If there were a hierarchy of games in which the very best titles of all time stood at the top, you’d probably find most movie game adaptations very close to the bottom. They areĀ lacklusterĀ at best and nigh on unplayable at worst. Now what happens when you take a graphic novel series, turn that into a movie, and then turn that into a game? It wouldn’t be strange if you imagined that might be one of the worst games ever made. But if that’s what you thought just now, allow me to be the first to tell you that you’re absolutely wrong.

For those of you who weren’t following Scott Pilgrim, let’s recap the basic premise. Scott Pilgrim is 23 years old, member of his own indie band, the Sex Bob-ombs, and a loveable loser. He meets Ramona Flowers, a girl that he literally sees in his dreams. He falls in love with her and she falls for him too, but there’s one small problem. If he wants to date her, Scott Pilgrim must fight and defeat her seven evil exes. Thus begins the greatest battle in Scott’s life for the love of his life.

The usual tactic would be to go for a direct adaptation, making the game as close to the movie as possible. That leads us to an HD and 3D rendering of Michael Cera awkwardly fumbling with Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s bra strap. And honestly, who wants to see that? Well, OK, I would. But that wouldn’t necessarily make for a fun game.

But somebody was thinking outside the box. Somebody looked at the source material and its occasional nods to old-school gaming and decided that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game needed to be a completely different beast. The result is this:

In possibly the ultimate nod to the various 80’s and 90’s video game references in the original books, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is a classic arcade-style 2D side-scrolling fighter for up to four players, chiptunes (by Anamanaguchi, no less), pixel art, and all. You can play as Scott, Ramona, Kim, Stiles or one more surprise character as you fight your way through countless minions to defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes to help Scott win her heart.

What I like about it

The game manages to perfectly recapture the feeling of classic 2D side-scrolling fighting games from the 90’s. For that alone I give the developers a standing ovation. The game could sell itself by pure nostalgia factor alone but it also delivers a quality experience on top of that.

The controls are fluid. I’ve found the analog stick to be best, since smashing it left or right will cause your character to start dashing. I quickly found myself able to land multi-hit combos and even juggle enemies, which was intensely satisfying. The controls are also fairly simple to pick up. I dropped friends into it without any introduction and within seconds they pretty much had the hang of it.

As you progress through the game, your characters gain levels, improve their stats, and learn new moves. Those new moves give you even more options for combos (see above) or otherwise make your character just that much more efficient and deadly. Again, intensely satisfying and I like the way it serves as a balancing mechanic for the game’s steep difficulty curve. Keep trying the stage again and again and eventually you’ll level up enough to make it through.

There are many cute little touches that make every moment of the game amusing. For example, the Subspace Highway is littered with glitches that are reminiscent of an NES cartridge that needs a good blowing to get the dust out of it. Some of the mundane objects that can be used as weapons or thrown have little smiley faces on them. Toronto’s Shopping District, featured in the first stage, is lined with hipsters hanging out by the shops and sometimes TTC buses pass by to drop off troublesome passenger. Little emoticon speech bubbles convey emotions for the various minions, particularly amusing when you knock one down and he makes a little angry face.

What I don’t like about it

I often find myself not quite lined up with the enemy I want to hit or the item I want to pick up, which gets frustrating after a while. The shopping mechanic is interesting, but navigating it is both slow and annoying, particularly with multiple players. Only one player can be up at the counter making orders at a time, which leaves the others impatiently milling about.

The game has a mechanic which allows you to trade Gut Points (used for special attacks) for Heart Points (if these go to 0 you die). This is a fantastic way to get just that little bit more out of your last life, but during the time that you’re getting up you can still get hit. This can sometimes lead to having you watch your character get hopelessly thrashed about.

In summary

If you pine for the good old days of gaming and have fond memories of 2D side-scrolling fighting games like Battletoads, Double Dragon, River City Random, and many more like them, this game is for you. If you also love the books or film, it’s even more so. This is one of the best PS3 games I’ve played to date and I’d recommend it to anyone.