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Scooby-Doo First Frights Wii has simply too much fighting and not enough fleeing to feel like a real Scooby story. This monster (button) mash is a simplistic and solid action platformer that will be fun for young fans, but which doesn't live up to the Lego movie adaptations it tries to mirror.
Scooby-Doo was created over forty years ago, and has been starring in cartoons, live-action movies, and spin-off merchandise ever since. The first computer game magazine I ever bought featured a rave review of a Scooby-Doo game which, it being the mid-1980s at the time, saw the cowardly dog squeezed into a side-scrolling platform game, punching wave after wave of ghosts.
Over two decades later comes First Frights, which loosely ties in to the live-action straight-to-DVD prequel movie 'Scooby-Doo The Mystery Begins'. The game features a similarly school-age Mystery Inc in their early adventures, but rather than resemble the actors the characters look like stumpier versions of the original cartoon gang, but with Pixar-influenced character designs.
In some ways we've come a long way from the two-dimensional, two-colour graphics and discordant sound effects of the 8-bit home computer era: First Frights is an up to date production with stylised 3D graphics, dialogue by professional voice actors and a full score.
In one respect however this is exactly the same deal as we got in the 1980s, a property shoe-horned into a currently fashionable game template with little regard for how the generic gameplay fits with the story.
First Frights, models itself on the recent Lego adaptations - Lego Star Wars, Lego Batman, Lego Harry Potter etc. If you've played one of these, you'll know what to expect: run around, smash objects and collect the bits which burst out (in this case Scooby Snax rather than Lego bricks), mash buttons to beat bad guys, complete simple switch-based puzzles, and fight the occasional boss.
Seeing Scooby and Shaggy using a combination of melee and distance attacks on ghosts doesn't fit, especially when the cut-scenes reminded me that these characters are abject cowards who run from danger rather than facing it.
Other familiar features are a no-fail approach that allows free exploration without fear of 'Game Over', alternate costumes with special abilities to collect, and the option to play through levels again with any of the characters after you've completed them in story mode. It's a good template for a kids' game, one that encourages exploration and provides simple, surmountable challenges. Kids who enjoy the Lego games, and who like Scooby Doo, will get a kick out of this.
However, the Lego formula loses something in translation to a world that isn't made out of tiny plastic bricks. The Lego games work so well because they combine stories and characters we already know with our own experiences of playing with real-world Lego. Make Batman out of Lego, and it makes perfect sense that everything around him can be smashed into pieces, and the bricks then cashed in for new models. It's a system we all understand: break up and re-build.
Scooby Snax may fulfil the same function in First Frights, but there's not the same logical under-pinning. Without that logic of demolition and re-building, smashing things up to get Snax is just endless busywork, the kind of pointless collecting that games force you to do. It isn't very fun because there's no obvious reason for the task to be there.
There's a similar problem with the combat: Batman, Indiana Jones and the Star Wars characters all punch and/or shoot bad guys all the time, we're used to it. Even Harry Potter and pals zap things with their wands.
However, seeing Scooby and Shaggy using a combination of melee and distance attacks on ghosts doesn't fit, especially when the cut-scenes reminded me that these characters are abject cowards who run from danger rather than facing it. There are occasional chase scenes where Shaggy and Scooby have to run from one of the bosses, but while these are well-executed and have the right sense of panic, they're brief compared to the hours of spook-punching the cowardly pals manage to get up to.
The result is a game that fails to mesh its story with its mechanics, and therefore feels empty.
These gameplay elements are made more jarring by the efforts the game makes to feel authentic. The storyline is authentically Scooby-ish, with each 'episode' having a central monster and a choice of suspects. The gags are exactly as bad as they used to be, and come with a burst of 1970s-style canned laughter after every punchline (thankfully, you can turn this off when it begins to drive you insane, which in my case was immediately).
The result is a game that fails to mesh its story with its mechanics, and therefore feels empty. The central plots are strong (well, by Scooby-Doo standards, anyway) but the actual gameplay doesn't feel like it has anything to do with the story. All that running and jumping and fighting and smashing is out of character, and feels pointless.
Finally, while the production seems very professional on the surface, there are hints of cheapness and poor quality control around the edges. Dialogue samples repeat far too often, and sometimes arrive out of context: Daphne will get out her fighting talk even if you're just smashing up the furniture to gather Scooby Snax, which is most of the time.
I also found at least one bug that allowed me to trap myself, unable to progress but unable to backtrack and work my way around the problem: my only choice was to quit out and restart the entire level. And these are long levels, with no interim save points, so that's a lot of game to have to re-do.
Ruh-roh, as Scooby might say.
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