Before Spongebob Squarepants, the name that was most synonymous with the Nickelodeon brand was Rugrats. Rugrats was a clever animated series about a group of babies, and how they turned mundane, everyday events into adventures with their imaginations. It was a pretty creative show for its time, and even managed to get some adult interest due to its sharp humor. Of course, every 90s franchise seemed to get a video game or two, and the year after the Rugrats made their first leap to the big screen, they made the jump to the Nintendo 64 in 1999’s Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt.
Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt is a board game style video game, similar to Mario Party. But while Mario Party often lead to a manic (if sometimes unfair) good time with friends, then Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt is merely the empty shell of that concept.
To its benefit, Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt at least manages to capture the tone of the show that inspired it. The setup of the game is that Grandpa Lou is trying to teach the babies Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil how to play board games, but continuously falls asleep after beginning his explanations, leaving the babies’ imaginations to take over. The game even features the voice cast from the show, which is a nice touch. Though some of the voice clips become overused incredibly quickly.
The game features three different board games: Angelica’s Temple of Gloom, Pirate Treasure Hunt, and Reptar Rally. Each board game not only changes the aesthetics, but also adds their own little twists to the gameplay.
Angelica’s Temple of Gloom is a co-operative board, which sees the babies work together to gather treasures before Angelica (Tommy’s cousin and bratty antagonist of the series) can gather hers. Pirate Treasure Hunt is competitive, with each baby trying to be the first to claim four pieces of pirate treasure. Lastly, Reptar Rally changes things up the most, and sees the babies transformed into dinosaurs and trying to claim set amounts of candy, while hindering the progress of the other players.
Both Angelica’s Temple of Gloom and Pirate Treasure Hunt share some common elements, with cookies being used as currency (think Mario Party’s coins) to purchase upgrades, and are gained by either landing on a cookie space or if the CPU-controlled Grandpa Lou passes by a player. Meanwhile, the babies risk getting tired with each space they move to. They can refill their sleep meter by landing on a sleep space, but should the meter run out entirely, the baby falls asleep and is taken to the crib, with their next turn being wasted on get back into the game.
Reptar Rally continues to differentiate things by placing the babies onto a series of candy-themed boards, with each baby requiring a set number of three different types of candy, meaning they need to travel between boards if they hope to get everything on their scavenger list.
That’s all there is to it really. Though the game manages to capture the tone of the show, it fails to accomplish much else. Unlike Mario Party, there are no mini-games to speak of, which immediately becomes a glaring omission in depth and variety. Likewise, the fact that there are only three game boards means the experience losses steam incredibly quickly. And frankly, the board game segments themselves aren’t really fun, and lack the surprises and gimmicks that Mario Party brought to the table.
The game is also not pretty to look at. It’s difficult for Nintendo 64 games to hold up visually, due to their nature of being wedged in the awkward area between 2D and 3D done right. But it seems licensed games had particular trouble translating the look of their properties to the N64’s capabilities, and Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt is certainly no exception, with the characters looking humorously blocky and blob-like.
Thankfully, the music is pretty fun. It’s certainly not a great soundtrack, but it captures the feel of the show while also providing sounds that are distinctly N64. The kinds of sounds that instantly remind you of Donkey Kong 64 or Paper Mario.
So Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt falls flat on its face as a Mario Party clone, but it at least provides some of the charm of the show. Still, if you want to dust off the Nintendo 64 and play a party game, you are infinitely better off with popping in one of the system’s three Mario Party titles. Rugrats: Scavenger Hunt is just too boring and empty.