Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. It has the power to cripple the critical mind, bathing it in the rainbow-colored reminiscences of a bygone era. Who hasn't remembered a certain movie from their childhood with a fondness that far outweighs the film's actual merit? For me, that movie was Krull, the tale of a brave fantasy warrior battling laser-shooting cyborg slugmen with a giant throwing star called "The Glaive." It's not a very good movie. It's taken me years of introspection and therapy, though, to even be able to admit that.
There was even a Krull videogame in the early 80s, a simple two-controller job, one for moving, and the other for throwing Glaives. It was an obvious Robotron rip-off, but I loved it far more than that classic, simply because of its association with one of my favorite films. Tenuous though the connection may be, this actually does have something to do with Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights. Any game reviewer who pretends to be completely impartial is flat-out lying. Just like any other media reviewer we bring baggage with us to anything we review. Be it previous experience with the series, having played a better game in the same genre, or maybe even a slightly off chicken sandwich that we ate just before sitting down to write the review, there's always something that's going to be pushing our opinion one way or the other when we're trying to be impartial. This means that all a game reviewer can hope to do when reviewing a game is be as honest and straightforward with their biases as possible, and allow the reader to judge for themselves how askew the filter was.
That, of course, means that this is confession time—I'm a Scooby-Doo fanatic. My house is full of Scooby paraphenalia, either bought for me when I was age-appropriate, or by me when it was a little creepier. I hated the feature film, but love all the recent direct to video movies, even the one that featured Eco-Goths. While I loathe Scrappy-Doo and Flim-Flam, I feel that Vincent Prince was a welcome addition to the series, playing the preposterously titled Vincent van Ghoul. So how exactly do I go about reviewing a game that, amazingly, seems to have been designed specifically for me? By looking at it in two ways: first, how effective it is as a piece of manufactured nostalgia aimed specifically at people like me; and secondly, how it performs as a 3D platforming game.
This game really couldn't work any harder to attract longtime fans of Scooby Doo. This is apparent from the first moments of the game's opening movie. I'd be lying if I tried to claim that my heart didn't melt when I realized that the developers had decided to open the game with a perfect 3D recreation of the original cartoon's opening sequence. It's all there, every scene, every beat, and every monster—with one exception: the Ghost of Hyde has been replaced with the game's lead villain, The Mastermind. Since the Mastermind looks a whole lot like the ghost of Hyde anyway, this is forgivable.
The game plays like one long love letter to fans of the series. It features twenty different characters from the first Scooby-run series. The odds of even the most die-hard fan of the show not finding their favorite villain here are fairly long. The voice actors from the direct-to-video movies circa 2001 are all present, as well as Scooby-appropriate ghost stars Tim Conway, Don Knotts, and Tim Curry. The only complaints I could come up with about the game's faithfulness to the source material are that Scooby himself is written as a little too talkative, and that the voice actor portraying him, Scott Innes, just doesn't sound exactly like the late Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby Doo. Also present are the show's original sound effects and laugh track (the latter plays intermittently when Scooby does something that appears "silly"—amazingly, this trick takes much longer than one would imagine before it grows tiresome).
Heck, in an attempt to really get into the spirit of the show, the game even goes so far as to feature four original songs that play during the boss battles, which slyly offer hints on how to battle the bosses written into the lyrics. It's a wonderful idea, but the obsessive geek in me is a little disappointed that the game doesn't feature the show's original music, such as Recipe for My Love, or I'm in Love with an Ostrich. Part of the show's charm had to do with the fact that the chase-scene songs had nothing whatsoever to do with the action or plot of the show.
So the game succeeds almost totally as something for the fanswhat would the reaction be of someone who had no history with the crime solving Mystery Inc. and their strangely intelligent Great Dane? They'd find what boils down to an incredibly competent 3D platformer. Well, actually, the game is about as 3D as the original Crash Bandicoot was seven years back—meaning that while some levels allow for exploration, most of them are so narrowly built that, while Scooby can move back and forth along a third dimension, it's essentially a 2D game most of the time.
Calling the game "competent" may seem like I'm damning with faint praise, but it's really the most appropriate word for the game's structure and play control. I don't know if there's a book on how to design 2D platform games floating around there somewhere, but if there is, this game must have been designed by checklist from its pages. All the genre stalwarts are there: floating platforms, areas that gradually become accessible as the player finds power-ups, a preponderance of linear levels that make backtracking difficult because of issues with the unchangeable camera? Check, check, check.
I'm not suggesting by any means that the game is anything but eminently playable. In fact, other than the camera issues, the game's controls are remarkably tight and intuitive. Knowing that their core audience might well have young children that they want to get hooked on the Scooby habit, the developers were careful to make the controls simple enough that almost anyone can jump into playing the game with little fear of confusion.
While there's nothing wrong with making a game that falls rather strictly in line with the rules of the genre, one has to wonder if there wasn't something more that could have been done on a conceptual level. When a game is built upon gameplay elements that date back to the original Super Mario Brothers, it's time to question whether the designers were really trying hard enough.
It may sound like I'm being exceptionally hard on the game, and I really don't mean to be, because for a game that's only trying to be an average platformer, it succeeds in exactly what it was setting out to do. There's very little about the gameplay of Scooby-Doo that anyone is going to find objectionable. But at the same time, there's nothing that anyone is going to be talking about either. It's as if the game's developers wanted to play it as safe as possible, and produce a game that absolutely that no one could complain about. Basically, from a game player's standpoint, this is the video game equivalent of white bread. It's just sort of there.
Here at GameCritics.com, we have a very well defined ratings system. A five isn't actually a terrible mark. It just means that the game isn't exceptional in any way. If this weren't a Scooby-Doo game, that's the score it would be getting. But it is a Scooby-Doo game, and if I were allowed to rate the game solely for its Scooby-Doo content, it would be a solid ten. Which puts me in a bit of a bind—do I pretend that I've never watched a single cartoon, and judge it solely on its merits as a game, or do I acknowledge the weight that the franchise's history adds to the game's value? Really, it's probably best to split the difference and summarize the review with a simple thought: If someone were looking for a platforming action game, there are better ones out there. If someone were looking for a Scooby-Doo game, there aren't.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.