Absence can make the heart grow fonder, and with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game the wait has set me up to fall in love with its retro gaming nostalgia-fest all over again. Its return couldn’t have come at a better time either. Cooped up in my home away from friends and family while the days are short, cold, and in the grips of the ongoing pandemic, the decade-old beat ‘em up is helping me recharge when I needed to most.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game was originally released back in 2010 to coincide with the release of Universal’s film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, about a group of 20-something Toronto slackers navigating life and relationships through video game-inspired hijinks. A joint project by Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Chengdu, it offered a Scott Pilgrim-spin on the beat ‘em up RPG-lite classic, River City Ransom, that was elevated both by artist Paul Robertson’s bubbly animation-style and chiptune punk band Anamanaguchi’s upbeat soundtrack. The digital-only release blew up on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade as a competent licensed game with a deep, indie heart. And then December 30, 2014, it was delisted from both storefronts, disappearing quietly and seemingly forever, transforming into a poster child for the pitfalls of gaming preservation in a digital age.
Now it’s back on PS4 and Xbox One, alongside PC, Switch, and Stadia, and every bit as good as I remember it. Beat ‘em ups have had a bit of a renaissance these last few years, and while Scott Pilgrim vs. The World can’t match the new gold standard in the genre recently set by Streets of Rage 4, it’s still a really fun playground to chill out in. Like its source material, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World revolves around its titular protagonist falling in love with a package courier named Romona Flowers and fighting her seven paranormally-powered ex-boyfriends in the process.
Between the cutscenes and boss battles though, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is mainly about getting into fist-fights with mobs of random strangers in the streets of Toronto and using the experience and money earned to level up and unlock new abilities. Levels, arrayed like a Super Mario Bros. overworld map, are meant to be replayed, and feature shops where you can spend money on food to increase stats like health, strength, and speed. Pay off Scott’s $US500 ($649) in late fines at the video rental shop and you unlock a menu of even more powerful upgrades to buy. Enter a cheat code (Square, Square, Square, X, Circle, Triangle on PS4) and you can start every level with a deadly sword that sends out Master Sword-style energy waves.
Everything in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is as it was before, like coming back to your childhood bedroom, perfectly preserved in the years since you left, out of negligence as much as anything else. This includes the imperfect but workable online multiplayer, previously released as DLC years after the game first came out. Back then it felt like an afterthought, but today it’s a godsend. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an exceedingly pleasant stroll down memory lane playing solo, but with a friend or group it morphs into a proper hangout. I’ve been playing here and there with friends and strangers over the past week, and it’s felt like the unexpected reprieve of a snow day combined with the freewheeling exuberance of a post-barcrawl coop session — two things rendered mirage-like fantasies by the pandemic.
There are of course plenty of other great multiplayer games for chilling out with friends. More than ever, in fact. But none hits all the same welcoming notes for me the way Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does, a retro homage that returns with a unique layer of nostalgia all its own. This last year has been a mess, and no matter how much I don’t want to face the next day, it always comes. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just what I needed right now to make the nights before last a little bit longer.