Nancy, George and Bess join a reality show in New Zealand and finally meet Sonny Joon. Do Nancy Drew fans win or lose?
June 9, 2014
I'd like to start with some personal backstory. I live in Florida, which was hit by four hurricanes during a six-week period back in 2004. Three of 'em got me.
Not long after the third one, a package from JA's founder and original site owner Randy Sluganski arrived at my door. He had sent me two games.
Being unsure why Randy had done this, I asked him about it. He said that after what I'd been through with the hurricanes, he thought I could use some fun. Awwwww...
One of the games Randy sent was Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor Manor (#11). I'd never played a Nancy Drew game and knew nothing about either the franchise or developer HER Interactive (HI).
I'd never read any Nancy Drew books, either. As a kid, I was too busy reading horror, sci-fi and MAD Magazine.
At best, I thought Nancy Drew games would be silly, with a target age of pre-teenybopper. Was I ever wrong. Blackmoor Manor turned me into an instant fan.
Playing a Nancy Drew game had been like visiting with an old friend or curling up with a good book on a rainy afternoon. I genuinely enjoyed spending time with Nancy. The games had a comforting feel to them. No matter what happened in Nancy's world, I knew things would be okay in the end.
Had it not been for Randy, I likely would have missed out on Nancy Drew games altogether. So bless you and thank you, Randy.
After Blackmoor Manor, I'd bought all the games that had already been released and I loved every single one. I'd buy new ones as soon as they were available. I didn't need to know anything about them. Such was my faith in HI to consistently turn out quality Nancy Drew games. I've played all but three of the 29 games released prior to The Shattered Medallion.
However, with the release of The White Wolf of Icicle Creek (#16), things started to change. For one thing, the game had so many chores that it left little time for detective work. One of the characters left the game after I’d talked to her just once. And it boasts the most ridiculously difficult puzzle I've ever encountered in a Nancy Drew game.
Then came Legend of the Crystal Skull (#17), during which a big spider jumped in my face (I HATE spiders!!!) and Nancy was repeatedly stung to death by wasps.
Oh stop it, HI.
From then on -- for me, anyway -- Nancy Drew games have been of uneven quality. Some, I’ve really enjoyed. Others have been clunkers.
Well, I suppose I should move on to my review of Nancy Drew : The Shattered Medallion now. Oh dear...I'd really rather not do this. May I please be excused?
To be honest, The Shattered Medallion had me feeling as though I'd fallen into The Twilight Zone. The game felt "off" to me, as if it were an imitation made with no real understanding of Nancy and company.
After completing my first playthrough, my overriding thought was, "Huh?" To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, it had no there there.
So I played it again. Twice, actually. What follows is the best I can say about it.
The Shattered Medallion has Nancy, George and Bess traveling to New Zealand to participate in a reality TV show called Pacific Run. In an introductory letter from Bess to Nancy, Bess writes that she's finally gotten George a spot on the show and that George is excited to have Nancy on her team.
Okay, hold on, stop. If Nancy is on the team, she must already know she'll be appearing on Pacific Run with George. Why would Bess think this is news to Nancy? And if Nancy doesn't know about it (which I find hard to imagine), the letter is pretty strange. Wouldn’t Bess have asked Nancy if she wanted to be on the team instead of just telling Nancy she’s on the team?
The Nancy, George and Bess in this game don't feel like Nancy, George or Bess to me. This is particularly true of Nancy. It's as if she's been replaced by a pod person: she sounds like Nancy, but what's happened to her affect? It's pretty much flat. And her spunk is mostly missing in action.
Two things happen in the game that almost kill Nancy. She doesn't react to either. She says nothing. She doesn't even gasp. She makes no sound whatsoever.
See? Pod person.
Another area in which Nancy isn't her typical self is questioning others. If characters are uncooperative or evasive, she tends to back off. Instead of asking for clarification or elaboration, she ends conversations while there are still unanswered questions. This is not the Nancy I know.
Nancy also breaks competition rules repeatedly, initially based only on George's vague, unsupported contention that "something odd is going on." Nancy never gets in trouble for this. However, she has no problem accusing others of rule-breaking. (May we please have the real Nancy back?)
George, who doesn't have a real big part in the game, contradicts herself. Example: In person, George will say she's going to do thus-and-so. Then immediately thereafter, on the phone (contestants can call each other but not make outside calls), she'll say she's still making a plan. This happens several times.
Bess has a relatively big part. Unfortunately, she's a basket case.
Bess "I'm going to die here" Marvin is excitable, whiny, melodramatic and full of self-pity. She gets worked up pretty easily and her voice can become rather shrill. She basically stands around wringing her hands, although I think I saw her chewing the scenery a couple of times.
Bess also has a "thing" for one of the other characters, and here comes a sub-plot I could have done without. She acts as if she's in grade school. At times, she doesn't make a whole lot of sense. In fact, she sometimes sounds like a lunatic.
Neither Bess nor George helps out much in the competition. At one point, Bess actually works against Nancy.
So basically, Nancy is left to do the competition on her own. This makes me wonder why George and Bess are even in this game. Padding, perhaps?
