Scrappy-Doo is thought by many Scooby-Doo fans to have ruined the series when he was first introduced in 1979 to save the flagging ten-year-old show. He’s often compared to Jar-Jar Binks in that regard, except Star Wars has never needed to be saved at any point. That Christmas special thing didn’t happen.
Personally I’ve never known Scooby without Scrappy so I can’t comment on whether or not he was a positive influence, or a water-skiing shark-jumper. If you were a child of the ’60s and thought Scrappy was an abomination you can blame Henery (not a typo) Hawk of Looney Tunes fame – Scrappy’s irrepressible persona was inspired by him.
Being so divisive a character, it was a controversial move for Hi-Tec to make Scrappy the star of their multi-system 1991 platform game. More surprising still then to sideline Uncle Scooby and Shaggy as the ‘damsels in distress’ to be rescued.
In terms of premise, there’s not a whole lot more to it than that. The three of you have set sail on a holiday cruise aboard the Bluebell, and the two non-playable characters have been kidnapped by the nefarious Baron Von Drak. A nemesis apparently devised solely for this game. Possibly a reference to Donald Duck’s uncle, Professor Ludwig Von Drake?
Naturally, it’s your duty to slip on your boxing gloves and save the cowardly goofballs, enabling them to resume investigating the misdemeanours of crooks dressed up as abominable snowmen and whatnot. Despite one magazine reporting that you can assume the role of either Great Dane, it is in fact just a single-player affair. If they’d actually played the game this would have been difficult to miss as Scooby and Shaggy barely make an appearance. Not as animated sprites anyway.
In spite of any misgivings with regards to the lead character, Scrappy-Doo and Scooby-Doo turned out to be the best of the Hanna-Barbera licensed titles produced by Hi-Tec. Some would say it’s the only good one.
Scrappy’s escapade encompasses nine huge levels beginning on the holiday resort cruise ship. Beyond this is a desert island, forest, haunted castle, ice world, and so on. A nicely drawn map screen interjects between levels to let you know where you’re headed next and gives graphician Richard Morton an opportunity to animate a larger version of Scrappy. These sequences tend to feature allusions to popular fictional figures such as Indiana Jones and Tarzan. So you’ll see Scrappy swinging through the rainforest on vines, being chased by a giant boulder, or racing down a train track in a runaway mine cart.
Most of these references relate to games, TV shows and so on that have nothing to do with the matter in hand suggesting that the world of Scooby-Doo wasn’t exactly the specialist topic of coder, Gary Antcliffe, and artist, Richard Morton. They’re fun all the same so it seems churlish to complain.
One that stands out (literally) is the belly-bouncing frog trampoline in the prehistoric level, highly reminiscent of Chuck Rock. You’ll also spot ‘smeg head’ signs in Antarctica; likely a nod towards the Red Dwarf sitcom that was still a cult favourite for BBC 2 viewers three years into its run in 1991. I’ll refrain from pointing out all these pop-culture winks, otherwise, there’ll be nothing left for you to discover for yourselves.
Enemies can be dispatched either by jumping on their heads, or punching them. Presumably deploying “Ta dadada ta daaa! Puppy Power!” in either case. There’s no-one around to hold you back in this solo crusade so you won’t need to plead “Lemme at ’em! Lemme at ’em! I’ll splat ’em! I’ll rock ’em and sock ’em!” On that score, where are all the catchphrases? Were they only available for an additional fee? Hmmf. Corporate fat cats even regulate crime-fighting poochs.
Being feisty and precocious is wielded almost like a weapon itself in the cartoon, though should you require a bit of extra oomph you can clamber aboard a Duck Tales style pogo stick/cane, or Back to the Future hovercraft complete with safety helmet. First encountering the latter in a prehistoric dino world pocked with erupting volcanoes I did wonder if a running time travel gag was afoot, yet the hoverboard can also be found in later levels. A snorkel too for underwater exploration minus suffocation.
Scrappy begins with three lives (plus continues), and earns an extra one whenever he collects fifteen Scooby Snacks. Only then can you run around robbin’ banks all whacked up on… no wait, I’m getting mixed up. Ahem. There’s a bonus round at the end of each level where we can collect point-accumulating bric-a-brac, and even more of Scooby’s favourite doggy treats, whilst food of various other types serve as energy top-ups. It’s generous rather than punishing in that way, and not the longest game ever, so you won’t have to be a consummate pro to complete it.
Bearing little relation to the cartoon series is explained away by the holiday scenario, yet the absence of the original theme tune remains conspicuous. Likely a result of licensing restrictions. Enable the hidden protagonist character by typing his name into the menu screen – Stig the Rat – and it all becomes clear. PAL Developments were working on the game before the Scooby license was secured – the two were married asunder at the 11th hour once they were given the green light. Revealing Stig by other means was featured on an episode of GamesMaster to showcase the power of the Game Genie/Action Replay cartridge.
Regardless of his origins, for a budget game, our Marmitey puppy chum is a pleasant surprise; one that Hi-Tec lavished with more care and attention than strictly required by such fare. Scrappy’s likeness is excellent, as is the artwork in the title and interstitial still screens. Parallax scrolling is a fixture throughout… if that’s not a contradiction in terms, and it’s actually animated. Check out the convincing waterfalls in the spooky forest and lightning effects/oscillating fans and cogs in the castle for some perfect examples.
Enhancing the sense of depth perception from the outset it’s also possible to watch the scenery go by through the boat’s windows and portholes, both underwater and above. An impressive effect as you flip rapidly back and forth between the deck and lower quarters.
Controls, whilst a tad loose, are sufficiently dependable and responsive so as not to be a chore. Collision detection too doesn’t let the side down, and most quirks are weighted in your favour. No significant bugs are noticeable, unless you count the glitchy graphics of the hidden sprite. Yes, I can confirm the secret phrase works. It’s not a myth.
Clearly PAL Developments had the time and inclination to make this as impressive as it could be. Perhaps they were attempting to make amends for all the licensed horrors that had gone before?
Our mission of mercy concludes in the ‘Isle of Sorrows’ lair of Baron Von Drak who turns out to be none other than Pete’s Dragon! You know, the star of Disney’s 1977 live/animated musical comedy movie? Not a very fierce rendition as it happens. He sits around on his backside half-heartedly spitting fireballs, waiting for us to punch him repeatedly in the head. Following several bodily colour cycles, it dislodges, and Shaggy and Scooby are liberated from his clawed clutches. Well, dangling cage technically.
The credits roll and Scrappy is invited to play again as we’re shown a still of Elliott/Von Drak, now with his head firmly re-attached and apparently sleeping. Scooby and Shaggy watch on from inside a… a… words escape me. Oh well, making sense is overrated anyway. What do you want for eight quid? A stick and a moon to lollipop it with?
Yoinks!!! I’ve reached the end of this article without subtly wedging in that illustrious catchphrase. Now it’s just going to seem forced and cliche, like some kind of lazy, overwrought sound bite you reel off on autopilot because you can’t think of anything better to wrap up with.
Alright, alright, ever the people pleaser, I’ll roll with it…
“Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. *sigh!* There’s so little hope for advancement.”