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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Xbox 360) artwork

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Xbox 360) review

"Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that the levels in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World often feel like they were borrowed from classic fare such as Final Fight, Double Dragon and River City Ransom. There is a gratuitous number of cracked sidewalks, fire hydrants that spray water when you punch them, trash cans, park benches and bus stops. The attention to detail here is delightful."

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the rare license-based game that doesn't feel at all like the sort of project that wouldn't have been interesting without a movie and a comic to precede it. To prove that point to myself, but also because I had no money for tickets, I dove right into the game without even seeing the film that inspired it. If bills and financial reality have left you similarly encumbered, I encourage you to do the same thing.

Forget the movie for a moment, and Michael Cera's smoldering gaze (it's difficult, yes, but try). If you're old enough, think back to the days when you were so very, very young and 8-bit and 16-bit games were the most awesome thing since the notion of spray-on cootie repellent. Are you remembering? Now try to visualize the games of the era and, if possible, I want you to hear them in your mind. If you can do all of that, then on the oh-so-important aesthetic level you already know what it feels like to play Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

For better and for worse, this is a game that owes its visual style, its aural approach, its general sensibilities and its very existence in the presence to the games that we loved playing as children in the past. The developers clearly spent their childhoods playing the same stuff that I did. I'd wager that more than one of them blew dust out of an old NES cartridge (even though the manual said not to) and possibly even paused Street Fighter II: The World Warrior while Chun-Li was performing her backflip. You know, because then her turquoise panties were showing.

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that the levels in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World often feel like they were borrowed from classic fare such as Final Fight, Double Dragon and River City Ransom. There is a gratuitous number of cracked sidewalks, fire hydrants that spray water when you punch them, trash cans, park benches and bus stops. The attention to detail here is delightful. It extends beyond functionality and into the realm of the uber-important. Witness the loving care with which the sprite for the girl who stands in front of the No-Account Video store is animated. Watch as her bosom sways hypnotically while she fidgets next to her boyfriend. Observe the cat who sits placidly in the background near the garage that serves as the entrance to a super-secret bonus stage, one of many that you'll encounter on your adventure. Even when there's new stuff to see, like that oddly-shaped cat or the monstrously huge piggy banks that fly through the glitched bonus stages, it all feels familiar. This is the sort of game where you'll swear that you've seen (and heard) it all a million times before, even if you never have. What's remarkable is the realization that you're loving every derivative minute of it.

Well, almost every minute. "Never-ending Fantasy" can on occasion feel more like a descriptor than it does a playful tribute to Final Fantasy in a secret item shop. No amount of personality can hide the fact that this game is a flagrant clone of any number of games from a genre that many gamers happily abandoned in the days before it was possible to trick your friends into viewing Rick Astley music videos online. Even though we've now reached 2010, you still get through a stage in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by bashing heads, moving slightly up or down along the screen to dodge a rushing head butt and spamming jump kicks like an angry clown on a trampoline. There's more variety when it comes down to who you're fighting, but ultimately your style of play doesn't change a whole lot whether you're beating down a jock, a guy in a Godzilla suit or a groupie.

With that said, the developers did make some attempts at innovation. Or at least, they cleverly borrowed a few of the right RPG elements. The new system means that while you can select stages from the world map and proceed in numbered order as you take down evil ex-boyfriends who had the nerve to get with your girlfriend before you did, tackling every stage in rapid succession is bound to prove tiring. Thugs you face in level two are much more proficient and a great deal more numerous than the ones you dealt with in the previous stage. To survive, you'll need to level up your character. You'll need to gain new abilities so that you can pull your hapless foes close to you and pummel their faces, or so that you can roll out of a backwards fall and avoid getting buried under a pile of juvenile gangsters.

In another nod to the RPG infusion, the game is set up so that every enemy yields experience points and coins when defeated. The coins you can use to pick up consumable items for later use. Sipping on a hot drink can refill your health a bit, or give you more guts so that you can later recover from a near-knockout punch. More valuable items can make permanent upgrades to your character so that suddenly every punch you land has more impact, or so that you're able to absorb more damage without falling to the floor in a nerdy heap. Beverages make an acceptable substitute if you don't have a friend playing along beside you.

Bolstered by such clever design choices, the game is free to revel in its pilfered identity. That means a lot of over-the-top homage to the absurdity that was the 80s and early 90s video game. Whether you're listening to the pumping vibes as a stretch limousine arrives to deliver Clash at Demonhead (one of your foes, not the classic game) or leaping backward to avoid a samurai sword slash that severs a train, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is happy to flaunt its personality. That makes it a great deal more fun to revisit old stages while you're bulking up Scott or one of his friends, but it doesn't change the fact that you must level up each of the four selectable characters individually if you want to see them kick maximum butt.

While I'm harping on such things, I should mention that I also really didn't care for the way that the game keeps track of your lives and energy without providing generous freebie refills. Since you select individual stages from a world map, you might suppose that you'll begin each new stage with a full life meter and perhaps even a fresh stock of lives. That's not how things work, though. If you finish stage three and you're a life or two down with another one about to expire, you'll be in for a world of hurt if you start stage four without spending some time to rejuvenate in between. Technically it's possible to keep going, but when you get to the end of a stage and the boss mops the floor with you because you haven't yet learned his attack patterns, well... that's disappointing. The only silver lining to that little black raincloud is the fact that you get to keep any coins you acquired along the way.

Of course, most of my complaints can rightly be identified as nitpicks. Certainly, they shouldn't dissuade you from downloading this game if you're excited by the promise of a competent action brawler. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does nearly everything just the way that it should, provides a bunch of interesting locations, a rocking soundtrack, charming and detailed graphics and enough character customization to keep you busy for hours. It feels extremely dated, but that's intentional and completely okay. After all, there were some things about gaming in the 80s and 90s that totally ruled. Scott Pilgrim is here to remind you what they were. And to get with the girl, admittedly, but I like to think that it's mostly the first thing.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 22, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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