OK, go with us on this one. Just for a moment, try to put out of your head the images of those atrocious Scooby-Doo! movies starring Freddy Prinze Jr. and Buffy. Those of you who are old enough, think back to the original cartoon of the 1960s, with its happy-go-lucky vibe, the gentle humor, the groovy music. Now, aren't those nice memories? After playing THQ's new Scooby-Doo game, Scooby-Doo! Unmasked, at a recent THQ press event, we can say we enjoyed our handful of minutes with the game more than we ever enjoyed the movies.
In Unmasked, Scoob and the gang travel to meet Fred's cousin Jed, who owns a studio. As soon as they arrive, strange happenings begin occurring throughout the studio, as mechanical monsters go haywire, and it's up to Scooby, Shaggy, and the rest to travel through the game's 15 levels to get to the bottom of this spooky studio mystery. Along the way, they'll encounter plenty of fun adventures that are designed to both keep the player engaged and keep Scooby running and jumping on his way to solving the game's mysteries.
We sampled a handful of levels in our time with Unmasked and got a chance to check out one of the central mechanics in the game: Scooby's trio of costume changes. Each time the cowardly canine changes his outfit, he'll gain a host of new associated powers that will help him battle monsters (or avoid them altogether) on his way to getting to the end of the level. The Robin Hood costume, for example, let's Scooby shoot suction cup arrows at enemies. Meanwhile, the kung-fu suit immediately teaches him kung fu, and the bat suit lets him glide through the air to reach goals he might otherwise never be able to reach.
As you make your way through a particular level, you'll be collecting plenty of power-ups as you go, such as Scooby snacks and other foodstuffs (which Shaggy uses to build his trademark multideck sandwiches), which will keep your health up. And "mubber" fragments are the building materials that Scooby will need to gather to create his specialized costumes. If you have enough mubber, you simply step up to one of a number of costume machines found in the game's levels...and a few seconds later, out will pop Scooby in his powerful new costume. There's even a number of different power levels for each costume. The upgraded Robin Hood suit, for example, let us shoot three suction arrows at once, a perfect choice when surrounded by the game's many creepy monsters.
Speaking of monsters, there are plenty to keep Scooby's teeth chattering in fear in Unmasked, such as skeletal knights armed with swords and shields, green-winged pterodactyls, burly dudes wielding marching band cymbals (OK, they weren't that scary), and rats galore. Scooby can take out these baddies with regular attacks or with specialized offensive moves, such as the suction arrows or his martial arts skills (thanks to his kung-fu suit).
Unmasked is essentially a platformer at heart, with plenty of cute, cartoony levels for Scooby to explore. We especially enjoyed the Chinatown level we explored, which had the wily Great Dane leaping platforms in a narrow, brightly lit alley that looked straight out of a Hanna-Barbera vision of Chinatown. Although the majority of Unmasked seems to play as a platformer, there are a few specialized levels that mix things up to keep it interesting, such as a fast-paced sewer level that has Scooby and Shaggy hurdling down a twisting waterslide-like sewer tunnel, looking to both avoid obstacles and jump ravines all the way down. The look of Unmasked immediately brings to mind the old Scooby cartoon, and the THQ developers used a process they call "contour shading" to give the game's visuals a more hand-drawn feel. The inclusion of many of the original show's voice cast doesn't hurt either, including the voice actor who originally portrayed Fred. And if that's not enough, Adam West, TV's original Batman, is slated to make a guest voice appearance in the game.
So, forget what Hollywood has done to these childhood icons. Scooby-Doo! Unmasked looks to pay tribute to the fun-loving, mystery-solving gang we all loved when we were kids, while still giving younger gamers of today the kind of challenge and fun they want. The game is right around the corner for all the major consoles, as well as for the GBA, while a Nintendo DS version of the game (which will feature an exclusive costume) is scheduled for a mid-October release. Expect to see a full review of the game as soon as it makes its way to stores.