People probably don’t realize this, but the Nancy Drew computer games are probably the most successful mystery series in history. Danger by Design is the 14th game in the series, and we all know that in the game industry success is normally measured by having one or two successful follow-up games. In fact, as I write this review I got a note saying that the 15th title was en route for me to take a look at. Who do they have creating these games so quickly?
Danger by Design finds the young detective prodigy hired to fly to pairs to work in the fashion industry. What girl would not jump at a chance like that? Unfortunately, the job turns out to be worse than a summer spent flipping burgers at your favorite fast food restaurant. You see, Nancy finds herself working for a completely crazy artist, and not doing very much in terms of fashion.
The unique thing about Danger By Design is that Nancy is not actually hired to investigate a crime. Instead, one of the major investors in an up and coming fashion designer is getting worried. The designer Minette is acting a bit crazy. She has taken to wearing a Phantom of the Opera type mask at all times, firing a string of assistants at the drop of a hat and going on raging fits of emotional release that could become the lead story on the next Jerry Springer show. Sounds like the perfect boss, right?
Nancy has to pose as Minette’s newest assistant and get to the bottom of the designer’s sudden troubles. The investor wants to know if Minette is still worth the money, or if she has gone off the deep end completely. But first, Nancy will need to keep from getting fired long enough to file her report.
When you arrive you will discover that Minette is apparently a bit odd, as you are set to work immediately making her tea. Like everything else you do for your boss, making tea is a complicated process. There are about 15 different types of herbs you can put into her tea, and you have to decide which ones to use based on a complicated formula involving Minette’s current mood, her favorite color of the day and what regions the herbs grow. If you get it wrong, Minette becomes enraged and you have to try all over again. Why Nancy does not just dump scalding tea in Minette’s lap, fly home and report that the mask wearing artist is completely crazy and be done with it is beyond me. I guess that’s why Nancy is a top detective.
Most of the puzzles in the game follow the tea blueprint. You have to either do a little research to get enough information for a proper formula, or make quick decisions that work you toward some goal. There is also a little bit of research involving your main case, though you will quickly learn that the real mystery does not have much to do with Minette after all.
Thankfully you can escape the designer and explore Paris using the subway, which is done by clicking on a station printed on your map. Eventually you will learn that Minette’s studio, a converted windmill, might be at the center of some treasure stashed by the French Resistance during World War II. This starts you down the path of a historical mystery which is much more interesting, if intertwined somewhat, in the Minette storyline.
Interestingly enough, you actually have to keep track of your money in this game. You will be tasked with buying different things for Minette, either directly or indirectly, and if you are not careful, you won’t have enough cash to accomplish all your goals. Thankfully, you can make a little money in Paris. Nancy can paint replica pictures in the market which are given to a shopkeeper that sells them to tourists. This fun diversion type mini-game is well done and acts as a nice break from the serious sleuthing.
Each Nancy Drew title it seems tries to do something a little bit new and different from the others, which is not easy given that there are so many titles. The unique puzzle in Danger is a timed swim through the Paris underground. With only a limited amount of oxygen, Nancy has to scuba her way along the maze and find the right path back to the surface. This adds a bit of excitement to the sometimes plodding title, though it might prove too frustrating for younger players without a little help.
My biggest complaint about Danger is that despite the slick packaging, the game does not seem to have much to do with Paris or even fashion for that matter. The game takes place in Paris, though you would hardly know it from the locations the game chooses to let you visit. For some reason major landmarks like the Eiffel Tower are excluded from Nancy’s travel plans. At least the places you do visit are interesting, if a bit generic. Still, it could have probably been called Danger in Detroit and been just fine. You don’t really do anything in terms of designing dresses or picking out your outfits for a high profile event or anything most people dream of when you think about the world of high fashion.
My second complaint is that you can’t guess the ending. Despite all your detective work, the true reason behind Minette’s madness (I suspected her 15-herb tea cocktails) can’t really be guessed. The ending comes out of left field and really does not make too much sense. I suppose the satisfaction comes from solving the historical mystery, but still, it leaves me to wonder if the Her Interactive president went on a mask-wearing tirade and fired the people writing Danger By Design before it was finished, then had some assistant throw together a mildly plausible finish.
Danger By Design is not a bad game. It’s just not quite up to the Nancy Drew standards. If you never played a Nancy Drew title, then you will probably come away from Danger thinking that it was an average puzzle adventure type title. But true fans will know that Danger seems a bit slapped together and is nowhere near the masterpiece of say, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon. I suppose with 14 games (15 now) in the series, some are going to be better than others, but I don’t see Danger making the top ten.