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This game was actually the very first in the Scooby Doo game titles to be released. It is evident in a few differences in the way the game is made and how it plays, but the differences are in no way comprimises the game playability or quality.
The first thing to be noticeably different, if you have played the other Scooby titles, is that when the game is loading, you get character profiles of the Scooby gang appearing on your screen, one at a time. We get an image of each character with a profile card of height, weight, likes, dislikes, aspirations, etc. The profiles are all slightly tongue in cheek, and make for amusing reading as the game loads, as it actually takes a minute or two (or three....) to load. Once the game has loaded, a second difference to subsequent titles appears.
This is the fact that you are asked to choose single player, or multiplayer, and then each player selects which of the human Scooby gang members they wish to play. The computer then plays the other parts as game play moves along. As there are four human members of Mystery Inc, up to four players can play, taking turns to wander about the park and collect clues.
Once the players have all chosen their characters, the game begins with the introductory cartoon. The Mystery Machine has broken down at a farm outside of town and the middle aged couple own a theme park that is being haunted. If they can help them with their problem , they would be most grateful and will see to it the van is repaired, as otherwise they stand to lose the park as no one will come to visit the park while the spook is about. Cue the gang coercing Shaggy and Scooby to come along into the park where they hunt for clues, talk to the remaining employess to gather information, and explore the theme park's different areas, including the shortcuts they find provided by manholes in the ground. Each player takes a turn and can go in a completely different part of the theme park from the others. Each player must collect their own clues and build their own trap to catch the villain.
Movement is quite simple with point and click, and the game plays like an interactive cartoon, with the multiplayer version serving to create cut aways to further action type segments, similar in many ways to Scooby episodes where the gang split up up, and then later cross paths, as they also tend to do in this game. Players point to where they wish their character to walk, and then click on various things in the environment to see if clues are hidden within. Clues can be on benches, in waste baskets, on the ground, etc. Each character is allowed to pick up three non clue related items as they wander about, and these can also be sat down to pick up other items. These things are for use in devising a trap once the player has an idea of where to catch the phantom, with the traps varying according to wher the trap needs to be laid. The only sticking point is that you have to actually know who the villain is before you can work out where they will be, and lay your trap. The clues are fairly easy to relate to each other , more so than with later titles, such as Phantom of the Knight, but your average five year old will no doubt need an older sibling or parent to play along in multiplayer and giveplaying hints in order to get the hang of it and have a successful outcome. Otherwise, the child makes a wrong guess, and has to try again, and again, or until another player figures it out and catches the criminal.
The unmasking itself is the usual Scooby Doo type event. You catch the villian in a trap, the police appear, and pull the mask off. A full motion video clip plays pretty seamlessly at the point of successful trap springing, appearing as a mere scene change and close up, with the baddie explaining their dastardly motives, complaining about those dumb kids and their dog, getting his/her just desserts, and being taken away by the uniformed officers. The couple are saved from bankruptcy, get to keep their park, and the gang get their van fixed in return...just another day for Mystery Inc.
Game play is smooth, though the pauses betwen turns rather show the game engine's age as it is a trifle slow by today's standards, as is the initial load time. Graphics wise, though, it does not really disappoint. The drawings and the animation are groovily true to the show's 70's originals, with nary a pixelated corner or edge in sight. Movement is smooth and sweet, with the only hesitations occuring due to players having to do all the moving about or the changing of a turn. So if your character stops and just stares, it is because you did not tell them to go anywhere or look at anything. In a way, it brings an element of the God sim to this game, as they will literally do NOTHING unless you have told them to, absolutely nada!
A bit of old board game mentality also enters the game, adding a bit of an interesting twist. Unusually, the game was devised by the software developers initially as a board game that they then animated, inspired by the original 29 tapes of the frst Scooby Doo show, loaned to them by Time Warner. As the characters wander the park, they encounter not only people and clues (and the phantom) but also dropped Scooby snacks. Someone obviously went a little Hansel and Gretel here, as they dropped them all over! These snacks are spent in a variety of ways from coaxing Scooby to bait a trap, to using a spinner (you get a chance to use the spinner at the start of a turn). If you are using a spinner against the other players, it is the Wheel of Chaos. To use it for yourself and make a gain, you get the Wheel of Fun. Players can also defend against the Wheel of Chaos by spending a Scooby snack. The length of turns is also limited somewhat in a RPG board game type fashion, with each character spending charater points to complete an action. For example, at the start of each turn, the character has 3 action points. Just walking about costs nothing, unless you wish to go to another area, which will cost you a set number of points as posted on the sign. Using a manhole shortcut to another part of the park also costs a couple of points, and a single point is charged for picking up clues and snacks and whatnot. Once the three points has been used, the turn moves to the next player.
The music for this game is a bit basic , and this is a bit of a shame. Surely they could have used some of the old Scooby tunes or licensed some groovy late 60's -early 70' songs, or some that sound like that era, and livened this up somewhat. As it is, you mostly get the sound of absolute silence unless they are speaking, moving an object that makes a noise, or the phantom decides to make spooky noises at someone. It is a minor niggle, however, as otherwise the clarity of sound is excellent, with authentic sounding vocalisations of the original characters, good sound effects where they do happen, and even the occasional night time insect hum and peeping as they wander in the twilight.
The game is designed so that at each play, there is a different set of clues available, and a diferent villain, with the clues being shuffled so that even when the time comes you get the same villain, the clues are not entirely the same. This puts a taste of variety into the game, adding to its longevity. My daughter got this just after her fifth bithday, and now, 13 months later, she still brings this out to play multi and single player, so it keeps the child engaged.
As a parent, I like how the game employs logic and memory to solve the mystery.These are vital thinking skills, often overlooked by many, and learning to use these conciously has later benefits in many areas of study, as well as day to day life. I also appreciate the overt lack of comsumerism in the game. No mention of, here. let's just get a cell phone, or, look at what I just bought bits of side dialogue we have previously encountered in certain children's games. While this IS a branded product, rest assured, it stands alone and does not try to use the game to sell more toys and doodads! Nor do yous ee brand placements luking on signs or other objects, again, trying to unwittingly sell product to young children. I absolutely hate those games that do this!
The game's engine is designed for Windows 95 and 98, as it first came out in 1999. Installed onto a PC with XP, no patches were needed and it installed and played perfectly without having to resort to compatibility mode. This Scooby game was developed by a team from Southpeak by arrangement with Time Warner who own the rights to Scooby Doo, and I rather suspect this is why the game has not been reissued unlike the later titles that were licensed by Tme Warner to The Learning Company, as EA bought out Southpeak and disbanded their development team as soon as this game was finished and initially released. So while The Learning Company has updated and re-released their Scooby titles and from time to time, releases a new title, this offering can only be found secondhand. You can locate this gem of a game on Ebay, Amazon Marketplace, or, like I did, occasionally on Freecycle or at a charity shop. Aimed at ages 5-14, it's a worthwhile investment and is a game that combines the best aspects of a board game with multiplayer computer gaming fun, making it ideal for rainy, snowy days, or when there is NOTHING on TV, or just to while away a bit of time.