I wish there was some way to tell THQ not to bother with the Game Boy Advance versions of their multi-platform releases unless they actually put some effort into it. Tired, formulaic, watered-down versions of console platformers whose only high point is the licensed character it features apparently make some money, however, because they keep on doing it, and the kiddies keep on buying it.

THQ’s recipe for GBA port mediocrity:
(1) licensed character
(1) gimmick that the game supposedly revolves around but doesn’t really add much
(3) hours worth of mediocre platformer gameplay
(1) Password only savegame system
Directions: Mix ingredients, box it up, and $ell!

Scooby-Doo! Unmasked follows this recipe pretty closely, unfortunately. Basically, the game revolves around what could easily be a plot for the TV show: The gang of Mystery, Inc. is off to visit Fred’s cousin Ted, who works at a hollywood creature effects shop, Monstrous Fright & Magic. Naturally, when they get there, the creature shop is a wreck, Ted is nowhere to be found, and the owner blames Ted for the destruction of his shop and the theft of his creature making technology (Which Scooby ends up using in the form of ability granting costumes). Of course, its up to Scooby and the gang to clear Ted’s good name, save the creature shop, and eat copious amounts of scooby snacks along the way. What, did you think it would be a Scooby-Doo game without a mystery?

While there really isn’t much to complain about in regards to the game’s graphics, there isn’t really anything remarkable about them either. The characters look and move just like they do in the cartoon, and the ‘monsters’ appropriately fit the style as well. The backgrounds are fairly dull, however, and the arrows that are ever present to tell you where to go next are somewhat distracting (its not like you couldn’t figure it out without them). The best aspect of the game is that they actually used authentic sound effects and music from the show. It just wouldn’t feel like Scooby-Doo without them, and they are integrated nicely into the game. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they contributed more to the Scooby atmosphere than even the graphics did. Now, I understand that a kid’s game would involve a little more hand-holding than your average title when it comes to learning the controls, and I feel that the method the developers used for Scooby-Doo: Unmasked is a great way to introduce new moves to the player (Shaggy comes onscreen and explains it while a ‘ghost’ of Scooby runs through the move before your eyes), but the general lack of complexity just doesn’t warrant it. There aren’t any compelling reasons not to just button mash your way through the game and the tutorials end up being tedious and time-consuming.

I’m pretty sure I’ve played this game before. Sure, it looked different, sure, it sounded different, but the platform levels look almost identical to every licensed character GBA game by THQ I’ve ever played.

Basically, you go through the levels collecting a variety of objects: Scooby Snacks are the most plentiful, with every 100 you collect replenishing a health ‘medal’. Clues are important, because you need to take these to Velma to help solve the mystery and progress through the game (some of which are red herrings). Recipe ingredients are crucial for the Shaggy cooking mini-game, a pleasant little distraction from the monotony that has you matching up ingredients with what Shaggy and Scooby have in mind for their next concoction (and in the tradition of the cartoon, they can get kind of gross).

By far the most important of the collectables is ‘mubber’. Mubber is what the creatures made by Monstrous Fright & Magic are made of, an edible soy-based product that comes in three flavors. Each monster you defeat leaves behind little clumps of this stuff, and as you progress through the game you can use the mubber to create the three ability-conferring costumes (Kung-Fu, Robin Hood, and Bat). I was a little disappointed that the core concept for the game -the costumes- didn’t end up as essential to the game as it could have been. For the most part they don’t really enable you to do anything that you couldn’t have done without them and are there strictly for appearances. Thus, it usually didn’t phase me too much whenever I passed under a UV lamp, the rays of which dissolve the mubber costumes instantly.

I don’t know if I can stress it enough, if you are making a game for a handheld system, forcing your player to write down a password instead of saving the game to the cartridge may as well make the game a worthless hunk of plastic. My son has four THQ games based on licensed characters, and they all use this idiotic, outdated mode of ‘saving’ progress in the game. Worrying about keeping track of a little scrap of paper goes against the whole concept of portable gaming, and this should have died with the original NES. If cost is what is holding THQ back, I urge them to reconsider. If the games were actually good it might even be worth the effort, but considering how forgettable they are, I’d sooner add it to the nearest land-fill.

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