Full Review: Kids who've always wanted to play with Doo can now Doo just that.
This is an odd period we live in. Humanity's past done everything it could to advance. It's the future now, the Twenty-first Century, and we're doing things the old way. We don't have laser guns or hover cars fueled by disposable garbage, but we do have a tendency to restore highlights from decades ago. One of the more popular trends as of late has been the revival of animated blasts from the past. Classics like The Transformers and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which had otherwise become memories of an epoch our younger selves once cherished, have been or will be revitalized to certain mediums (including video games) in a present where both individuals in younger and older crowds can relive the days that have since been vanquished. Enter Scooby-Doo. Though not forgotten as greatly as many other cartoons from decades ago, Scooby-Doo's popularity rose immensely two years prior to now when the first live-action feature film based on the crime-solving television series came to the box office. Inevitably, some way or another there was going to be some kind of organization wanting to bank on the film's success. THQ was just one of those kinds of companies. Now, after two years, another theatrical release has made its headway. Along for the ride, again, is THQ, again, to present a riddle-solving action release whose job is to milk off its titular cash cow in anyway it can.
Wherever a creature of the night lurks, Mystery Inc., a band of youngsters with adventurous minds and their Great Dane Scoobert, will be there to foil his or her evil scheme. Making up Mystery Inc. is Fred, the hotshot leader, Daphne, the beautiful damsel in distress, Velma, the brains of the operation, Shaggy, the slacker with an appetite the size of Manhattan, and Scooby, their wily talking dog. Like any other day in the life for Mystery Inc., a case happens upon the team that beckons their attention at Hambridge University's library. Only this time, things may not appear as they seem. It's always been that the masterminds behind every plot this crime busting squad has encountered were always human underneath a monstrous getup. This time, it's that after stumbling upon the Tome of Doom, a book in which has a history related to restoring otherworldly creatures in their natural form, that what the gang sees before their eyes are in fact things not of this world. Unaltered from their original intentions to nab the bad guys, Mystery Inc. sets out to uncover the real villains behind this dastardly plot.
Famous animated cartoon or not, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Mayhem is anything but a groovy gravy train, man. Watching Scooby-Doo was one of my favorite TV past times from back in the day. Now the franchise has become a stereotypical, hip-hopping joke for movie critics to laugh at, and a low budget, obsolete blip on the radar for game critics to target their missiles filled with ridiculing remarks upon. Mystery Mayhem isn't bad, and it isn't terrible...but the game isn't spectacular either. Essentially a simplistic item-hunt, do-battle, and puzzle-complete action title using the Scooby-Doo brand name as its virtual makeup, Mystery Mayhem is a game that will appeal little to players who want something more in their game. Then again, this isn't exactly the kid-friendliest game out there.
In this new adventure with Mystery Inc., you'll endeavor your share of ghoulies and ghosts, mummies and odd hosts that boast a toast for your finding whomever may be the elusive cretin behind each clever caper the most. You won't go it alone, however. Here, you're Scooby-Doo. But you're also Shaggy. That is, you can be one or the other, as both characters travel in pairs (most of the time anyway). With Scooby-Doo being the mascot of this long-running hit series, here he's practically made to be the only significant character in getting the game done. Shaggy's more of a spare tire. Neither Scooby nor Shaggy have any special powers. They do everything the same except for one minor twist. Mystery Mayhem channels its players through five different stages replete with various fetch quests, puzzles to surpass, areas to explore, and monsters to defeat. In search mode, it's only when the two come up to a space big enough for a dog to fit through that Scooby must at times crawl through to the other side of a wall to obtain a certain item or to undo the barrier that's keeping both him and Shaggy apart. Other than that, though, they're completely equal -- besides the fact that they only really need one another when having to climb up stacks of crates or when separated, as when one character gets lost, the other one does the rescuing.