The Shattered Medallion is also the game in which we finally meet the legendary Sonny Joon. Unfortunately, I found him underwhelming.
A little background: Sonny has been all over the place as an NPC in other Nancy Drew games, starting with Secret of the Scarlet Hand (#6).
Prior to The Shattered Medallion, he's always been where Nancy is going but has moved on before she's arrived. Although Nancy hasn't previously met him face-to-face, she's learned about him via his funny, odd, cryptic scribbles and doodles and the items he's left behind (such as Koko Krinkles, which are one of his favorite things yet there are none in The Shattered Medallion).
This made him quite memorable to me. Yet even though Nancy meets him at the beginning of the game and subsequently talks to him, the best she can do is say that she thinks his name might sound familiar.
What's happened to Nancy? She used to be a lot sharper than this. (Hint: she's not really Nancy.)
Later, Nancy does ask Bess to track down where they've “seen” Sonny before. But when she’s given the information, she does nothing with it.
Around halfway through the game, Nancy remembers that she's seen Sonny's weird doodles everywhere. Well, duuuh. (Something is definitely wrong with Nancy.)
The game's plot, such as it is, has gaps, contradictions and inconsistencies. Two different, unrelated stories -- one about the competition and one involving Sonny -- and the sub-plot in which Bess makes a fool of herself over one of the other characters occur simultaneously. Each tugs the player in a different direction.
One of the most important elements in an adventure game is its story. Surely HI knows this. The two stories and one sub-plot in The Shattered Medallion don’t mesh. They collide with each other.
Further, things can unfold in peculiar order, depending on how the player travels through the game. Among other things, Bess can say she's gotten in trouble for something she hasn't done yet, and Nancy can ask Bess about something Nancy isn’t aware of at that point.
Dialog can also be inconsistent. For example, Nancy is given an offer which she can either accept or not. I had her not accept. Yet subsequently, other characters talk as if she's accepted the offer.
The majority of the reality show part of the game consists of being told to do this, find that, bring this back, blahblah. It's like a bunch of chores, all strung together.
Nancy is assigned both game-related tasks and bonus quests, and Bess keeps asking Nancy for help with the target of her sub-juvenile infatuation. It doesn't take long for these things to start overlapping. At times, I wasn’t at all sure what to do.
This lack of direction and continuity left me feeling disorganized, scattered and out-of-synch. I never really felt immersed in the game.
The quality of game's graphics isn't up to HI's usual high standards. There's a lot of foliage, but it frequently looks "flattened," as do other parts of the environment. The game's animated sheep look mechanical. I didn't realize they moved at all until I accidentally caught them at the right moment. If you stand too far away, they continue to go ba-a-a-a but don't move.
And where are the other competitors? The game starts out with twenty of ‘em, but you only see and interact with three. They basically just hang around in the same places and do little except wait for Nancy to talk to them.
You never see anyone engage in Pacific Run challenges yet they're all scoring more points than Nancy, who's working her butt off. That's quite a trick.
Now here's a biggie. Basically, there's no mystery for Nancy to solve in The Shattered Medallion. Some accidents happen, but Nancy doesn’t pursue them. Sonny Joon is up to something, but it has no resolution.
How can you have Nancy Drew without a mystery? (Cue Twilight Zone music.)
There are only two brief instances of that good old Nancy Drew staple: snooping. I love snooping. I guess there's not much reason for Nancy to snoop here as she doesn’t actively work on any mysteries.
The Shattered Medallion did give me one big (and much-needed) laugh. One of the other contestants refers to Nancy as "that know-it-all, pest, question-asking rube."
I think that's geniunely funny! I wish there had been more funny dialog. Not necessarily about Nancy, but about anybody. It could have eased some of the consternation I was feeling.
There are two minigames in The Shattered Medallion. Both are retreads from The Captive Curse (#24), which also happens to be the Nancy Drew game I played just before this one. Why would HI do this?
Puzzles in The Shattered Medallion are a mixed bag. Some are easy and others are rather difficult. One of them is timed.
The game’s most difficult (and I mean difficult) puzzle is quite close to the end. I don't like it much when developers do this. Games are supposed to be fun. Hitting a brick wall right at the end of a game is not fun.
The game's "culprit," who ultimately puts Nancy and another character in jeopardy, has no motive that I could see. There are no negative consequences. This character also admits to causing the game’s worst accident. Again, no negative consequences.
Still worse, the game has no proper ending. The Pacific Run story is concluded but Sonny's story just stops, with many questions left unanswered.
Finally, this game has typos, misspellings and grammatical errors. All three are real sore spots with me, no matter where they appear. Shame on you, HI.
I’m left with the impression that HI rushed the development of The Shattered Medallion. It feels thrown together, resulting in a sloppy end product. I expect so much better in a Nancy Drew game. This one is a real disappointment.
I can recommend The Shattered Medallion only to seasoned players who are curious about Sonny Joon and/or want to keep their collections complete. I suggest that players new to the series get their feet wet with some of the older Nancy Drew games such as The Final Scene, Secret of the Scarlet Hand and, of course, Curse of Blackmoor Manor.
Now come on, HI. Get your act together.