Though I often cover Wii games that can pretty much be bought for pennies, occasionally I’ll venture into a slightly higher price range. The exception I made this time is for Scooby Doo: First Frights – having always been a fan, I thought I’d give this a try, especially as the blurb and cover art looked so appealing. Though I mention a ‘higher price range’, we’re still only talking £4 quid, rather than £1 or less, so it wasn’t exactly too much of a stretch beyond my usual budget to pick this one up.
Scooby Doo has been around since the 60s. It’s endured through some seriously questionable incarnations (the first Scooby Doo cartoon I was familiar with as a very young kid was the near-universally reviled Scrappy Doo version), as well as some absolutely brilliant twists on what has been a pretty standard formula for 50 (yes, 50!) years.
Scooby Doo: First Frights has some unusual character design; it seems to be pitching the characters as younger than we’ve come to expect them to be, yet the voices are all identical to the ones we’re so familiar with (including Frank Welker as Fred and Scooby, Mindy Cohn as Velma, Grey DeLisle as Daphne and Scott Innes as Shaggy). Even stranger than the very young-looking characters with mature voices is the fact that this game was released to coincide with the awful live action TV movie Scooby Doo: The Mystery Begins, which generally did a really poor job of casting and recreating the animated characters we know and love. So we have a game with younger versions of the animated characters, featuring the usual voice cast, promoting a pretty much-unrelated and unloved TV movie origin story. Confused yet?
In any case, the game itself is definitely pitched at younger players. It plays a lot like a Travellers Tales Lego game; simple platforming and combat with lots and lots of collectables to be found in nearly every object in the environment. Instead of Lego studs, however, you’ll be collecting Scooby Snacks; the rush of seeing your total of these items balloon throughout the levels remains very similar, however. Scooby Snacks can be used to purchase alternate costumes for your characters from the main menu of the game.
You’ll play through four ‘episodes’ – in total, there are 22 levels spread across these episodes, with a different villain and setting for each of them. There’s a mystery aspect to each of the four episodes, which sets Scooby Doo: First Frights aside from the Lego games that it so capably – and respectfully – imitates. Throughout the levels, your characters will find clues to assist with solving the current episode’s mystery – when you defeat the boss at the end of the episode, you’ll be asked to solve the mystery by choosing the correct suspect, based on the clues you’ve collected and the cutscenes you’ve watched throughout the episode. Though it’s possibly to get this wrong, the only ill effect from this is that you won’t collect that villain’s mask; it’s easy enough to play through the level again and guess correctly in order to earn the mask, however.
Levels can be tackled in single player – with character switching reminiscent of the Lego games – or drop in/out co-op. The characters for each level are pre-selected, however, but you’ll get to control a variety of pairings of the Mystery Inc team as the narrative switches throughout each episode. There’s a merciful lack of motion controls, with support for the classic controller – which is very welcome. I cringe when I read the features for Wii games, when they often tout ‘Exclusive’ or ‘Unique’ Wii controls, because it’ll often mean poorly-implemented and frustratingly unresponsive motion controls – thankfully, there’s none of that to be found.
There’s a number of animated cutscenes throughout the game and they’re really well done, especially by Wii standards. This doesn’t seem to have been a rush job, thankfully – as so many licensed games often were on the Wii. The art direction and cartoon feel to the scenes is brilliant; there’s even a laugh track to add that extra layer of 60s-Hanna Barbera cartoon authenticity. In game, the visuals and sound effects are nicely done too; bold, bright colours and a nice cartoony aesthetic to the scenery is all to be found here. The episode structure of the game is a nice nod to the classic Scooby Doo cartoons; the unmasking of the villain is a great touch too.
However, there are a few issues that stop the game from being a complete success. Despite the overall difficulty level – and charmingly spooky, rather than outright scary, nature of the mysteries and villains – making it clear that it’s aimed at younger players, there are a few overly fussy platforming sections that can be really frustrating even for the more seasoned gamers among us, not least because the camera angle is sometimes fixed in a very awkward and unhelpful position (though there’s little punishment for ‘dying’). Speaking of the camera, there are a few scenes – particularly those involving stairs – that cause the camera to go completely haywire, though these are mercifully brief. There’s not a huge variety of enemies, either, though they do at least vary between episodes. Despite there being 22 levels, it’s a pretty short game that only the youngest and most inexperienced of players will have any trouble breezing through – and with only minimal reason to play through the game again (you may want to go back and collect masks or find costumes you missed the first time around, as well as perhaps collect enough Scooby Snacks to buy all of the available costumes), there’s not a great deal of replay value here.
So, for the most part, Scooby Doo: First Frights is a success; a great, very authentically Scooby-esque game for players of all ages – with a few minor niggles that, thankfully, don’t ruin the entire experience. The decision to closely follow the template of the consistently excellent Lego games was a good one, and definitely paid off here. Though met with a somewhat frosty critical reception upon release, I struggle to see why – Scooby Doo: First Frights is a charming and fun game which, although brief, doesn’t outstay its welcome. If you’re a Scooby Doo fan like me, or if you have younger players in the family – and access to a Wii (or Wii U, of course) – I’d highly recommend checking it out.
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