As for the rest of Mystery Inc., while they're not integrated as playable characters, they'll get their due eventually. One moment Daphne is trapped inside a cage, another Fred is stuck inside a jail cell, and another Velma is missing her eye glasses. Guess who gets to do the snoop work or action sorting in these endeavors? You, that's who! Pushing together missing platforms that create the very walkway to where switches will undo Daphne's captive state, locating a bottle of soap to grease a hard-to-move stack of crates in the way of a hole in the wall blocking Fred's escape from imprisonment, and trekking across a room to grab Velma's ocular spectacles are some of the simple situations players will discover along side the list of other, tedious puzzle fare. The more literal mysteries of the game are objectives involved with inputting the right colored musical notes into a player piano after detecting which are the right ones to use from clues scattered around different locations. At another juncture you'll need to move a series of pipes in a correct order so that water flows up to a fountain above ground that you can jump on top of to access a yummy pot of home cooked gumbo. The puzzles may not be the most intelligible, and they really aren't, but these tricky tasks do involve a fair amount of smarts to overcome.
When Shaggy and Scooby aren't using the muscles in their head, they're using the muscles in their limbs. Well, they do need to actually open the Tome of Doom. See, defeating enemies in this game isn't done by way of a gun or some kind of special power. It's done through a book that sucks in many of the unfriendly foes who've been torn from it. Your job is to put them back in. To do that, only by tracking down each monster's page (without it, you're a sitting duck) and then approaching the collectable creature -- be it a ghost, a mummy, a poltergeist, a zombie, or even a whirlwind -- are you then able to open the book and finally seal them inside. The catch to this luring procedure is that you can only reel one creature in at a time, and only after tapping a face button repeatedly that appears on the screen. This method in itself hooks any enemy immediately, and drains their energy as you tap the button, thus forcing them back into history's pages. Trapping these nasties though, also isn't complete without keeping the Tome's source of energy full (where its ability to drain power from monsters derives from) by gathering wisps (shiny balls allocated throughout each stage), in addition to keeping Scooby and Shaggy's cool meter chilled. Neither Shaggy nor Scooby is exactly the daring adventurer type, so even being touched by some restless spirit scares the bejeepers out of these cowardly custards. In essence, it just so happens that the game uses their personalities to match the health meter just in that way -- that by being creeped out, whether by bumping into an enemy or say some unexpected event occurs (like if a tree branch bends right on top of them), their gauge for stability will shoot down inch by inch the more and more their pansy sides flower.
Losing this starving duo's edge to fight on can easily be countered with the very object of their affection (or at least one of them) that makes the growling go away: with Scooby snacks! There's also the option to collect real food too, made up of miscellaneous items you'd find in a sandwich. Searching for the bread and its delicious fillings are used to unlock mini-games that can then be accessed from the main game menu. Picking up each level's assorted clues (receipts, photos, wigs, etc.) gives way to concept art. Surely you could say there's a certain bigness for finding lots of items in Mystery Mayhem, but at least there are some interesting aspects that give the gameplay a little variety. Sometimes you may find yourself in an area where it's risky to continue without rubbing up against another creature. The more you touch them, the faster you'll lose control of Shaggy and Scooby, and then you'll need to start over from the previous continue point. Here's where costume wear comes into play. Shaggy and Scooby can walk up to disguise boxes containing irregular outfits pertaining to their surroundings. In a library filled with ghosts, they'll wear sheets over themselves. In the wild west, they'll gussy up into pink dresses and pink umbrellas. And in a hi-tech laboratory, they'll need to alter their suits from security guard to a couple of Albert Einstein look-a-likes. One last measure of deviation exists in a few transportation modes, where the two must ride a mine cart while avoiding perilous ends to hopping high and far along a swamp trail zooming a top a motor scooter.
Playing as both Shaggy and Scooby isn't always a fun ordeal, however. Namely since the game's presented with such an awkward camera control. Able to pan for a view to either side of the screen with the right analog stick, the camera functions in Mystery Mayhem use an icky inverted mechanic. Moving right will go left and left will go right, but not all the way around. The camera jams once it reaches a certain point, unless you were to continue moving Shaggy or Scooby analog with it by using the left analog stick in concert with the camera. Even at the start of each level or after loading up a game, the camera begins high above the game's bumbling goofballs and remains there lest it were to be tampered with manually. It's only a good thing that the controls for the game don't require much input. Shaggy and Scooby are both limited to a certain number of button presses. They can raise their arms and feet into a sneaking position to slip past enemies quietly with R1, switch with one another with circle, unleash the Tome of Doom with square, and Doo every other action with X. While trapping a monster, all you need to remember is to press triangle, circle, or X really fast until a ghost or something else disappears. Simple game, simple gameplay.
