When "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" made the leap from black-and-white comic books to the silver screen, Hollywood ditched the ink aesthetic for real actors and dowsed the lighthearted fight scenes in vivid color. But the Scott Pilgrim video game, which debuts in August alongside the theatrical release, took a very different route.
Rather than match the movie's live-action pyrotechnics – something video games have become very good at in recent years – the designers chose an art style reminiscent of Sega Genesis, a game console now more than two decades old. The characters are purposefully pixelated; the music is deliberately low-fi. If not for the fact that it's programmed for current HD machines, Scott Pilgrim could easily be mistaken for a long-lost Nintendo game.
"We all grew up with [the original Nintendo] and Genesis and all the old systems," says Justin Cyr, one of the game's 2-D animators. "There's a certain nostalgia to these retro-looking games. Sometimes simpler is better."
Scott Pilgrim is just the latest title to tap into older gamers' retro affections. Several major publishers and countless indie programmers are designing new games to look like old ones.
Video game giant Capcom recently released Mega Man 9 and 10, which look and act like Mega Man 1 and 2 from the 1980s. The new Dark Void Zero pretends to be the 8-bit predecessor to Dark Void, a modern 3-D action title. To build excitement for the Sylvester Stallone film "The Expendables," designers created a free Facebook game that apes the 1987 classic shooter Contra. Apple's iPhone and iPad app store recently highlighted "Retro Revival" games as its top featured category.
This bygone style attracts both wistful players and game publishers. Ubisoft, who developed Scott Pilgrim, also made Assassin's Creed 2, a blockbuster game with superlative graphics, which required a team of 450 and a budget that rivals those of summer action flicks. The simpler pixel art of Scott Pilgrim took only 15 to 20 people. This much smaller investment means Ubisoft can take more risks with such games and price the downloadable title at $15 instead of the usual $60.
"During the '90s, there was a push for 3-D. What people forget is that 2-D wasn't broken," says Scott Steinberg, founder of GameExec magazine. "Now there's definitely been a movement to bring 8-bit-style games back into prominence."
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