Imagine getting on a rollercoaster at an amusement park, and as the car begins its ascent up the first hill, you wait with clenched fists in anticipation at the forthcoming thrill ride. Then as soon as the car reaches the peak, the ride shuts down and you're told to get off now. That is the experience of playing the Super NES Scooby-Doo game.
The general rule of games based on licensed properties is that they're usually terrible, but the four stages present in Scooby-Doo oozed potential. The developers seemingly cared about making a game that is both true to its source material and actually good. But for whatever reason, be it a fear of challenging younger players or having been released unfinished, Scooby-Doo fails to achieve a commendable level. I am suspicous that Argonaut was developing this game for Sunsoft, who then canceled it, and Acclaim came along and released it "as is". I can't prove that, but Acclaim doesn't have the best track record for releasing quality games, so I wouldn't put it past them.
Scooby-Doo is, of course, based on the popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon series that debuted in 1969 and has endured throughout the decades in various TV show and movie incarnations. The cartoon, as the well as the game, documents the misadventures of a group of teenagers and their talking dog, Scooby-Doo, as they travel in a van and solve mysteries at each stop. This is possible because the world is overrun with criminals who have all come up with the exact same racket: Dressing up like a monster to scare people away.
The Scooby-Doo game follows very much in the footprints of the cartoons. The characters look identical to their cel-dwelling counterparts, right down to their movements and standing poses (which anyone who's seen the show will be familiar with, due to its generous use of stock animation). There are even some actual voice clips of Casey Casem as Shaggy and the late Don Messick as Scooby-Doo. Background music is taken straight from the show's score, although it is curiously lacking the famous "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" theme song, despite that it's mentioned in the opening credits.
As each stage begins, a new mystery is presented, and you will take control of Shaggy alone, although Scooby will follow him and ape his movements. The other gang members, Fred, Daphne, and Velma, are on-hand to help with the conundrums and impart healing items (in the form of Scooby Snacks, no less). "Mystery solving" is achieved by exploring each area thoroughly, finding items that serve as "clues", and bringing them back to Velma or Fred (or figuring out where else to use them) to advance the plot and, consequently, move on to the next area. Essentially what the game feels like is a very stripped down Maniac Mansion with some light platform jumping thrown in.
When you've gathered enough clues, you'll be asked to find certain items to build one of Fred's Rube Goldberg-ish villain traps. Sometimes, Fred's plans are so ridiculous that I got more of a laugh out of them than anything else in the game. Unfortunately, in most levels you won't meet any characters before the "big reveal", so there isn't any chance for you to figure out who the culprit is beforehand (not that it matters much - if you're aware of the show's formula, it was always easy to predict, anyway).
The levels do not seem to be directly based on episode locations, but they are familiar fronts for the Scooby-Doo gang: a haunted pirate ship, a creepy amusement park, a polluted swamp, and a spooky mansion. By the time I got to and finished the fourth area, I was feeling a little high on the game. While it's hardly intense in the action department, the exploring and puzzle-solving were enjoyable. The graphics are lovely, the animation is fluid, and the dialogue made me chuckle at times. If only it had kept going the way it was, it had potential to be one of the best licensed product games I had yet played.
So, can you imagine how I felt when, without any warning or fanfare, I was suddenly greeted by a half-assed ending sequence? As you can see, the main ending scene is almost identical to the "Game Over" screen, and the "u" in "Congratulations" is blocking out Shaggy's face! Damn, what a reward!
What on earth happened? Am I truly to believe this was all they planned from the start? Did they run out of budget and/or time and have to ship it incomplete? It is strange that they obtained the rights to the "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" theme song and then didn't bother to use it. (I am suspicious it was meant to be the ending music, but instead, we got a hastily tacked-on ending with recycled stage music.) Despite having gotten many "game overs" during my course of play, I finished it in less than an afternoon (and that included working my playing sessions around chores).
Looking at the ROM in a hex editor reveals some unused dialogue and items, a password that does nothing, and text for collecting and tallying banana totals. There are no bananas in the game, so this is either an excised minigame or perhaps it was originally planned for Shaggy to collect bananas in the levels for bonuses (a la Donkey Kong Country). There's no solid evidence of cut levels, so this only raises even more questions.
Maybe I'm spending too much time thinking about this. Licensed games are almost always bad. But I'm somehow more frustrated by one that starts out good and ends abruptly than I am by those that are terrible from the start. In the game's second level, the gang goes to a carnival expecting thrill rides and instead, ends up looking for answers. That sums up my experience with SNES Scooby-Doo. Answers are something that the Scooby-Doo gang is good at finding, but I'm afraid this is one mystery that even they wouldn't be able to solve.
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