Opinion: The Scott Pilgrim Hype (with bonus 8-bit review!!)

There have been plenty of reviews out there that have both praised Scott Pilgrim as the next coming of Christ and denounced him as hipster bullshit; and, depending on who you are, both are correct to a degree. The comic series, the film and now the game are all targeted toward a very specific demographic and if you aren’t a part of that, looking at it from the outside, you simply won’t get it. That doesn’t mean you are a complete idiot but it also doesn’t mean that the people who love it are either.

All three mediums, the books, the film and the game have done something that very few IPs have been able to do well and for that they need to be commended. They are examples of how to capture the pathos of a generation and do so in unique and interesting ways that are capable of tapping into everything that makes us love all things geeky.

Not only that but each are faithful to the other and are uncompromising in their adaptation. There are things in the film that have changed from the books, there are sub plots omitted from the film that, while a real shame they weren’t used, don’t feel like a massive loss. The game even has a completely different ending to the books and movie but it is playful enough that, while a little odd, doesn’t come off as out of place.

Let’s be perfectly straight though, all three are not perfect. There are elements of the game that could be better, the film has some clunky moments and the comic even has some lacklustre issues as well but on the whole they are something that is worth your time and if you are inclined, your fanboy love.

The Comic

For those that haven’t ever read the six-part Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, you are definitely missing out.  If not for anything else, the artwork and storytelling are quite unique and endearing. The basic story is about a somewhat unlikable, directionless and self-involved slacker. He is the embodiment of a generation that doesn’t quite know what they want to do with their lives or how to go about doing it. He has just come off a painful break up and rather than tackle the pain head on, he decides that the best course of action is to date a high school girl (he’s 24, she’s 17).

While in his precious little world of teen dating he meets Ramona Flowers, and immediately starts pursuing her. Ramona is first introduced via a dream in a plot device that is very lightly explained throughout the comics called the subspace highway. By accessing subspace Ramona is able to travel long distances in a short time, making her delivery job easier. She finds a convenient subspace highway that runs through Scott’s dreams and it is here that they first meet, making Ramona, quite literally, his dream girl. The downside of dating Ramona is her past and her seven evil ex’s who need to be defeated before Scott can win her heart.

This is the plot but the meaning behind it is far deeper and can be analysed and over analysed until your head hurts. It is a metaphor for the way many people feel growing up and the struggle that we all have to go through to put away childish things, overcome our fears and strive toward becoming the people we wish we were.

The Film

I tend to separate cinema into three categories: Movies, Films and the rest of the shit.  Movies are something you can leave your brain at the door and enjoy from a pure spectacle standpoint. They are fun but not entirely logical, may not have great screenplays and while you enjoy them at the time, they don’t really stay with you or resonate. Films are more thought provoking or work on more than one level and show off the art of cinema. They are crafted in such a way that the audience is drawn into them and remembers them long after they have left the cinema. The shit is, well, we have all seen the shit. They are made purely to have an impressive trailer or poster and are devoid of anything redeeming. ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ is a Film in my mind although it has quite a bit of Movie qualities too.

The film and the comic are remarkably similar but the brilliance of the film is that it cuts a lot of the fat from the book making it easily digestible for a mass audience. The language of the film and book is geek chic and that is both its best feature and worst detractor. By filling every frame with gaming, pop culture and music references, it brings its target viewer deep into the world with simultaneous overt and subconscious nostalgia. This is also a source of alienation for those that don’t understand the references or aren’t into the scene it is drawing from.

The language of the film appeals greatly to gamers as Scott is a gamer himself and deals with life through gamers eyes. This is not a film based in reality which frees it to be completely ludicrous without becoming stupid. In Scott’s mind he is a great fighter, his band is incredible and his appeal to the opposite sex is magnetic. This allows the film to have epic gravity defying fight sequences, power ups and boss battles escalating in difficulty, just like a game. It also creates spectacle with throwbacks to gaming genres and eras that we have grown up with and loved intensely.

Hollywood only makes more of what we demand and the only way we can tell them what we want is by voting with our wallets. When a unique film like this comes along and doesn’t do well, all the positive reviews in the world won’t secure that more films like it are made in the future. When a film like Transformers 2: Revenge of the Turd can make millions of dollars it only goes to indicate what audiences want and lo and behold, Transformers 3 is announced soon after. Scott Pilgrim isn’t doing as well at the box office as it deserves to and it is a real shame because this is the kind of film that we need to see more off from Hollywood and unless it does massive sales on DVD and Blu-ray, we may not see the likes of it again for some time, if at all.

The marketing of the film wasn’t particularly clear on what it was about and starring Michael Cera may have hurt it more than helped. While he has his fans, some people are just tired of his shtick. He plays a slightly different variation of his typical character here but it isn’t enough to stand out from his many similar performances. The other issue was timing as going up against The Expendables was a huge mistake. Given the choice between the two, explosions and violence always win out. This needed to be released during a slow film week, when there wasn’t much competition so that people would see it and word of mouth could secure success in the weeks that followed.

(For another take on the film, check out ko-zee-ii’s review of it for Australian Penthouse here…)

The Game

Currently available on both the PlayStation Network and the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a game that old school gamers will adore. It uses the conventions of the arcade games of the 80s and 90s with a loving wink at the player. A side scrolling beat ’em up, it draws upon the same style and language as its film and comic book counterparts with a generous dose of classic 8-bit gaming awesomeness. What makes it so much fun is its irreverent humour and simple but fun gameplay. It isn’t revolutionary by any means but it takes all the best parts of that era of gaming and does them so well that it is a total pleasure to play from start to finish.

