Nostalgia is a difficult thing to manufacture. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World tries to home in on long-lost memories of gaming's past, but the results are often as aggravating as they are endearing. This flashy side-scrolling brawler uses a colorful aesthetic plucked right out of the 16-bit era, but because it doesn't add any modern amenities, it doesn't differentiate itself from classic beat-'em-ups from yesteryear. The most glaring omission is online cooperative play, which would have made it a lot easier to team up with your buddies. But even local co-op has issues. You cannot jump in or out in the middle of a level, and if you recruit three friends to help you out, the screen is so cluttered that it's just a mess of chaos. Despite these looming problems, though, Scott Pilgrim is a fun trip down memory lane, and the level-up system and hidden goodies do a good job of giving this game legs after you finish the short campaign.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is based on the comic of the same name, but the story stays firmly in the background. Your goal as Scott is to destroy the seven evil exes of your new love, Ramona, but there aren't any long-winded cutscenes to distract you from the butt-kicking action. If you're familiar with the source material, there are clever nods and little touches sprinkled about that will tickle your recognition bone. For instance, during a fight sequence that takes place after a big concert, there are characters standing in the background who will be familiar to fans of the comic books. But these elements are so unobtrusive that even a Pilgrim tenderfoot can enter the fray without missing a beat. Although the story isn't much, there are multiple endings to strive for, which give you a tangible reason to play through a few times.
The seven levels in Scott Pilgrim all have you walking down a structured path, punching and kicking anyone who stands in your way. You start out as a feeble fighter, but you level up when you finish off enough bad guys, which in turn gives you access to new moves. An expanded arsenal makes this game much more interesting, letting you move beyond the simple light-attack/heavy-attack combos that encompass the early moments. Unlocking flying kicks, elbow drops, sliding tackles, and flaming uppercuts gives the combat a burst of energy, and the unrelenting swarm of enemies forces you to dig deep into your repertoire to have any chance to stay alive. You also earn money by killing your coldhearted enemies, which you can use to purchase stat boosts in handy shops. These mechanics give you the feeling that you're progressing in the game, even when you find your forward momentum halted by a boss who refuses to fall to your might.
Most bosses can be overcome by replaying earlier levels so you can bulk up to respectability, but this is also one of the problems with the game. The balance is slanted toward cooperative play, so trying to brave these levels alone is like getting punched in the gut by a big bully. When you and a friend combine your might, though, Scott Pilgrim is old-school fun. Enemies attack from all sides, so you have to watch each other's back if you want to stay alive. If your partner loses all of his health, you can swoop and bring him back to life, but it's not as easy as it sounds. It takes a few seconds to help a fallen ally, and in that time, you can be attacked by the aggressive foes. This can be aggravating when birds won't stop dive-bombing you, but it ultimately keeps things fair since the game would be too easy if you could resurrect him without an obstacle. Scott Pilgrim is at its best in two-player mode, but if you go forth with four players, you are in for a world of hurt. It's difficult to keep track of what's going on with so many characters and enemies onscreen, so it turns into a maddening, button-mashing muddle.
Although the simple gameplay is the most pertinent throwback to classic brawlers, the visuals also draw heavily from a long-lost era. The hand-drawn characters are nicely detailed and smoothly animated, and there are clever blur techniques thrown in to make your punches seem more powerful. The backgrounds encompass a wide variety of different environments, from the snow-covered streets of Toronto to a zombie-filled graveyard, though the color palette is not vibrant enough to make these scenes stand out. The biggest problem with the visuals, though, is that you can't always see what's going on. When a cooperative pal falls in combat, the death timer is so large that it can obscure your view. Also, when enemies attack in a group, it's difficult to recognize when they are punching, which renders the block button all but useless. The cartoony charm goes a long way toward making Scott Pilgrim stand out from similar games, but visibility issues hamper your fun.
You can finish the game in just a few hours, but there is still replay value for people craving more face-punching action. Unlocking the extra characters takes a bit of time and skill. There are also hidden shops, branching paths, and multiple endings, and it's fun to replay levels to find all of their secrets. Despite the healthy replay value, endearing visuals, and classic gameplay, there are some problems in Scott Pilgrim that are difficult to overlook. The lack of online support is not only puzzling in the modern era, but downright annoying if you want to play with long-distance pals, and the fact that you can't even jump into a friend's game midlevel puts up another barrier to entry. Furthermore, things are so cluttered with four players that just staying alive is a trial. These blemishes certainly tarnish the experience, but Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is still a fun brawler at its heart.