Scooby-Doo! and the Spooky Swamp Review
Posted by Zach Kaplan
Decent but a bit murky
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! premiered over 40 years ago, introducing television audiences to the lovable Mystery Inc. team and its unique line-up of distinct characters, each charming in their own way. It followed them as they took on spooky yet ridiculous case after case, and over time the show firmly embedded the phrase "I would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!" into popular culture, as well as a suspicion of the local butcher, museum curator or carnival owner of using a ridiculous contraption to create the appearance of a supernatural creature. As with their 2009 release of Scooby-Doo! First Frights, Torus and Warner Bros. invite you and your younger relatives to take part in the fun with this follow-up, Scooby-Doo! and the Spooky Swamp, a pared-down counterpart to the Wii release.
The story begins at the titular spooky swamp, but the name is a bit misleading as this mostly serves as a tutorial stage and the bizarrely-located Mystery Inc. cabin headquarters. Here, Shaggy and Scooby wander off on their own and meet Lila, who's cooking up a delicious-smelling stew. It mesmerises the guys into searching for the missing ingredients, journeying to the Western ghost town of El Muncho and the desolate Alpine destination of Howling Peaks. Lucky for them, the rest of the team find their own reasons to head there as well, where new mysteries await.
Anyone familiar with the LEGO series will find themselves right at home as the gameplay is very similarly styled. As in the Wii counterpart and the game's predecessor, it's about halfway between a platformer and a beat-em-up, and there are innumerable collectibles lying around that exclusively go toward purely aesthetic costume shopping. The superficial nature of the upgrades will divide players between those who would prefer something that truly affects the gameplay and those who love to watch Scooby-Doo run around wearing man-hands and a panda mask, and the latter crowd will find a wide enough array of unlockables to appease their appetites. Players will also encounter a variety of puzzles and sub-missions along the way, but these never get more complicated than searching for a few nearby parts or pressing a few buttons in an easily-deciphered order. Generally these are comical and imaginatively designed, as when you have to launch watermelons into planks standing on their sides to form a complete bridge, but there are still plenty of tasks more simple in nature.
Fans of the show will find plenty to like here as the stories are suitably goofy and the dialogue fitting and fun. You play as any two team members at once, one following the other, and during the interstitial cinematics and near-constant text-based talking, the characters really sound like they should, with each of their personality quirks well-represented.
The above mentioned double-character mechanic is one area where this version of the game seriously disappoints. It makes sense in the console versions as a friend can drop in and out to provide assistance or solve two-person puzzles, but here it feels tacked-on, as if the developers couldn't fathom a Spooky Swamp without it. This is a single-player adventure, so beyond the ability to swap between characters with the press of a button and the minor help in combat provided by the CPU, this mechanic serves no purpose here. There also are barely any puzzles that require the use of both characters at once. Beyond this, the full cast seems unnecessary as while they each have their own unique abilities, swapping between them feels like a burden rather than a gameplay enhancer. It makes sense that Scooby can fit through doggie doors and that Velma can operate machinery, but why can only Shaggy swing from a vine, Fred push boxes and Daphne climb ropes? Constantly swapping to perform such small tasks feels cumbersome, especially thanks to the system by which you do so – you must enter a sub-menu and scroll through them one by one, which takes about five seconds of load time between each.
The game is extremely linear, basically comprising following specific objectives. You'll talk to one person who tells you to perform a task and then gives you something that compels you to find someone else and talk to them; they give you another task, and the process continues. In between you'll face an onslaught of mostly mindless baddies; while a large percentage simply run at you and task you with beating them into submission, they don't all act the same and not all of them are destroyed by simple repeated hitting. When they require a number of steps, the game will provide tips in the form of text-based dialogue between the characters. Younger fans who need some help will like this, but those a bit more clever will have no time to think of the solution on their own and pat themselves on the back for their inventiveness. It would have been nice to be able to turn this off, but the game does not provide this option. Additionally, while it's not necessary to defeat every enemy, it's still a bit frustrating that they constantly re-spawn every time you return to a room. This fact is not helped by the lack of a map, which will guarantee that you revisit certain areas while you attempt to complete each objective. Another combat flaw occurs with the half of the cast that throw their weapons rather than hitting enemies at close range – aiming is imprecise and halfway employs a lock-on system that doesn't always work correctly.
This mystery is also very short – only two cases besides the shorter story that frames them, a smaller amount than its predecessor. After you're done you can go back and explore, but those not satisfied with collecting items will find little reason to do so. There's also a bit of restrictiveness to the environments – there are invisible walls aplenty that border off back alleys, nooks and crannies, and while these don't get in the way during objective-based play, the lack of completely open areas will hamper players' explorative instincts.
One big flaw of Spooky Swamp is its control scheme. You'll almost exclusively use the buttons and rarely the touch screen; because of this, when you have to use the latter it feels unnatural and tacked-on. Constantly keeping the stylus at the ready is an uncomfortable chore; you need it to press certain buttons, use the magnifying glass and photographing tools and, most inconvenient of all, shake off "hugging" spiders. It's as if the developers felt that a DS game wouldn't be complete without touch screen controls, but they add nothing to the experience and only serve to get in the way.
As in the predecessor, the gang's made to look a bit younger than in the show. Spooky Swamp is visually pleasing overall, with lots of detailed and interesting environments, but there are a few graphical flaws that get in the way. The first is within CGI cutscenes – while well-animated, they're extremely compressed and the amount of detail suffers. Apart from that, character models are a bit odd as often they're comprised of dark outlines bordering sparsely detailed features, which makes for a few bizarre-looking cast members with only blurs for faces. Finally, the camera moves of its own accord and there's no way to nudge it, which is unfortunate as many of its angles are far from perfect and a number of them are downright bad. Sound-wise there's little to complain about as spoken dialogue is generally well-recorded and voiced with talent while the music is enveloping and sometimes genuinely creepy.
Young fans will appreciate the simplicity of the objectives, puzzles and combat as well as the faithfulness to the series' personality and the imagination with which Torus has designed Scooby-Doo! and the Spooky Swamp, but this version suffers from a number of flaws such as imprecise aiming, cumbersome controls and a character-swapping system that's poorly designed, lazily implemented and weighed down with load times. The experience is also quite short, but fans of collectibles and costumes will have no problems here as these occur just about everywhere in the game. Overall this is a decent release, but its flaws hold back the fun seen in its console-based big brother.