need to be a little more thoughtful in how you approach combat here. Enemies hit hard and if they knock you down, they won’t hesitate to juggle you for a bit and take huge chunks out of your health. Knowing how and when to apply your combos is critical, then, as well as knowing when to lay off the offense and make use of a well-timed block to negate a mean hit. This sort of ebb and flow goes a long way towards making the gameplay engaging; if you don’t adapt your playstyle appropriately, it’s easy to get rolled and see that 'game over' screen all too soon.
Luckily, there are some light RPG elements to help alleviate some of the difficulty and to toss in a little more replayability. For example, cutting through enough enemies will see your characters level up, usually unlocking new moves and abilities that open up new combat options. Through this, new players are slowly introduced to the complexities of the fighting system, and it also helps to give a nice sense of forward progression.
Those of you who need a little extra boost for handling the tougher stages can also head over to a shop where you can buy consumables or permanent stat boosters. There isn’t much variety here in terms of creating ‘builds’, but the dribble of money you get ensures that you can never afford everything, meaning you have to think critically about what’s most valuable to you. All of this is to say, the level up and equipment systems don’t massively alter the core gameplay loop, but they do help to set it apart from being ‘just’ another senseless arcade brawler.
Single-player is naturally supported here, but the best experience comes from playing in co-op. You can have up to four players together at once, and having an extra hand in taking down the waves of villains makes all the difference in the world. If someone goes down, they can be revived if their ally gets to them in time to restore them. If everyone is in sync with each other, you can pull off some impressive team attacks that really roll through the enemies. That’s to say nothing of the fun competitive moments it opens up, such as when you discover that you can punch each other just as easily as the enemies. Like many other party games, then, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the sort of game you have to play with friends in order to really ‘get it’. You can play alone and it’s still good fun, but there’s an all-important X-factor missing there which dampens enjoyment a bit.
That distinct art style which would go on to become a staple of many games created by Tribute was first utilized in this release, and it’s clear that the art team had quite a bit of fun developing how Scott Pilgrim vs. The World looks. The comic’s original art is mashed together with retro visuals to make for an intensely expressive and thoroughly fascinating visual style that makes each battle a real joy to behold. Whether it’s the rapidly changing sets on a movie studio lot or a dive bar somewhere in Toronto, the backgrounds are filled with all sorts of little details and NPCs that make each environment feel as though it’s bristling with activity, even beyond the massive fight you’re caught up in.
All of this is then backed by a stellar original soundtrack performed by Anamanaguchi. The famed chiptune rock band goes a long way towards giving Scott Pilgrim vs. The World its distinct identity through mixing 8-bit video game sound bites with punk rock music. Though not every song is thoroughly memorable, this soundtrack provides the perfect tempo and energy needed to go along with the chaos of the combat.
As the ‘Complete Edition’, this release also comes with plenty of nice extra goodies to sweeten the deal. All the original release’s DLC is included here, which means you can play as a couple of new characters (and if you guessed Wallace is one of them, you'd guess right) and that some extra side modes have been added, such as a game of Dodgeball. In addition to this, online play has been added for those of you that want to play with distant friends, and there’s even support for random matchmaking, too. This is still the sort of game that you can really only get a couple dozen hours out of at most, but the extra content does nonetheless give you a bit more to chew on while it lasts.
The only blemish on this otherwise excellent brawler is the fact that the difficulty scaling can be a little out of whack in many places. That is to say, the difficulty curve is scarcely a curve at all. Some levels are nearly impenetrable walls that you beat against time after time until finally being lucky enough to break through. Others are an absolute breeze to get through. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World oscillates a bit too much between these two extremes, then, which can make for an experience that often feels weirdly paced.
Also, the online in our experience has been rather middling. It's difficult to tell whether this has to do with pre-release server issues or a deeper problem, but actually getting into an online game is a bit of a trial. Sometimes you load in and everything's fine, then a sudden crash boots you back out. And even when we did get a stable game going, we encountered several glitches that ranged from being amusing to completely halting further level progress. Suffice to say, your mileage may vary with the online; local co-op is definitely the way to go here.
Those of you looking for the next Castle Crashers or Streets of Rage need look no further, as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition is a great beat ‘em up for your Switch. Bombastic presentation and crunchy combat gameplay make this one enjoyable from start to finish. Though it can feel like it runs a bit short and the difficulty spikes can be rather intense, we’d give this one a strong recommendation to anybody looking for a fun, short game to play in co-op. Let's just hope it sticks around for longer than four years this time.