Last year for Halloween I wrote a couple of retrospective reviews for games that fit in with this holiday’s scary theme. One of the ones picked was a lighter game and put in as a bit of joke, the 2002 platformer Scooby Doo: 100 Nights of Fright. Surprisingly I remembered how much I enjoyed the game when I was younger and doubly surprised by how many Scooby Doo games I actually own. So this year I thought it would be fun to delve into the follow up game Mystery Mayhem. Releasing just a year later, the game switched-up the formula quite a bit moving from a platformer title to the adventure genre. As I found, probably wasn’t not the best idea.
So our story starts once again with our favourite gang of meddling kids being called in to investigate a series of spooky shenanigans, this time by one of Velma’s old friends at Hambridge Universty library. As librarian Alan Dinsdale explains visitors to the library are being scared away by ghosts and shadows, and no not people in Halloween costumes, actual ghosts. Upon investigating the gang discover a mysterious book later called the Tome of Doom which can release and capture ghosts, ghouls and all manner of other monsters. The incident at the library is not the only case though that the gang take on in this game as they’re later called in to help filmmakers and theme park tycoons with their monster problems. As they discover each case somehow revolves around this tome so it up to the gang to get to the bottom of things and do a spot of ghostbusting along the way.
Mystery Mayhem is an adventure title in which you lead the cowardly duo, Shaggy and Scooby, around each haunted locale hunting for clues, ghosts and of course food. In each of the five cases the main objectives never change. Firstly they’ll need to locate 5 clues to solve the mystery, secondly deal with the monsters running riot by sealing them away and finally completing every mission objective in their case file such as finding missing machine pieces or saving Daphne after she’s been kidnapped. The games core gameplay is very basic but combined with Scooby’s unique charm, there’s enough there to suggest there could be a decent adventure title. Unfortunately what we get is a tedious adventure that’s let down by a slew of mediocre mechanics and is all over in just a few short hours.
As an adventure game it’s hindered by how much it holds the players hand. Levels are far too linear, key items and clues are all bathed in a bright purple glow and there’s a checklist for all of your objectives so there’s no reason you should get lost and little space to explore. There are puzzles that block your path from time to time but they require very little effort to solve. One such example is in the movie set where switch solutions are written on crates and walls and they’re hard to miss so when you get to the puzzle there’s no real challenge. There are some more enjoyable segments that come across as mini games such as the mine cart sequence during your exploration of the Wild West but they are fleeting moments.
100 Nights of Fright was a platform game where you had to help Scooby navigate monster filled mazes, help him jump across nettle filled pitfalls and so on. While it was only a mediocre platformer it was enjoyable none the less. In Mystery Mayhem all that platformer goodness has disappeared. The difficulty of navigating monster filled mazes is reduced as you can now don disguises and run past every enemy. As for exploration there is no jump, instead the hungry duo help each other clamber over obstacles or simply climb ladders at the press of the X button. The animation and set up to these mechanics is charming but it gets dull quick as there’s no real challenge to be found as all you’re doing is pressing X to get around every obstacle. Unlike the last game this time you get the chance to play as both Shaggy and Scooby at the same time which you think would allow for some interesting cooperative gameplay but this is strictly a solo affair. By pressing the circle button players can tag out which character to play as but there’s little reason to do so. Scooby’s only unique skill is that he can crawl under objects and the only times you need Shaggy is when Scooby needs rescuing so the inclusion of this mechanic is an odd one.
In a rather unusual turn for Scooby Doo this game brings in a new combat system. In a very Luigi’s Mansion-esque fashion the Tome of Doom latches onto any nearby ghouls and gobbles them up. To weaken them you’re given button prompts, which isn’t the most exciting fight mechanic but works fine if there’s just a handful of encounters. Unfortunately that’s not the case. In some rooms you can encounter up to 5-6 enemies that all need capturing and you can avoid them for a while with disguises but you’ll eventually have to return to them as capturing every one of them all is a requirement to beating the game. To make matters worse the Tome needs energy to absorb enemies and there’s nothing worse than running out while amongst a group of ghouls and forced to back track to a power up before pressing on.
Mystery Mayhem has borrowed all of its visual assets from the previous game. Characters still have an almost plasticine like quality to them but still capture their 2D presences perfectly. Of course there’s that very charming Scooby Doo charm that we all love throughout the game, starting from the 3D recreation of the original intro, quirky animation and classic sound effects. Cutscenes include the vintage canned laughter track, yelps of “Zoinks” and “Jinkies” play when you encounter enemies and all of the original voice cast once again lend their talent to this video game outing.
Scooby Doo: Mystery Mayhem really does captures the essence of the cartoons that we all know and love. The artstyle (which might be starting to show its age) is a perfect representation of the series, the animation is funny and charming and the classic voice cast deliver another great performance. It’s just a shame then that the gameplay lets it down in almost every way. The whole adventure is essentially one dull drawn out fetch quest, puzzles and exploration require very little effort to solve and the less said about the tedious button mashing combat the better. All in all this is one mystery that is best left alone.