- The Washington Times - Friday, May 7, 2004

Superhero and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can’t get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video-game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the melding of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

The Mystery Inc. gang returns to thwart the plans of a scheming business tycoon in the Xbox adventure Scooby Doo Mystery Mayhem ($39.99). THQ brings the animated hijinks to life as a single player works through five episodic missions that are transformed into a virtual world of Hanna-Barbera’s legendary cartoon series.

What’s the story? What starts out as a routine ghost-hunting caper, soon turns into a task of monstrous proportions. A mysterious villain is using an ancient book, the Tome of Doom, to unleash some of the creepiest creatures the gang has ever met. Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Fred and Daphne need help in finding the legendary monograph, defeating the creeps and solving the mystery.

Characters’ character: The game does a splendid job of following the cartoon series by combining the meddling kids mystery formula with nostalgic nuances such as an opening screen supported by the toe-tapping theme song, turning game levels into cartoon episodes (complete with the introductory title screen), a laugh track, dead-on silly sound effects and plenty of battles with classic Scooby villains.

The player can easily switch between controlling the petrified pooch or bumbling beatnik, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers as he explores haunted libraries, spook-filled sound stages and zombified swamplands.

Puzzles abound for the pair as they look for switches, work through mazes, release captured comrades and seek clues to open pathways while avoiding spirited adversaries.

A much more robust gaming experience begins after the player controls the Tome of Doom. Now ghouls, mummies and assorted bad guys must be captured in a dazzling light show to continue the game’s progress.

The pair must replenish their “cool meter” through a diet of Scooby Snacks and mini-games can be unlocked by acquiring and compiling ingredients used in creating the famed Shaggy sandwich.

Current Scooby voice actor Scott Innes re-creates the role of the dog and offers his best Casey Kasem impression of Shaggy while former “Facts of Life” star Mindy Cohn voices Velma Dinkley.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? The detective loved controlling the animated investigators as he searched for clues to unravel the corporate conspiracy, and was able to easily capture villains. Holding down a button while pointing the book at the adversary worked perfectly but those pesky poltergeist were problematic as they threw items while avoiding capture.

Parent’s blood-pressure meter: 120/90, slightly elevated. Apparitions and a wide variety of ghouls are painlessly trapped in the Tome of Doom and the pair of detectives never die but just get so scared they jump into each other’s arms (just like the show) and run away. Mom and dad will enjoy the Scooby mythos while their offspring take on the role of a junior ghostbuster.

Read all about it: DC Comics has offered a monthly Scooby Doo comic book since 1997 ($2.25 each).

What’s it worth? Strictly for the 10-year old and under crowd, the game works well as an entertaining introduction to the third person adventure genre of video games while doing justice to the Mystery Inc. gang’s legend.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn’t have time to get fully plugged in.

• Resident Evil: Outbreak, by Capcom (for PlayStation 2, rated “M,” suitable for players 17 and older, $49.99). The bloody survival horror video game franchise that has become a pop culture phenomenon returns as killing and turning into zombies becomes an online event for up to four players .

Players can choose from one of eight different characters as they combat Raccoon City’sbiogenetically engineered plague by working together in real time three- dimensional landscapes, and by using strengths and items unique to each to eliminate the Umbrella Corporation’s nasty beasts and protect teammates from the swarms of undead.

The adventure remains as creepy as ever and turning into a zombie (online players only) is quite an experience. Unfortunately, despite the smorgasbord of ghastly creations ready to inflict damage, the game’s real killer is excruciating load times which will force Resident Evil fans to purchase Sony’s Hard Disk Drive ($99.99) just to speed up the exploration.

Read all about it: Since 1998, Wildstorm has adapted the Resident Evil mythology into comic book form. Its last attempt arrived in 2002 with the 144-page graphic novel “Resident Evil: Code Veronica Book Four” ($14.95) that had been originally published as Hong Kong manga.

• Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season, by Warner Home Video (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $64.99). Hanna-Barbera’s classic animated series from 1964 arrives on digital video in a four-disk set featuring 26 episodes. Each chronicles the adventures of the 11-year old Jonny, his dad Dr. Benton Quest, ex-agent Race Banion, Indian boy Hadji and the familiar bulldog Bandit. This almost 11-hour immersion into the Quest mythology highlights the animation work of comic book artist, and Quest creator Doug Wildey.

Extras on Disk 4 include a video handbook offering narrated, animated segments highlighting main characters, adversaries and gadgets used in the show, the episode “Double Danger” presented with fact and trivia bubbles and a history of the Quest cartoon with modern sequential art legends Alex Ross and Steve Rude offering opinions on its brilliance.

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics offered 12 sequential art issues of The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest during the mid-1990s (still priced at $2.95 each).


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