Scooby Doo: Who's Watching Who?

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The plot for this, the ninety trillionth Scooby Doo game to slip past you unnoticed, finds the integrity of the Scooby Gang challenged by snooty rival mystery solvers GSI (Ghost Scene Investigators). This hi-tech group believes that using an anthropomorphic Great Dane to find clues is sub-par detective work, as they rely on the far more down-to-earth services of a robot cat. Clearly the Hanna Barbera universe isn't big enough for two dubiously qualified supernatural investigators, and thus the gauntlet is thrown down for a televised spook-off, with both teams trying to solve a bunch of mysteries and find favour with the viewing public.

Quite honestly, my first impressions of Who's Watching Who bordered on giddy excitement. As the story begins, Scooby gets to wander around the scenery, and conversations can be initiated by standing next to characters. For one glorious fleeting moment, it looked like someone had finally wised up to the rather obvious notion of doing a Scooby game in the style of Phoenix Wright. In other words, a game in which you actually have to solve a mystery by exploring and talking, rather than jumping over crates.

Rikes!

Then the game actually starts, and... well, the first section you'll play is a platformer so dreary and poorly designed that I almost took it for demo code. Presented in a pseudo-3D style, it's almost impossible to tell where Scooby is in relation to other platforms or enemies. Not that this matters, since the collision detection is casual to say the least. Scooby can damage enemies, often without touching them, while platforms vary in solidity from one side to the other. There are precious few enemies in each level, and those that do appear are slow and easily dispatched with your spin or dash attack. Should you take a hit, they almost always drop a health-reviving Scooby Snack when defeated. You're more likely to fail due to graphics-induced confusion than the in-game foes.

Stand Scooby in front of one of the skeletons slumped against the rear wall, and his body vanishes behind it, while the skull pops up on top. Mistime a jump onto a higher platform so that you collide with the edge, or indeed any other object, and Scooby sort of freezes in mid-air and then floats about while the game code frantically tries to work out where he can land. Usually, it decides to just drop you into an abyss, forcing you back to the last checkpoint. Gee, thanks.

Ruh-oh!

prize

There's a prize for the first reader to figure out what the hell is happening here.

The second mystery takes place in a candy factory full of conveyor belts, pistons and hovering platforms, and the depth perception is so confusing that it feels like you're playing inside an Escher painting rather than a videogame. It's a weird and upsetting place where intangible objects slip through each other, and the dimensional axis we have come to trust as our guide through the physical world is rendered flat and impossible. I gave up trying to count the number of times poor Scooby spiralled into darkness because I was fooled by some optical illusion that promised a solid platform beneath his paws.

There's a procession of equally crude hiccups on display throughout, and the game itself just isn't interesting or original enough to allow you to overlook them. Even if the game was smooth and polished, there's simply nothing to do other than plod along the path, smashing mostly empty crates or collecting food-based power-ups that you'll never use. And yet, this woefully broken example of basic platforming is but one third of the overall experience.

Once you've sobbed your way through the platform stage, you meet up with Shaggy and get chased by whichever ghost you're supposed to be investigating. Control for this stage relies solely on the stylus, and the wayward responses are near fatal. On the top screen you get the looped animation of Shaggy and Scoob fleeing the ghost. On the bottom screen, you must stroke a right-facing arrow to keep them ahead of their pursuer, occasionally stroking an up-arrow to make them jump over obstacles. Other things block your path, and must be popped, moved or smashed using the stylus in Wario-style mini-challenges. It's a nice idea, but the implementation is awful. Not only does the need to constantly tap the arrow to keep moving really strain your fingers (these stages are just long enough to aggravate) but it requires you to watch both screens at the same time, and figure out what the game wants you to do with each hurdle in a split-second. Get caught and back to the start you go - too much mental effort for too little reward.

Raggy!

fake

They spend all this time trying to unmask fake ghosts, while real monsters are clearly roaming around. Weird.

Alternatively, you may find yourself in the Mystery Machine careening around small driving stages. These bits are actually quite fun - at least the graphics are acceptable and everything works how you'd expect - so naturally these are the shortest bits you'll play. There are also occasional location-specific stages, such as Scooby surfing down a jerky pipe of chocolate, but the core gameplay trio remains in place at all times. There is a reason for it all though. While you flail and tumble through all these stages you're always on the lookout for clues. You're also searching for pieces of a ghost trap, which comes into play later. They're hard to miss - the levels are so sparsely populated that anything that doesn't look like a crate automatically stands out - and they're almost always placed in plain sight along a linear path.

Clues can be taken back to Velma, which triggers an investigation screen in which you can apply a variety of clue-spotting techniques to the objects in question - fingerprint dusting, Scooby's sense of smell, a magnifying glass, that sort of thing. When you find the right technique, you'll be given a little titbit of info and the clue will be assigned to one - or more - of your suspects depending on what you've discovered. Once everything has been checked, one suspect will have the most clues pointing in their direction - and then it's on to a final chase scene, with the added bonus of having to deploy your ghost trap pieces to ensnare the wrongdoer, ready for their inevitable unmasking and "meddling kids" outburst.

Then you do it all over again, in exactly the same way, for the next mystery. And the next. And the next. In this regard, I suppose that makes it an incredibly faithful adaptation of the cartoons, right down to the minimal animation and recycled backgrounds.

I was tempted to give Who's Watching Who the benefit of the doubt simply for trying to make use of the DS stylus, and for attempting to recreate the Scooby Doo formula via a well-intentioned collection of gameplay styles. But, really, it's a fundamentally broken game, riddled with graphical glitches and bizarre bugs, that doesn't even have the good grace to be a fascinating failure. For all its yelps and screeches, it's deathly dull to play and so there's no incentive to suffer its idiosyncrasies. In fact, you could say the whole thing is - wait for it - a very scrappy do.

2 / 10

Read the Eurogamer.net review policy Scooby Doo: Who's Watching Who? Dan Whitehead Like, zoiks. 2006-12-08T07:40:00+00:00 2 10

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