Graphic novels remain one of my favorite storytelling formats, a medium that has enticed me for going on decades with sequential presentation. There’s something so specific about the way a story can be told with the right paneling, artwork, and text all arranged for the purpose of leading the eye from one end of the page to the next.
Such is the case of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, an odd book I found all those years ago in a forgotten corner of my high school’s library. A bizarre combination of retro video games, indie rock music, and an (at the time) newly emerging hipster scene, all of which works as mise en scene for the journey of a young man of questionable character, his mysterious ass-kicking romantic interest, and the bizarre interpersonal relationships that keep them all interlocked in drama.
I’d never encountered independent comics of this type before, at least not with subject matter that hit so close to home, and it immediately drew me in. With the comic’s eventual success came a film adaptation of admirable quality and, of course, a game that I had hoped drew my eye, as well as the comics had all those years ago.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game is a 2D beat-em-up action RPG, released in 2010 and developed by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Chengdu as a tie-in title for the film of the same year directed by Edgar Wright (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad). While it received critical acclaim and commercial interest upon release, it was delisted after a licensing dispute in 2014, only to receive new life with a digital re-release and physical edition by Limited Run Games in 2021.
It was with that most recent edition that I was able to re-experience the incredible joy of fighting around the streets of Toronto with Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, Kim Pine, Stephen Stills, and the two originally DLC-only fighters, Wallace Wells and Knives Chau. While the game can be played solo, the true experience comes from jumping into the game with a group of friends.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game is still a treat to experience all the way through, both timeless and a time capsule of the day it was released. In the same way, all the things that make it now a classic of the genre were also what made it so unique the day it was released. During the late 2000s, with the advent of downloadable services on all the major console platforms and the rise of Steam, independent games were gaining notoriety.
And it’s fascinating to return to that time now and recognize the aspects that made this title unique in its day have now become much more common in the world of independent development.
And in 2010, six years after the comics had started, the movie was in theaters, the final volume was on the horizon, and the game was ready to offer up its roster of fighters for some mayhem.
And what a gorgeous group of fighters they are. With pixel art and animation by Paul Robertson, the character’s movements are expressive, fluid, and just a joy to see at every opportunity. As players continue through the game, they can accumulate EXP from fights, gaining new moves and slowly improving their base stats. The number of times I took to learn each of these new moves just to try and catch each unique frame of animation they brought forth was far too many to count, as every fighter has their own specific focus when it comes to their abilities.
That said…Adaptations are notoriously difficult to get right in almost any medium, but video games have often been noted as the most tragically literal, taking sections of an existing IP and wholesale recreating them in terms of look and sound but rarely in terms of feel. What brings this all together is a sublime focus on progression, with characters slowly escalating in speed and strength and options aplenty for those that want to aid their growth through the use of upgrade items with a little bit of grinding.
As the player jaunts through the streets of Toronto, entering a plethora of unique locales, they are seeking to defeat each of the seven Evil Exes (plus one NegaScott) that plague Ramona Flowers and Scott Pilgrim’s love life. While this concept is an ever-present part of the story in comics, the game chooses to provide a loose adaptation of the events in both the comic and the film in order to create the most enjoyable experience on the whole. This takes the colorful crew through film sets, warehouse parties, and even glitched-out “Subspace” areas that connect between different sections of each, hiding secrets and spoils galore.
While some noticeable age has settled into the creases of this title, ranging from minor issues of enemy AI getting stuck in a corner or the latter half of the game more heavily defined by grinding, it’s impossible to understate the importance it and games of its ilk provided. Beyond being an adaptation, or a retro throwback, games like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game paved the way for the return of the beat-em-up, with a greater emphasis on cooperative play and extended unique levels than ever before. Now, whole series long dormant have returned with aplomb, in the form of Streets of Rage 4, River City Girls, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, among countless others.
For a game that was inaccessible to so many for so long, I am of the opinion that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game was able to return due to a love for both the original work and the merits the game itself brought forward.
And it would be so for a little independent comic to grow into a little independent game, ready to make a mark that carried far and wide through the ages.
By Samm Jinks.