The marketing for the Nancy Drew games was originally targeted at girls only, which successfully(?) kept me away from them. I see that HerInteractive and Dreamcatcher have changed their tune a bit, with the latest games merely marked as being for ages 10 and up. After reading a long (and sometimes amusing) thread in the comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.adventure newsgroup, I decided to try one. My expectations weren't all that high, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Graphics (quality, animations, cut scenes)
The game engine feels like it uses older technology throughout: the game is consists of static 2D slide show views, with no ability to look around at any node. This felt restrictive compared to newer games, but was extremely usable anyway. The graphics themselves were quite well drawn -- don't expect any wonderful cutscenes, and the actual character animations are pretty minimal. I guess my overall opinion would be "not state of the art, but good enough."
Sound (music, voices, special effects)
The voice acting was mixed, and may bother you more or less depending on how you view games that are "built for kids." Nancy Drew's voice was just a bit too perky for my tastes. Almost every phrase or sentence just had to end with a rising inflection, as if she was permanently asking a question (or for your approval). The worst voice acting was on the part of the friends whom Nancy could phone for hints; there were two characters that had the identical voice, without any attempt to make them sound different.
In spite of the flaws, the voice acting was at least good enough that it didn't interfere too badly with the game. I guess the phrase here might be "mostly forgettable."
Story (plot, theme, depth)
The plot is a fairly standard mystery -- you're isolated in an old house with lots of suspicious characters, various secrets, and of course the required secret rooms and passages. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting the authors managed to make the entire story. Like almost all mysteries, it goes over the top in places, but many adventure games have done a lot worse.
Characters (depth, development, interaction)
All of the characters were either a bit too "gee whiz," or a bit too grumpy, or a bit too weird, but this is a Nancy Drew story after all.
Puzzles (difficulty, uniqueness, suitability, ugliness, linearity)
The game allows you to select your difficulty level; I played the game in "expert" mode, and the difficulty level was almost perfect (no hints needed, but some serious thought on a few puzzles). There was one puzzle which was a completely new type (to me), which is always a delight.
None of the puzzles were unfair, and there were no mazes and no action sequences. There were timed sequences, but the timing was generous enough that they didn't bother me in the slightest.
There were several mechanical puzzles that didn't stay solved, which required that you redo them every time you wanted to go to a particular location. Even worse, one of them was a door lock with a randomly generated solution each time, which was completely silly and time wasting.
The ability to get hints by phoning a friend was a good idea, but the few times we tried it didn't thrill me. The hints were quite vague, and the voice acting was bad enough to make it an effort in endurance to listen through the dialogue.
Controls (user interface, save/restore, sound/video adjustments)
The game is completely mouse controlled, and easy to learn.
There were only 7 save slots, and the save game system was less than perfect. Besides being awkward to use, the save game mouse cursor had its hot spot in the middle of the icon, not at the point.
Bugs or problems
There was no option to copy entire CD to disk. However, the time delays due to CD access were minimal, probably because most of the graphics could be pre-loaded by the game.
Nice puzzle difficulty level, enjoyable puzzles
Fairly well done graphics
No major irritants anywhere in the game
Only 7 save game slots
Awkward save game system, made even more so by bad cursor hotspot
Puzzles that need to be re-solved every time you need to get by them
One puzzle that was an annoying time waster
I enjoyed this game enough that I went out the next day and bought another one. The game engine and graphics are definitely low budget, but the entire package works very well. I fully expect to buy and play every one of the Nancy Drew game series. I wish more companies would start making this type of adventure game: low enough budget that they won't go broke if one of them is a flop, and hopefully they can actually make a steady profit.
If you don't have high expectations for a state-of-the-art game, then Nancy Drew, Treasure in the Royal Tower should be added to your list of games to be played.
This article copyright © 2002, Murray Peterson