Scott Pilgrim Vs. Its Video Game References
Shortly into the first chapter of the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World comic we are introduced to The Sex Bob-ombs band, the first of many video game references Scott Pilgrim’s illustrated world throws at us. You may remember bob-ombs from the Super Mario series: living round black bombs with a turning key in their backs. The Mario references continue in his desert dream, in which the cactus has a face - a trademark enemy in the Super Mario series, as well. The beauty of these comics is that the references work well and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s plot brings in a basic video game storyline with a leading character who is a gamer.
Like many games, the plot of the comics is a classic save-the-princess type of deal, complete with boss fights and special moves, which again hearkens back to the days of Mario. In that famous series, Princess Peach is kidnapped by Bowser and before Mario can be with her he has to defeat what usually amounts to 8 evil bosses. Here we have Ramona Flowers, who though is not physically held hostage, is emotionally hostage to her past dating experiences of break-ups, bad boyfriends, and her own wrongdoings. She tells Scott that he must first defeat her 7 evil exes before they can be together, solidifying Ramona’s role as “the princess” of this story.
Another video game plot similarity is the RPG amnesia schtick. In many RPGs (i.e. several Final Fantasy games, Xenogears, and more) we are given a hero who either has no memory of his past or has no knowledge of the world he/she’s in. Scott is no different; though he appears to be a normal person, he also starts out knowing nothing - not because of amnesia or being transported to another world/time period, but because he is actually that clueless, oblivious, and self-involved. Continuing in typical RPG fashion, Scott happens to be a great fighter (the best) and aims to better himself to get the girl.
Scott Pilgrim’s battles with the evil exes are chock full of gaming mentions as well. When fighting Matthew Patel (evil ex #1) he does Street Fighter’s signature Shoryuken with Kim Pine (Sex Bob-omb bassist and friend of Scott’s) acting as the hit counter as she yells out each number, and the X-Strike Double-Tech from Chrono Trigger is used later in the series. When defeated, the exes drop coins like in most games that include a monetary system. In those games, the hero collects money from fallen foes, be they human, monster, or animal. One ex, Todd Ingram, actually leaves a 1-UP behind shaped like Scott’s head – a clear reference to games like Mega Man that use the character’s likeness as an extra life item drop.
It’s not all sex, violence, and money, though – there’s rock ‘n roll, too. Being a member of the Sex Bob-ombs, Scott admits to learning the baseline from Final Fantasy 2, wears a Rock Band t-shirt, and plays with bands like The Clash at the Demonhead, Kid Chameleon, and Sonic and Knuckles, which are all also video game titles.
But the reason the references work so well is because they are dispersed throughout six volumes of several hundred pages each, sprinkled generously throughout the daily lives of young men and women who are faced with real life considerations like working in order to earn rent money, going to concerts and parties, obsessing over someone, hating the friend of a friend, and general self-loathing. The story of love and angst is enhanced by the unusually heavy (and often blatant) game references, showing that in this ordinary world of angst and failed romance the extraordinary is less of a big deal. Because the characters act like Shoryukens and things like Ramona’s infinite purse (from which she pulls out a hammer that has +2 against girls) are unusual but believable occurrences, those occurrences feel like they fit in with that world. And with situation-relevant game references that pop up, the world begins to act like a video game. For example, before Scott is about to see his super-famous ex-girlfriend, Envy Adams, a save point appears, and when Scott and Ramona are referred to as an item Scott imagines things like a Fire Flower and a mushroom.
As the comic’s volumes move on, gaming becomes more and more prevalent in Scott’s life. He constantly plays Genesis and NES, and by volume 6 is hooked on what is clearly a PSPGo. He even goes so far as to daydream of being in Link’s clothing, confused within what resembles the Lost Woods. But the best testament of the video game-ness in Scott’s life is when he defeats Ramona’s twin ex-boyfriends and the comic states: “Achievement Unlocked” for defeating the twins at the same time (which was included in the XBLA/PSN Scott Pilgrim game as an actual achievement/trophy). Other references populate the story more and more, like Scott’s shirts, which range from a Dragon Quest slime to a Mother 2 logo, or Gidgeon’s headband, which looks like an inverted Tri-Force. And let’s not forget Gidgeon’s cryogenic chambers that hold his six other ex-girlfriends, strongly resembling not only the seven maidens encased in crystal in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but also the seven Princesses of Heart in Kingdom Hearts.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is for anyone who thinks of their health in HP and endurance bars and silently levels up whenever they experience a real life achievement. And though it uses versions and spoofs of existing games to further its story, the series remains smart, funny, sensitive at its sincerest, and very badass at its best.