I'm unclear about the target audience that the developers were aiming for with Scooby-Doo! First Frights on the Wii. On the one hand, it's intended for kids, which is evidenced by the cutesy design of the characters and the overall ease of gameplay, but if you're going to pick up a well-known licensed character and run with it, you'd think that someone would try to incorporate some familiar franchise elements instead of just depending on the familiarity of the characters to drive sales. Maybe I've been out of touch with the franchise for far too long, but I know that a live action, direct-to-DVD film was just released to perhaps go with this game. This definitely isn't the Scooby-Doo that I grew up with, so if the developers weren't going for nostalgia, then why is the gameplay so bland and boring? There are a handful of other kid-themed brawlers out there, and a few even incorporate two-player mechanics similar to First Frights (the last Nicktoons game comes to mind), so why pick up this title over the rest of the competition?
First Frights actually plays fine for a standard beat-'em-up game, and I'd say it manages to slightly outdo the Nicktoons titles that THQ manages to churn out year after year. There's not a lot to the actual gameplay; you're automatically paired up with a CPU-controlled character for each stage, and the character selection for each stage is predetermined. This is due to the fact that each character has a particular ability that you'll need to use to overcome various obstacles, such as Daphne's ability to climb poles and swing around on chains. In each stage, you'll also notice areas that are obviously designed for other characters. These sections seem to constitute the game's hidden areas, adding a little bit of replay value to the game once you finish the relatively short single-player portion. Also, since the game places a heavy emphasis on two characters and teamwork, it thankfully features drop-in and drop-out options for a second player to join in on the inane bashing of ghosts, goblins, witches, zombies and other random creatures.
I suppose I'm being a little unfair in saying that the game doesn't resemble much from Scooby-Doo. If nothing else, the hyperstylized characters are still instantly recognizable, and the game also utilizes voice actors from recent Scooby-Doo animated films, which is a nice touch and might draw in some fans of current Scooby-Doo efforts. What I'm really complaining about isn't so much the presentation of the game, but how it plays. I'm perplexed about why we haven't seen an Ace Attorney-style Scooby-Doo game at this point, but this is a pretty far cry from that. It's a straight beat-'em-up affair, meaning that you'll take the cast of Mystery Inc., through a series of stages filled with typical Scooby villains, and mindlessly tap the attack button to wipe them out as you make your way to the boss fight at the end of each stage.
The available characters all have a similar attack style, aside from two who have ranged abilities, so regardless of the active character, you won't notice much of a difference between them. It's a shame that they couldn't have added a bit more variety, and while they do have one unique talent tied to puzzles, you hardly need to use that all the time. I suppose it doesn't matter much since the game forces you to use preset characters for each stage, but when you open up the game toward the end for the various free play modes, there should be some more variety. The only variety that the game really tosses at the characters is in the number of unlockable costumes, which are goofy and often out of place, but add a little pizzazz to an otherwise boring affair.
Visually, the game is decent on the Wii, and it's definitely aided by the design choice of giving the characters some cutesy, exaggerated features, which help add some style to the characters' expressions and movements. The environments are a little on the bland side, and I thought the level design was a little too linear and boring. The puzzles you encounter that require the use of specific character abilities are hardly taxing; as soon as you see something you can't immediately get across or around, you know it's time to switch to the other character and use his or her ability instead. Aside from that, the level continues to consist of bashing other enemies and finding hidden Scooby Snacks, so there's very little diversity in the structure of each stage.
The audio is decent, but the soundtrack fails to be memorable. As I mentioned earlier, at least they included voice actors who portrayed the characters in recent animated films, which adds a bit of credibility and ties it into the existing property. However, I find them to be poor substitutes for the voice actors from the original cartoons, which ran in the '70s and '80s. This will probably be a moot point for the younger audience, but for the parents who will be playing this with their children, be ready a slightly different experience than you expected.
Scooby-Doo! First Fright is a decent brawler that is intended for children but serves as a very poor example of a Scooby-Doo licensed title. It makes little to no use of the detective aspect for which the teens were well-known, and while the game incorporates plenty of visual cues that hearken back to their older adventures, it's not enough to satisfy that twinge of nostalgia that I get from the property. It'll probably satisfy the younger audience, but as a twentysomething gamer, this title didn't do a thing for me. It's technically competent, if perhaps a little bland, but the poor use of the license was disappointing.
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