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Scooby-Doo! Night of 100 Frights

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Heavy Iron Studios
Publisher:  THQ
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Platform
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  10-31-02

I doubt seriously that there is even one person in modern western civilization who hasn’t seen at least one episode of the Scooby-Doo cartoon. Anybody with any acquaintance with video gaming history would most likely also be aware that practically every attempt at a Scooby-Doo video game has led to some truly god awful results. With that in mind, Scooby fans should be glad to hear that Scooby-Doo! Night of 100 Frights is by far the best Scooby-Doo game ever made. While I realize this is damning by faint praise, this most recent addition to the Scooby-Doo video game library is the closest developers have yet come to capturing the look and feel of the much beloved cartoon.

Plus #1 – the game uses the actual voices from the recent semi-yearly Scooby cartoon/movie releases. There are also a few celebrity voices as well (more on that later). The opening movie that plays at startup sets the tone, actually attempting to copy the original cartoon theme animation, but translated into a 3D milieu (which I thought was a really cute idea). Unfortunately, the folks at Heavy Iron Studios thought that adding that goddamned laugh track would complete the illusion of authenticity. So, for those of you who forgot (or who’ve never had to sit through all the pre-recorded hilarity that ensues every time a "zany" character walks through the door in your average brainless sitcom), that means any time Scooby does something stupid, we’re forced to listen to some canned howls, guffaws, and coughs. What, did they think we were too stupid to know when we’re supposed to laugh (not that you actually will, unless your mental faculties are at a considerably lower level than, say, your average Howard Stern listener)? Major points detracted for this one.

Plus #2 - the AARP probably loves Heavy Iron Studios. After all, they put octogenarian "comedians" Don Knotts and Tim Conway to work doing voiceovers (they serve as guides, giving you gaming hints and basic tools, such as a shovel that allows you to dig up the Dagwood sandwiches that are, strangely, buried throughout the game beneath sunflowers), providing them with their first taxable income in decades (or at least since "Matlock" went off the air). Of course they also included boomer queen Tim "transsexual Transylvania" Curry camping it up as the incongruously effeminate-sounding ultimate bad guy of the game; which can be a plus or minus, depending on how you feel about Rocky Horror. We won’t even get into Clue.

There are some pretty nice key frames for the opener and the FMVs that play throughout the game, and in the course of gameplay, you will encounter an awful lot of the bad guys Scooby collared during the series’ original 1969 run. However, every silver cloud seems to come with a gray lining in Night of 100 Frights. While the key frames and character design may have been fairly well done (particularly in comparison to Scooby games’ past performance), there appears to have been no effort whatsoever put into making things look smooth during these same cutscenes (including the game intro) by means of in-betweens or transitions. In plain English, while it may look nice as a series of stills, in point of fact, characters’ movements come off as being extremely choppy, slow and awkward. I understand this may be attributable to having been produced at a lower frame rate than GameCube games normally run at – still an inexcusably lazy move on the part of Heavy Iron Studios. At least games like Animal Crossing were designed for the N64; there’s no way a game that looks, at times, this polished could have ever been produced for Nintendo’s earlier, far less powerful system. More, no time whatsoever appears to have been spent on backgrounds during these same movies, particularly in regards to making them mesh with and match the look and dimensionality of the foreground characters. For one glaring example, in one cut scene early in the game, the mystery machine has been drawn in (badly, I might add) as a cartoon, while the characters ostensibly "inside" it remain 3D animated. In addition, the sound appears to be badly digitized throughout the game’s FMVs, even in regards to the theme song playing during the game’s opener. Even if you turn the treble all the way off, you can still hear some rather pronounced digital whine and buzz during any speaking or singing parts. Just to make things a bit more painful, all of the non-theme music seriously sucks. I know, gamers worldwide are shrugging their shoulders, and naming off games by the dozen with lousy soundtracks, but if you are bold enough to venture into the murky waters of the Night of 100 Frights experience, prepare yourself for a night with Kenny Loggins (Billy Joel? Elton John? Celine Dion? Let your imagination run wild…) – you are going to be treated to a heaping helping of some truly horrible yuppie music lite. It’s truly frightening when a Hallowe’en-style game not only fails to deliver any scares (friendly, smiling ghosts and jack-o-lanterns, anyone?), but actually even sounds safe.

While perhaps inherent to the very concept of a Scooby-Doo game, Night of 100 Frights is privy to one of the stupidest gameplay paradigms I’ve ever encountered: much like its SNES progenitor, Scooby-Doo Mystery, you can only get so far (and mind you, it’s a very short way) before your fright meter bottoms out, and you are forced to restart the level. The only thing that gets you past more than a minute worth of gameplay is eating sandwiches and pieces of cake you encounter floating in the air along the way (if you can believe it, Scooby snacks are collected solely for the purpose of opening doors/levels, which are blocked by "snack gates"). Worse, if perhaps to be expected, given that you’re playing solely as coward supreme Scooby-Doo, most of the game is spent avoiding the monsters (which most of you bought the game to see in the first place). Instead, you find yourself forced to spend most of your playing time performing asinine mini-missions like finding galoshes so that you can jump in a tarred sandbox, just so you can get yourself a box of Scooby snacks. Or how you have to go on a little mini-quest to find a helmet, before you’re allowed to walk through any cobwebbed doorways. Stupid stuff like that. When you start the game, you have and can do almost nothing, and collecting this sort of nonsensical item allows you to get a bit further in your travels. Stupid, but not damning in and of itself…until you take into account that this sort of item search takes up the better part of the game. In fact, you need to collect literally dozens of Scooby snacks just to get in the front door.

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