Review of Scooby Doo: First Frights on Sony PS2
Zoinks! Scooby and the gang have returned to the PS2 once again in order to solve four spooky mysteries, this time with a revamped look and lashings of cartoon violence. Scooby Doo: First Frights is set early on in Mystery Inc's career when they were just mere pups, and concerns their first forays into unmasking villains via a simple but very stylish platformer which skips on substance but just about manages to remain entertaining throughout.
Based over four episodes, each with a different mystery and location, Scooby Doo: First Frights sees you (and an optional friend) controlling members of the Mystery Inc team through a haunted high school, a spirit infested cruise liner and more in their attempts to crack each case. Each member of the crew has their own individual special abilities which allow them to reach places or press switches inaccessible to the other characters. Velma is good with computers, Daphne can shimmy up pipes and bizarrely Shaggy has a grappling hook. The puzzles that require the use of these abilities are so easy however that they seem almost irrelevant, especially seeing as the main focus of this cartoon caper is definitely combat.
Throughout the game's various haunts and hollows you'll be under constant attack from a medley of ghouls and goblins, all of whom can be dispatched without too much difficulty. Combat is a very simple button bashing affair that unfortunately is often hampered by basic and unresponsive controls. Each team member's unique attacks do mix it up a bit and help make the combat less monotonous with a selection of ranged with melee special moves but even with these to choose from you'll find yourself simply pressing one button over and over again till all the critters are gone. I was actually quite surprised at the amount of violence in the game considering that there is hardly any at all in the original cartoons. Also, as I discovered a few minutes into starting the game when a wrong punch from Fred landed Velma squarely on the glasses, the ability to hit your team mates is quite an odd choice.
Combat is also the main focus of the exploratory side of the game as the player is rewarded by smashing up nearly every object they see with a cascade of Scooby snacks (the obvious choice of currency) which can then be used to purchase secret costumes and other extras from the main menu. When you're not smashing up everything in sight there are a few traditional platform game jumping sections which unfortunately suffer from imprecise controls and dodgy camera placement meaning they are tiresome rather than fun. Breaking up all the baddie bashing levels are chase challenges where the main villain chases after you and you have to avoid various traps and pit falls in your race for safety. Clearly an attempt to mimic the iconic 'repeating background' chases of the cartoon series, the computer game versions are actually rather slow pedestrian affairs that aren't very exciting.
By far the most appealing side of Scooby Doo: First Frights is its stylish presentation, both graphically and sound wise. The new sprightly character models are professionally done and the levels are bright and charming. Although never genuinely scary in the slightest the mock 'spookiness' of the environments is extremely pleasant and reminds me of early platform pioneer Banjo Kazooie, which will never be a bad thing. Another point to mention is the wonderful voice acting, performed by the original cast, which again evokes feelings of nostalgia from the cartoon and helps capture the feel of the originals. My only gripe is that the jokey dialogue (complete with canned laughter) is abysmally unfunny, but then, Scooby Doo always was. Yes shaggy, we know you like food... thank you...
Despite the stylish presentation, Scooby Doo: First Frights will only really be able to hold the attention span of younger gamers as the difficulty level is way too low for anyone who has played a platformer before. Furthermore, stale gameplay mechanics, clunky controls and a frustrating camera mar the overall experience which is a shame as this is quite a charming game on the whole.
5 out of 10