Just in time for the release of Warner Bros. new live-action movie, Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins, First Frights comes to Wii and PS2 for an adventure featuring your favorite, mystery-solving K9. The gameplay doesn’t make for the most logical use of the license, but Mystery, Inc. manages to pull off a fairly decent show here.
Scooby Doo! First Frights is broken up into four individual episodes, each consisting of a handful of levels. The presentation is well conceived overall, though the game skimps on story and dialogue. At certain points during a level, you’ll hear the team communicate with each other via walkie-talkie, pondering the mystery at hand. The conversations and episode progression definitely possess a Scooby Doo essence, but action takes precedence over storytelling.
If you were expecting an adventure game, one in which you’re probing various characters for info, digging up clues, and generally unraveling mysteries, you might be surprised to learn that First Frights is actually a beat’em-up. There is a bit of platforming and item hunting tossed into the mix, but for the most part, you’ll be doing a lot of brawling.
Surprisingly, it works and it’s mostly fun. The controls are simple; you’ve got a basic attack, jump and double jump, and each character has a special ability, such as being able to repel projectiles or dash through the air. Fred, Scooby, and Daphne, for instance, all have melee attacks, whereas Velma lobs books at her enemies, and Shaggy uses a slingshot.
You’re sent into each level with two pre-determined characters, and you can switch between them on the fly. Each character has an inherent ability that plays into the level design, though you’ll never be greatly challenged. Shaggy can use his yo-yo to zip up to out-of-reach areas, and Daphne can navigate pipes, poles, and chains. In most cases, you’ll be using these abilities to reach levers to open doors and such in order to progress through the level. It’s nothing new, of course, but the mechanics work smoothly.
Each episode is quite unique in terms of motif, and the individual levels are varied up nicely as well. Most areas consist of dispatching a handful of foes, finding a lever or instrument panel, and then moving on for a bit of platforming. Though the combat is very basic, offering little to no challenge, it’s fun in short stints. Unfortunately, the later levels become a little overbearing, throwing wave upon wave of enemies at you with no real rhyme or reason.
Almost everything in the game is breakable, and you’re encouraged to be destructive. Boxes, benches, lounge chairs, and vehicles – they’re all fair game. Oftentimes, puzzle fragments will be hidden inside environmental objects, and you’ll be required to demolish everything in sight in order to acquire all of the pieces to uncover a clue. Most destructables contain Scooby Snacks (the game’s currency for purchasing unlockables) as well, and it can become an addictive process simply pounding away in hopes of gathering more grub.
A lot of the game’s platforming is surprisingly clever, but it’s often either too dark to see platforms well enough, or the 3D perspectives are deceiving. The camera, too, can be problematic, pulling in too close when in tight quarters with enemies, or pulling too far back when being forced to negotiate dimly lit areas.
The selection of enemies throughout the game is impressive, though mashing the attacking button works fine on most foes. Some of the latter enemies are a bit more challenging and fun to fight, but most players will never see a “game over” screen.
Each episode ends with a boss stage and, for the most part, they’re an entertaining challenge. Some issues with collision detection can cause a bit of frustration, but the three-stage formula for most bosses is well crafted.
In addition to action-adventure levels, each episode contains one “Chase” sequence. It’s one of those deals that has you running toward the screen while being chased by some baddie. None of these little bits of gameplay are very fun, but thankfully, they take only a minute or two to complete.
We came across a few glitches here and there that had us stuck behind walls, though we were never stopped in our tracks for too long. The main issue we had with the game was getting at the extra content. Though there are tons of costumes to purchase, there doesn’t seem to be an option to choose from amongst them when replaying missions. Additionally, you’re given the same pre-determined characters when revisiting levels, and we were unable to access areas that required other character abilities.
First Frights is a strangely satisfying romp, however, that pays fun homage to the series. Daphne is a bit more flirtatious and violent than we remember her being, but she’s also one of the best characters to take control of in the game. Destroying everything in a level becomes is a guilty pleasure, especially when there are collectibles to uncover.
Cooperative play also helps, affording you the opportunity to have a friend or family member jump into the game at any time. The camera stays locked on both characters at all times, and considering the nature of most levels, it’s a design that works. Combat and platforming can get a bit tricky, though, if you and your partner don’t stay close enough together. Still, it’s a nice feature that adds value to the overall package.
Production-wise, the game has a great style, but it’s no technical marvel by any means. Character models are blocky and lack detail, though facial expressions are excellent. The animations are fluid, and the lighting adds a great sense of mood throughout levels. Again, things can get a tad too dark at times, but from a visual standpoint the game looks really good. There are only a handful of cutscenes in each episode, but cinematic camera pans and cues are waiting around almost every corner.
Long-time fans will recognize the familiar voices for at least two of the main characters, Fred and Shaggy, but all of the actors do a bang-up job with their respective roles. The soundtrack is clean and atmospheric, with almost no rough patches when moving on to different portions of a level. The sound effects are sure to warm the hearts of folks who grew up watching the television show, and there’s even a laugh track thrown in to add the perfect pinch of campiness.
Scooby Doo! First Frights goes where many games have gone before, but it’s a respectable title fans should enjoy. Levels are often huge and interesting to explore, and ultimately, the developers make fun use of the license. The four episodes and confusing extras make for a fairly light package, but most levels are worthy of at least an additional playthrough. The game retails for $40 on Wii and $20 on PS2, though we aren’t aware of any features unique to the Wii version.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
From a technical standpoint, the game is unremarkable. Facial animations, however, are really topnotch, and the lighting is very atmospheric. 3.6 Control
Controls are straightforward but fun. The combat isn’t deep at all, though it’s entertaining in short spurts. The camera can be problematic at times, and poor collision detection is also an issue in specific areas of the game. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are fitting, and hearing the crunch of Scooby snacks never gets old. The voice work and laugh tracks are equally entertaining additions. 3.5
The presentation has a lot going for it, though there is some confusion with how to make use of the game’s unlockables.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.