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Scooby and co. are back again for yet another adventure. Boy, these kids and their dog sure live an interesting life. This time, the Scooby gang have been invited to a natural history museum. The museum has a big problem. It seems a glowing bug man has been seen and scares away the visitors, and spooks the staff. Can Mystery Inc. figure out the Bug Man's secret and catch the villain before the museum has to close forever?
This is the fourth title in the Scooby Doo PC titles, and the third offering from The Learning Company (now renamed Riverdeep in one of those puzzling name reimaginings firms go for these days). After changing the company name, they decided to reinvent some of their titles too. So while this is the fourth Scooby game ever made, and the third offering by this team of developers, it is rather confusingly called Case File #1 The Case of the Glowing Bug Man. The game also has yet another departure in playing style. Just as the second and thrid title differed from the board game meets video game concept of the first title (Mystery of the Fun park Phantom), so this title makes a departure from the mere point and click and guesswork of the previous titles. More educational content is also sandwiched in, but in a way you would expect from visiting a museum. For example, if you click on various exhibits, like real life museums there is often a recording that comes on and tells you a bit about the exhibit. To move about, you still simply point and click the direction you wish the group to go, but there is no pick up the clues and make an inventory type thing going on. Rather, puzzles are presented at various parts of the museum. The puzzles are not presented as mere vehicles for side play or gaining Scooby snacks, but instead must be solved to yield needed clues. Once gathered, the game passes you to a page that has a pictorial and text list of the suspects, and which the found clue is filed in line with the person it goes to. This ably demonstrates the type of linear thinking needed to logically deduce the culprit, and the player is left less frustrated. It also makes the game easier to play for younger children.
Not that the game is always easy! The memory skills needed for the unlabelled ice cream machine and the sliding picture puzzle all provide tasks that get progressively more difficult as you change challenge levels, as at the game start, the player gets to choose their level of difficulty. Spooky is the easier level, Spookier a bit more difficult, and Spookiest is of course the most challenging level of game play. When playing the sliding picture puzzle, for example, on Spooky, the puzzle will have nine piece, and gain more pieces as you up the difficulty level, with sixteen pieces being there at Spookiest. And speaking of Spooky, the game would not be Scoobily scary without a chance encounter and a chase. Scooby, Shaggy, and Velma at one point in the game encounter the Bug man, and Scooby has to jump across conveyor belts in the dinosaur bones reconstruction area to escape, and to gain needed Scooby Snacks. Don't be surprised, Shaggy and Scooby always need said snacks for a later bribe to get them to help catch that villain!
The game, like its predecessors is laid out like an interactive cartoon, and once again the animation is quite good and load time is greatly reduced from the first previous longer load times. Sound effects are more scoobylicious with more sound effects present, though sadly, still no music of note during chase scenes. I am pointing this out because during the original series, there was ALWAYS a groovy song playing while the gang ran from the spook! No such touch here, which for authenticity they should really add. A nice touch of nostalgia was added however, in the bringing in of Shag and Scoob's disgusting snacks. No matter where they were in the cartoons, they seemed to manage to find a kitchen. Here, they find a cafeteria and mange to get some ungodly types of ice cream only those two would eat.
The live animation sequences blend nicely with the animated gameplay, with the art work being near indistinguishable once more without tell tale rough edges or blurs. The reveal is once more done as a cut scene close-up after trapping the Bug Man. The police arrive, they unmask the villain, and find out what their beef was. The baddie gets hauled away, complaining about those meddling kids and their dog, and the museum is saved. Ta da! The colours are the wonderfully muted colours we remember from 1970's era Scooby, and the plot seems lifted straight from a script of that era that never was. plenty of authenticity here, minus the minor music grumble. Indeed, my only quibble about production quality is the voice overs. The voices SOUND right, but as if the characters were a trifle bored stiff that day. Its a minor niggle, and not one that my children or husband noticed. I am, however, a bit finicky about things like this (blame my going to a Drama magnet school for high school one year).
The game has repeat playability, as just like in the previous titles, each replaying mixes up the clues and motives as well as giving us a different villain. This time, the puzzles themselves become a bit different each time. One such occurrence being that you may play at the same level as a previously completed game, but the pictures shown in the sliding puzzles will differ, switching between several different pictures to assemble, with the shading on those pictures subtly altering the gradations of difficulty yet a little more. The little easter egg surprises with titbits of information on real life type exhibits adds to the realism, as well as giving out interesting information for the player to learn. Hunting for them also provides a sort of brain break for those moments when frustration may set in after not being successful at a puzzle, as my daughter has found out. After finding a few of these, she generally has had enough of a break from the brain drain the puzzles put on, and is able to go back and succeed in doing the puzzle. The suspect list also adds to children's confidence, as there is no way to guess the wrong answer, as success at the clue finding puzzles means that the suspect sheet gets filled in, so it becomes obvious to the player who the villain must be by elimination, and so can go about springing their trap.
All in all, this is a nice little game It says it is aimed at ages 5-10, but my four year old can play it with assistance during the puzzles at the Spooky level, and older Scooby fans such as myself also get a blast of happy nostalgia playing this interactive cartoon game, especially at the Spookiest level. The game is available by itself in a format suitable for Windows 98, ME, XP, and NT (does anyone actually use NT at home, still?), but you can also pick up a Vista updated version in a double package deal with Scooby Doo and Jinx in the Sphinx, which also still plays on 98, ME, and XP (but not NT). At under £5 by itself and under £10 for the double pack deal, it is priced right for small gift giving needs and nostalgic impulse buys.