What is it?
This is another instalment in the well-known Nancy Drew series. In fact, this is number eleven. Think about that for a moment. Eleven games based on a dramatic character. That's not IV, that's not IX, that's XI. That's even more than the Final Fantasy series. I think that counts as a successful series. Okay, so we're in multiple, multiple sequels territory here, and if the developer and publisher haven't completely nailed this one, there is something seriously wrong with the world... or at least their QA procedures.
The Nancy Drew games are marketed with a particular market segment in mind; the 10+ female gamer. So, as I am lucky enough to know one such young lady quite well, I thought I'd bring her along and let you hear from her too. She's known as Purple Bear (her choice!), she's my 10-year-old daughter, and I'll be dropping her comments in from time to time.
Where does it come from?
The character of Nancy Drew was originated by Edward Stratemeyer, alongside the Hardy Boys and many others. Since then, she has solved around 350 mysteries, written by many different authors. A number of the stories have been made into a long running TV series. Then in 1997, Her Interactive decided to specialise in adventure games aimed at the female pre-teen and teen market, and chose Nancy Drew to lead their campaign.
Seven years, and eleven games later, they're still going strong. However, this is the first one to involve international travel; it is set in England - more on this later.
Is there a plot?
This is a detective mystery; what kind of detective mystery would it be if it didn't have a plot?
Nancy has been invited to England to visit with Linda, daughter of her neighbour, Mrs. Petrov. Linda has recently married an English diplomat, Hugh Penvellyn, gaining a stepdaughter in the process. But Linda is no longer seeing visitors, and has taken to hiding behind a curtain in her bedroom. Now this would not be much of a mystery if it weren't for the location. Linda now lives in Blackmoor Manor on the misty moors of Essex, in a 14th century manor house. There are rumours of family treasure, and of course, there's the Beast that haunts the moors to add a little spice to the mix.
Purple Bear would like to add, "The story fits together well. Some bits were surprising, but nothing was really scary. I did feel concerned about what was happening to the characters. I think LouLou is my favourite character, because I like the way she talks and acts. Finishing the dragon puzzle made me feel good."
Being British, I can see there are some nasty holes in this plot. For one thing, Essex does not have moors. Fens (wet-lands), yes; moors, no. Therefore, the house should be Blackfen Manor. Worse, Penvellyn is not an Essex name - especially not one that would have survived from the 14th century. This story belongs in Devon or Cornwall - on Exmoor or Dartmoor! Where they have moors, dark manors, rumours of beasts, and ancient families with names like Penvellyn! Perhaps somebody at Her Interactive thinks that Exmoor is in Essex?
Having said all that, inaccuracies aside, I agree with Purple Bear - the story does fit together nicely, and drives the game throughout.
How do you play?
In common with the other two Nancy Drew games I have seen -- "Message in a Haunted Mansion" and "The Final Scene" -- Curse of Blackmoor Manor is a first person, point-n-click adventure game. The user interface is clean and clear. The older games have a slightly more cluttered main game screen, so this is an improvement. The menus are structured the same as the earlier games -- with the usual buttons you'd expect to see on any game. However, a notable feature of the Nancy Drew games is the 'Second Chance' button. Essentially, just before critical moments in the game (moments when you can die, or the game ends prematurely), there is an auto-save which means you can immediately return to the point before the mistaken decision.
Purple Bear says, "I like playing in the first person; it feels better to be in control. It was easy to use things in the game, and it was quite good that the tool bar covers the talking. The main part of the screen is much bigger than in Nancy Drew, The Final Scene."
Game play is all about talking to the people in the house and on the telephone, collecting clues from written and pictorial materials, and solving puzzles. The game contains a nice selection of puzzle types, but there is a sliding tiles puzzle, a maze, and a couple of timed sequences. There are two levels of difficulty to the game; 'Junior Detective' and 'Senior Detective'. Junior Detective gives more help and hints, and is more generous with the timed features. Since Purple Bear and I are both new to Nancy Drew games, we started with Junior Detective, but on replay, I'd certainly go for Senior.
Other Notable Features
Neither Purple Bear nor I had to make much use of the Second Chance button. In fact, I deliberately tried a few things just to see if I'd need the Second Chance as a result. There are some nice "game over" moments to see if you do, and of course, they don't affect your overall progress.
Purple Bear points out that, "LouLou [the hint system] is a good source of information if you use her right. The main characters were easier to get information from than LouLou, but less fun. But sometimes LouLou could be annoying, like my little sister."
I must comment on two particularly annoying features. Firstly, the cursor; although it is clearly drawn, and indicates what actions are available (moving, magnifying, acting, doing nothing, and speaking), the active spot of the cursor is somewhere in the centre of the image, rather than at the top left point, where most arrow-like cursors are active! I found this particularly annoying in Nancy's phone / web-browser device.
The second annoying feature was the accents of the characters. Several of the British accents are weak, and the American origin of the actors comes through to spoil the experience from time to time. Once again, Nancy is played by Lani Minella, and several of the other actors have played roles in previous Nancy Drew games, but there is little evidence of British acting talent being used to voice British characters. Jonah von Spreecken's "Cockney" accent brought tears to my eyes. Let's put it this way; Dick van Dyke did a better Cockney accent in Mary Poppins!
Puzzle and game clues and hints come from all sources in the house; people, pictures, objects, books, maps, diagrams and Nancy's mobile phone / web browser. Of particular note is LouLou, the parrot. At turns annoying, as only a parrot can be, and endearingly amusing, LouLou adds significantly to the humour and fun in the game.
Are there any other novelties?
Not really. I've never played a game with such a strong notion of the passage of time before, but this appears to be the norm for Nancy Drew games, so it's hardly novel.
As a complete experience, I enjoyed playing this game, even though it is aimed at a completely different market segment from where I would normally be found. The puzzles were not in the least bit trivial, despite playing at 'Junior' level. There were no graphical glitches or game play bugs, but there were some crashes-to-desktop. I am certainly not ruling out playing other Nancy Drew games - older or newer.
- 2 timed puzzles, 1 maze, 1 sliding tiles game, and 1 sound-matching puzzle
- 35 save game slots
- Annoying mis-positioned mouse hotspot
- Plot hole the size of Essex
- Some really rather poor English accents
- A few crashes-to-desktop.
- Variety of puzzles
- Good story and entertaining characters
- Nice environment, and graphics, though the people are somewhat cartoony
- Some replayability due to the different difficulty levels and complex dialog trees
- Atmospheric music and well placed and helpful sound effects.
I'll give the final word to Purple Bear: "I think the game is aimed at the right age group. It's not too easy and it's not too hard. But I needed a little bit of help with some of the puzzles. I look forward to playing more Nancy Drew, in fact I'd like some more for my birthday or Christmas."
What do you need to play it?
- Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
- 400 MHz or greater Pentium II or equivalent class CPU
- 64 MB of RAM
- 300 MB or more hard drive space
- 16MB DirectX compatible video card
- 16 bit DirectX compatible sound card
- 12X CD-ROM drive
(We used Win XP, AMD XP 2000, 512 MB RAM, and an ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)