This article was contributed by occasional podcast guest and general cool guy David Goldberg, you might know him as Red Hedgehog.
When I heard that On the Stick was doing a month of horror video games, one of the first that came to mind was Scooby-Doo Mystery for the Sega Genesis. While it may not be particularly well-known or influential, it sits at the intersection of two other classic horror series: The children’s cartoon Scooby-Doo and the Lucasfilm Games adventure Maniac Mansion.
Scooby-Doo may not be scary, per se, but it is absolutely rooted in the world of supernatural horror. The television show was based, in part, on the radio serial I Love a Mystery which featured three friends who ran a detective agency and often dealt with supernatural horror. When Scooby-Doo was first pitched to CBS (as Who’s S-S-Scared?) the executives felt that the presentation was too scary for young viewers and the show was rejected. This was when the show was reworked to be more comedic and focus more attention on Shaggy and Scooby. Still, even though every villain in the show turns out to be a human in a mask, every creature they dress themselves up as is based on classic horror elements like ghosts, witch doctors, mummies, vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monsters.
Maniac Mansion was also a comedy based on horror, being a parody of b-rate horror movies, specifically those featuring teenagers who split up to explore a scary location. It probably deserved it’s own write-up in this month of horror video games, but failing that I recommend Bob Mackey’s excellent piece on it. The important part is that Maniac Mansion was a pioneer in graphic adventures. It used a limited lexicon of verbs at the bottom of the screen rather than a text parser and it eschewed the instant deaths and situations of getting stuck and having to restart of its competitors. Maniac Mansion‘s successful and well done port on the NES showed that graphic adventures can be a good choice for home consoles.
In retrospect, a graphic adventure seems like the obvious genre for a show based upon kids finding clues and solving mysteries. Still, the impulse at the time was to shove every license into a platformer – which was done to Scooby-Doo Mystery‘s counterpart on the SNES – so it provided a breath of fresh air. Scooby-Doo Mystery took the basic formula of Maniac Mansion (including the screen layout) and stuck the Scooby Doo gang into it. The game actually contains two separate adventures: Blake’s Hotel features a ski resort haunted by a Native American chief and Ha Ha Carnival features an amusement park with an evil clown scaring off customers.
The game has the player control Shaggy who is followed by Scooby. Fred, Daphne, and Velma are elsewhere, the gang having split up because Shaggy and Scooby are more interested in food than skiing or riding the attractions. Scooby is meant to be a sort of built-in hint system as he wanders the screen and sniffs at points of interest. This should help overcome one of the big downfalls of point-and-click adventure games, especially on consoles: pixel-hunting. Unfortunately, what scooby is sniffing at can be vague or misleading if multiple hotspots on the screen are near each other. Otherwise, the game sticks close to its LucasArts inspiration – there is no way to die, no time limit, and no way to get stuck.
There were no new episodes or movies of Scooby Doo being made at the time the game was made so the game’s writers stuck pretty closely to the dialog and characters of the early Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episodes. Aside from the appearance of a microwave (which is either an anachronism or a homage to Maniac Mansion) the game could take place in the early 70s. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t particularly good or engaging. I can find some amused enjoyment in the ridiculousness of early Scooby-Doo episodes, but the game usually feels pretty dry and when it attempts to ape the Scooby-Doo formula, it comes off as forced.
This is why it is good that it is actually a reasonable adventure game. Most puzzles are solved by using one item with another and the logic of why they work together is understandable. The Illusions Gaming Company made mostly adventure games during its existence and it is clear that they have a knack for it.
Scooby-Doo Mystery is not a great game. It’s an above average graphic adventure where Shaggy and Scooby run around and unmask the bad guy at the end. Still, it has a license based on a horror property with the underlying gameplay based on another horror game. Not every game needs to be amazing. Sometimes historical footnotes are interesting too.
- Released: 1995
- System: Genesis (There is also a SNES version, but in the grand tradition of 16-bit games, it has nothing to do with the Genesis game.)
- Publisher: Acclaim