Scooby-Doo, as I remember the show, has remerged on my TV screen. Story-wise anyway. Depicted through cut scenes modeled from the inner gameplay engine following similar where to's, character introductions, and villain closing in/villain unveiling scenarios the show did way back, there's an uncanny resemblance to the original product. Too bad the actual gameplay scenery isn't conceived as well. To describe the video game format of Scooby-Doo and gang bluntly, the bare essentials are all that come to mind as that's mostly of what's there to see. Mystery Mayhem's five episodes account for mysteries inside a haunted library, a haunted movie set, a haunted western theme park, a haunted bayou, and finally the hauntedest of them all, a scientific research facility. While each of these levels does provide a technique that matches the series' cartoon theme, it's also that they lack much needed polish. Blurred backgrounds with basic objects of moderately designed sarcophaguses', cameras, boxes, and various props can be seen setup in the movie lot venue, and where shrubbery, swamp water and a pipe network are born on the bayou as examples of some level commons. Fortunately, the stars of the show remain true with their appearances, but even with them to highlight the action on the screen isn't enough as without much texturing on anything, everything populates a fundamental state.
Leering upon the Shagster and the Scoobster in action forms something of a different reaction. It's interesting to follow Shaggy and Scooby's exploits where they may simultaneously and literally bend their arms forward, stand up on their tippee toes, and seemingly give character to the art of creeping around. Together, they'll also climb boxes one at a time, run around one after another, and open the Tome of Doom to together shield themselves from whatever danger's lurking on the other side. What's there are fluorescent blue and green ghosts, furious dust storms, and translucent humanly figures representing mischievous poltergeists. Affecting these scary monsters is an electrical blue glowing and flowing light that connect to the creatures, diffusing nicely as they go away. Speaking of light, though, the effects in this game are kind of, well...shady. Slipping from candlelight to shadow, or from shadow to sunlight?doesn't always display?the most impressive?use of?lighting sources,?as light here doesn't always?reflect upon?the? objects?nearby. Mystery Mayhem?also features?some of the?sloppiest shadow effects to date. Sometimes the blackness trails behind, but a lot of other times it'll get stuck in places it shouldn't. Oftentimes the character shadows will split off completely elsewhere where it really shouldn't. Remaining a single dark black at all times too, the riddle of shadow play in Mystery Mayhem needs finer deductive work.
Furthering the likeness of the original TV series, it's amazing to hear voices that are developed either from the original cast, or from some other sources. Either way, most of Mystery Inc. sounds as good as they once did, playing the parts they were made for. Fred with his presumptuously bold voice. Daphne with her curiously attractive voice. Velma with her baked geek voice. Shaggy with his outrageous, surfer-type voice. And Scooby with his gruffy, agreeable voice. The only problem with these character expressions is that they're overused too much. You'll find that not every gameplay portion can be passed the first time through. So, every act that specific actions are taken, Scooby and Shaggy won't hesitate to reiterate the same thing they've said last time, provided they only have but a few recordings of witty remarks to mention at those intervals in the game. Take for instance when Scooby and Shaggy cruise the mine cart track together. They'll be processed through jumping, ducking, track switching, and crashing gameplay. The same fraidy cat yells and moans will ensue while on the ride, where even more familiar yelps continuously loop around and around with no end to them, always reaching the point of irritation.
Besides there being the main Scooby-Doo theme song from the series' past playing along with the cartoon's intro running off Mystery Mayhem's cut scene engine, the rest of the music in the game is appropriately tailored throughout, though not qualified enough that you'd be joyous to attempt to make a memory of. Brought on with keyboard sounding strokes, the upbeat and odd tunes give the game something of a fun and mysterious theme to make it feel as though you're inside a cartoon with the real Scooby and Shaggy. What's even better is that the game's audio manages to replicate many key elements that also gave the cartoon its corny style. If you're to run and halt, Scooby and Shaggy will slip along with a sliding effect. When in a sneak-stance motion, the music goes silent and little escalating pitter-patters' of piano notes emanate the more you move around. There's even a retro laugh track rearing its face whenever this duo comes out with a one liner or just so happens to clumsily slip up in gameplay. And with some good monster effects with mummies growling, poltergeists giggling, and ghosts grieving, Mystery Mayhem stays true to its sound design roots.