I have to fess up and admit I’ve only played one other Nancy Drew game – The Silent Spy. I enjoyed it enough that I was more than willing to play this one when the opportunity came along. Had it been the other way around, I would have said no to the second one, and missed out on The Silent Spy, while forever cursing the Nancy Drew franchise for a waste of time.
Clearly, with thirty Nancy Drew games under its belt, Her Interactive don’t deserve to be so utterly vilified, and their more faithful fans might be shocked and outraged by my condemnation, but I have to say, I was less than impressed with this game.
Let me back up and say it isn’t stunningly bad. It has all the Nancy Drew features loyal players would enjoy, but it could have been better. Much better.
Using a reality TV game as the backdrop for a puzzle-based mystery was pure get-out in terms of story: puzzles and challenges are integral to such an environment, no need to think up a reason for them being there. There was even an arcade area containing machines with a variety of puzzles and games inside, which were there to gain achievements and, occasionally, as part of the game progression. I didn’t find any of the games fun enough to actually play, but the puzzles were okay.
The problem with the whole TV show thing, however, was it side-tracked from the investigative side of this Nancy Drew outing. Solving puzzles did not mean getting closer to the answers and unearthing the mystery, but opening up new areas and puzzles in the form of ‘Stages’ within the TV show. It added up to a very weak story with a lot of fluff and padding.
There are the shenanigans of other team members to contend with throughout, and they bizarrely seem either competitive or helpful at random points. Some of these other team members might actually have murderous tendencies, while others are quite happy to blatantly cheat. And get away with it too, since Sonny, the show’s producer, has his own agenda and will let things pass, or not, according to whoever he has an interest in.
This makes blue-haired and eccentric Sonny Joon somewhat megalomaniacal in his decisions, which prompt him to eliminate or spare certain teams from the game at the end of each stage. If you dig a bit deeper you might find he’s not even the producer at all. Both hindering and helping at seemingly random points of the game, we learn that he has hijacked and set up this game to get together a bunch of people who each possess ‘special talents.’ The reasons behind this, and clues to his ultimate purpose, are revealed in various letters and comic book pages Nancy must find during her investigation.
There are some cool challenges, involving kayaking, abseiling, sheep shearing (yes, I said sheep shearing), panning for gold and piloting a submarine that has its own retractable claw. Not sure what a health and safety officer would say about the lack of induction for the more deadly challenges, but they were fun. At least up until the kayak race, when I found my fingers weren’t as agile on the keyboard as they should have been.
That emphasis, or lack of, on health and safety is also evident when, early in the game, George, Nancy’s BFF and team mate, steps on a rope bridge which has been deliberately cut. She plunges to her death. No, not really. She breaks her leg and ends up in the infirmary. But is anyone concerned that someone cut the bridge? No. Not a smidge. Even George is quite content to put her feet up and do research from that point, while Nancy does all the running around for the team. The incident just provides another excuse for a puzzle, as the new rope bridge built in its place must be tested for strength by the teams. (Health and safety, anyone?)
I wish I could say the graphics, at least, brought this game out of the realms of mediocrity, but sadly, no. The environment was supposed to be New Zealand, but it didn’t really feel like it. I mean, we’ve all seen Lord of the Rings, right? The pre-rendered backgrounds looked dated and could have represented any temperate region in the world, instead of the unique, beautiful country that is New Zealand.
Sound was of the usual Nancy Drew standard, with passable voice acting (over a not-great script). The music didn’t seem appropriate for either the environment or the TV show, but it was nice.
There were a couple of dead-drop moments when you had to jump the right way to avoid a falling object, but aside from those there was no real jeopardy, even at the end. The end game felt as flat as the rest of this game. To me the story felt thin, and given the obvious cost-cutting efforts on graphics and story, it seemed like an excuse to put out another Nancy Drew title to raise cash and please puzzle-hungry fans.
If you’re a true puzzler, or a completionist with Nancy Drew on your checklist, then this game’s for you. Otherwise, meh.
Come on Her Interactive, you can do better.