Beat-'em-ups reached their golden age in the 16-bit era (pun definitely not intended). Many of them were uninspired and repetitive, with wafer-thin gameplay, but the classics really shined and the quirky fringes were often good for a laugh. If you weren't into sports, what better way was there to entertain two or three friends on the Genesis or Super NES? And the two- to four-player beat-'em-ups put out by Konami, Capcom, and others were often among the busiest cabinets in the arcade.
In the present day, of course, gatherings tend to be over broadband lines and gamers favor more cinematic fare. But there might be a renaissance of sorts brewing for the multiplayer sidescroller. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a tribute to a bygone era for sure, but if it suceeds like Castle Crashers before it, we could see a lot more new I.P. in the genre.
The game is fairly similar to Castle Crashers, but of course it's really a paean to River City Ransom. You move from left-to-right unleashing crushing pain upon droves of undesirables while gathering coins to use in restaurants, coffee shops, and other stores. You gain experience points by beating and eating. The goal is to defeat the seven evil former love interests of Scott Pilgim's girlfriend, Ramona.
What amounts to forced solo action for most folks is very unfortunate.
Leveling up your attributes through conspicuous consumption is a little bit of a guessing game, since the items you buy never outright tell you which of the four stats they affect or to what degree until you actually buy them. You have to purchase an item to fully know what it does, though you might be able to guess its main effect from the name or description. As you increase your stats, you will be able to give and take more damage and you'll have more reserves for super moves and respawns that don't use up a life.
The super moves are pretty flat from a gameplay perspective, except for the team attack that gets flashier the more people there are in your party. But there is a rich variety of moves, and the rate at which they're unlocked feels just right. I never had to grind to get powerful enough to beat a boss, but the bosses weren't pushovers either. There were, however, regular trips to the shopping district to pick up a spare energy drink or strength-enhancing music CD.
The only truly disappointing aspect of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the glaring lack of online multiplayer. I've heard that this was a conscious decision, to retain as much of an old-school feel as possible, but it doesn't work - neither the excuse nor the gameplay dynamic. It's acceptable if you know three other people that are interested enough to play together, but the game is a decent length (longer than three of the other titles I've reviewed recently) and there are secrets to unlock once you beat it, so what amounts to forced solo action for most folks is very unfortunate. Some of the people I most want to play the game with live a thousand miles away. That kind of thing is a reality in the modern age, and the developers' failure to accommodate it in the name of some misguided sense of authenticity is unfortunate.
But even as a one-player game, there is a lot to love here. If you are at all into the genre, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is almost a must-play.