Anyone who has spent hours at TimeZone pumping coins into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Final Fight, The Simpsons or X-Men has essentially played this game and that’s what makes it so much fun. It not only takes on elements of those games but it also borrows from them and pays homage to them. The level select screen is ripped from Super Mario and the menus from Zelda. The items you can purchase in game are dedicated to a wide range of much loved games and the subspace highway sections even have money bricks that spew coins when beaten to a pulp.

Scott Pilgrim can be played solo or by up to four players in co-op mode. There is no online co-op though, an issue I am of two minds about. On one hand, this is an old school title and having no online modes means you need to get a bunch of friends in a room and play this the way you would in the past; the way games like this should be enjoyed. On the other hand, not everyone has friends that are gamers and it is much easier to play with four people so being able to jump online at any time and find people to play with would be cool too.

Playing single-player the first time through, you have to play on the easiest setting. Anything higher and you will find yourself getting your arse handed to you.  This is one hard, brutal and unforgiving game. The harder modes are designed to be played once you have levelled your character and want to run through it with more of a challenge. Those people who refuse to play on anything less than the hardest difficulty will get punished for their stupidity here. I have read a few reviews where people complained that the characters moved too slow and that the game was too hard. To them I ask, did you actually play past the first 10 minutes?

As you kill enemies they drop coins, coins which you buy stuff with. Everything you buy adds stats to your character. You start at level one and you are kinda crap. Did Link start with the Master Sword? No, you had to earn it. Yeah ok, you move slowly and you have very few moves when you start but levelling up isn’t difficult and doesn’t take that much effort so harden up and get it done. You can level your character to level 16 and each level unlocks a new move and increases your stats a little. As you build your character stats, you hit harder, take less damage, run insanely fast and start one-shotting enemies on easy mode. That is when you should take on the harder difficulty. It won’t seem so insane but it is still rather challenging.

Ok, here is the no. 1 tip for anyone playing this game that I worked out the hard way. Don’t spend your money when you first reach the shopping district. I know it’s tempting, there are all these shops and they sell cool stuff but don’t do it. Save up your money and pay off Scott’s overdue fines at the video shop. It’s like $500 or so. It will allow you to purchase videos at $5 a pop which dramatically increase your characters stats. One of them also gives you an extra life which you can stack to nine lives. Having nine lives for a difficult boss fight is rather handy as you can imagine. Once you max out all your stats, the game becomes so ridiculously easy but at the same time you feel so overpowered that it is hilarious to smack the crap out of everything.

If you have people over to play this game, you should probably let them save their characters onto another profile on your PS3 so that when they come back they can continue building their stats. Also, when I played this with some friends, I played as my level 16 character and they were all sad and pathetic level one’s so I was smashing everything in sight and they were jealously watching my awesomeness. It wasn’t that fun for them so if you play with friends I suggest playing a level one with them so it feels more co-operative and you aren’t carrying them.

In co-op there are a few unique things that make it a slightly different experience than playing in single player. Firstly, if you die, one of the other players can revive you within 10 seconds so you don’t lose a life. If you do run out of lives, you run around as a ghost for a while and you can steal a life from a fellow player so you can continue playing. This is pretty cool when you have that person over that is unbelievably bad and keeps dying as they can keep playing without feeling left out. However, at the same time if they want to continually jump in the obvious hole in the ground and waste their lives, why should they be able to waste mine too? But I’m not bitter.

When you get to the shopping district you can give your mates some of your hard-earned (or hard ninja’d) cash so they can upgrade their stats. You can also turn off friendly fire if you want but it’s definitely more fun when you can bash your mates in the head with baseball bat.

The boss fights are a load of fun as well, except that ninja chick who I swear was created just to make me die a little inside. The later bosses seemed to get easier for me but that is because I had maxed out my stats by the time I reached them. I’ve yet to get up to them on the hardest mode (I’m still stuck on harpy from hell ninja chick) but if the difficulty so far is anything to go by, they should be a gut-wrenching challenge.

This is not an adaptation of the movie so much as it is an adaptation of the books. There are enemies and story arcs in the game that aren’t in the movie and the ending has been changed completely. Why it was changed I’m not really sure, although if you play through the game, I suppose it doesn’t ruin the ending of the movie for you. The art style of the game is perfect. The 8-bit era has been lovingly recreated with characters, backgrounds and enemies that are brilliantly executed. The animations on some of the enemies will make you laugh out loud (IRL LOL) and the chiptune music is a great addition to the game without ever getting annoying. I particularly loved the movie studio level for its green screen actor enemies, the ninja level for its Last Ninja and Shinobi references and the final level for its uncanny resemblance to the Technodrome.

If you love arcade beat em ups, want a good laugh and a cheap gaming experience this is definitely a game you need to own. On the easy setting it is probably only a 4-5 hour play through but once you have levelled your stats it will take you a damn long time to finish it on the hardest setting. There are also four characters to choose from, each with their own moves and each of which you can level individually so even if you finish it on one character, it is worth playing through again to level the others. For those with a need to be the very best, there is also an online leaderboard for those with the most cash so if you are insane enough you can even try getting on the scoreboard (I wouldn’t recommend it though, the top guy doesn’t seem to sleep and has millions of dollars of in-game currency).

Is Scott Pilgrim deserved of its fanboy hype? Yes it is. It does things that no other game, movie and comic book has done before and explores themes in a unique and fun way that it should be praised for. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? No, of course not, but for those into gaming, pop culture and music, it is required reading, watching and playing.

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