Nancy Drew Adventure Games
Genre: Adventure, point-and-click, puzzle
Series: There are about thirty games out there now, made over the last decade plus–but they all stand alone.
I’ve been playing the Nancy Drew adventure games since I was a kid–I’ve always loved the exploration, the puzzles, and the beautiful settings. It’s got colorful characters, esoteric topics, far-off locations. It was definitely a fun series for a sense of adventure, and I still play some of the newer games as they come out. I’ve become progressively more disillusioned with the recent ones, but I definitely still have a sense of nostalgia for a lot of them.
It can be great for developing an interest in something, as it usually gives enough introductory information to pique my curiosity on a completely new topic. And some of the phone conversations Nancy has with her friends and contacts (many of which are optional) are pretty entertaining.
Nancy herself is an odd investigator. She doesn’t seem to have a sense of basic human propriety. Every other character in the game does, so they react in a way that’s totally normal to a totally not-normal line of inquiry. Her investigative strategy seems to consist mostly of stealing random things she can’t possibly know she’ll need, and telling everyone what she’s up to and what all of her suspicions are. She solves most of her crimes by causing a big enough mess that someone tries to kill her. It’s simultaneously frustrating and hilarious.
Actually, she’s been knocked unconscious so often that she probably has some kind of brain damage, which could explain the whole thing. Although it still doesn’t explain why no one in the story considers attempting to murder Nancy as an actual crime.
A nice bonus is that every game has at least one secret passageway. Even the ones you totally wouldn’t expect it from. It’s a Nancy Drew staple.
Note I have yet to complete a single game without needing hints or a walkthrough, even on Junior mode–not once from when I started playing as a twelve year old to today. The games can be fairly complicated. I think that might be the price to pay for such an involved game, though. Not every step is going to be intuitive for everyone. And sometimes, you’re missing just one little thing that you need to do to progress the story.
The games have always had an in-game hint feature, but it’s vastly improved in later games. There was even a joke at the end of one, where you get a trophy called “Spoiler Free” if you don’t use the in-game hint feature at all–the game congratulates you for looking up all of your hints online.
Anyway, I wanted to round up a few of the latest games (two good, two bad) and highlight some of the things that stand out about them.
Shadow at the Water’s Edge
Premise: Nancy is staying at a traditional ryokan in Japan for a vacation. What she didn’t know when she booked the ryokan is that the place is haunted. Of course, Nancy doesn’t believe in ghosts and sets out to expose what she is sure is a fake haunting.
Favorite aspects: Atmosphere–this installment is genuinely spooky. Puzzles–there are a lot of puzzles in this game, and I loved all of them. I’ve even been introduced to one of my favorite type of puzzles by this game (nonograms).
Characters: While we never get to meet her, in this game or in any other as of yet, former paranormal investigator Savannah Woodham is introduced as a consultant we can call on this case. She has a charm to her personality, her relationship with her assistant, Logan, is fun, and she’ll explain how any of the weird things Nancy sees at the ryokan could have been faked if asked.
Nancy’s friends, Bess and George, also feature in this game, and their dialogue is a lot of fun. These two have to be my favorite regular phone contacts in the game. I also like the main characters–the suspects–for this game. Their personalities range from different kinds of eccentric to reserved, and I enjoyed the interaction with them.
The Ghost of Thorton’s Hall
Premise: Savannah Woodham hinted in Shadow at the Water’s Edge that something scared her off of ghost hunting forever–and now that haunting is connected to the disappearance of a woman right before her wedding. Savannah was called in as an expert on the haunting, but she referred the case to Nancy instead. She says Thorton Hall is no place for anyone who believes.
Favorite aspects: Atmosphere–this installment is even spookier than Shadow at the Water’s Edge.
Characters: Savannah, again a phone contact, is as fun as ever. Bess is back, and she’s kidnapped Ned, Nancy’s boyfriend. Ned by himself is usually not that interesting of a contact, but his dialogue with Bess in this game is entertaining As for the suspects, there’s a wide range of characterizations. The distraught, stern mother. The fiance who’s unsure of what he wants. The gruff ex-convict. And saying any more about any other characters is a spoiler. But their entanglements are interesting, and they’ve got all kinds of history to dig up.
The Shattered Medallion
Premise: Nancy and one of her friends have been selected as contestants in a Survivor-like show. Then something happens that Nancy needs to investigate, but the plot doesn’t make sense, so I have no idea what’s actually going on.
Least favorite aspects: I had no idea what the game was about during or after my play-through. That’s sufficient criticism in and of itself.
Characters: Maybe the lack of connection to the story made it hard to connect to the characters as well. None of them stood out for me, not even the ones we’d already known before. And this story introduced in person a character that had been built up in previous games…it didn’t really deliver on the anticipation.
Labyrinth of Lies
Premise: Nancy is working as an assistant in a museum in Greece, when she discovers that the artwork on display is being replaced with fakes–and suspects someone from the theater group performing for the museum is involved.
Least favorite aspects: I was really looking forward to this one, as I had a childhood fascination with Greek mythology. At least the overall plot made sense, but too many other aspects didn’t. For instance, there was a theme park construction of the Underworld under the stage, complete with an actual river–things that couldn’t possibly be simply raised onstage for the viewers. There was a whole atmospheric set-up which made no sense because no one would ever be able to see it. And the actors just hung out down there like it was no big deal and totally not weird that it existed. It just made everything about the world hard to believe. It didn’t help that I felt trapped in a small space by the setting. There have been plenty of games which at least felt bigger and more open than this one.
There was also puzzle saturation–I felt like I was being sheparded from one puzzle to another without any real reason behind it, or story to go along with it. The mystery aspects were pretty neglected. There wasn’t a sense of slowly figuring things out. I’m not one of those people who try to piece together clues during a mystery to make theories about whodunnit–I tend to let the story take me there at it’s own pace–but even I knew, without trying, which of the characters were involved in the nefarious activities in this one. Most of them pretty much admit it, very early on.
Characters: There were actually interesting characters here. I just wish that they were in a story which made me appreciate that more. And didn’t use terrible metaphors about Persephone.
Considering that the last two games on this list (the ones I didn’t like) are the two most recent releases, I’ll probably be fairly skeptical of future releases…but there are still plenty of games in this series’ history that are fun and worthwhile.