Release Date: October 2005
Note: Originally published 17 October 2005
In 1995, Her Interactive released a game that provided mystery fans and adventure gamers alike with a thrilling, chilling case to solve starring the world’s most popular teen detective. Ten years later, the small company of less than twenty-five remains one of the most hard-working and customer-friendly companies in the adventure game business today.
Summer brought a celebration of Nancy Drew’s long-anticipated 75th anniversary with a throwback to her first case, The Secret of the Old Clock, in a short and easy adventure that could entertain on those lonely days home from school or in between vacations. Regular fans of the series know, however, that Her Interactive’s fall release is always a much more difficult and intricate endeavor, and 2005 brings no exception!
In the thirteenth installment of the series, Nancy finds herself on a mystery train to Copper Gorge as the guest of – who else? – the infamous Hardy Boys! They've been invited by tabloid favorite Lori Girard, who gives little reason as to why they are all on the train, and in any case disappears before she can reveal this little tidbit! In due time, Nancy and the Hardy brothers are hot on the case – but they have some competition this time around as they try to solve mysteries past and present on the last train to Blue Moon Canyon!
ALL THE GEARS IN MOTION
First off, let me say that the animatics and character sprites in this game are just gorgeous. Gone are the blurry (and probably rushed) graphics of Old Clock, and here are the incredibly realistic, detailed ones of today. The characters have lifelike idiosyncrasies (such as adjusting their glasses or fiddling with equipment), and the amount of detail put into every object (such as ghost-hunting equipment!) really shows a lot of quality time and effort that surpasses even more recent, big-budget titles with five times as many people at work behind the scenes. Even the cursors have undergone some nice changes.
The voice acting in this game is also at a superb level, with the tone and delivery matching each character – from the preppy Lori Girard to the tough Italian detective Tino Balducci – to the maximum. The lip-synching leaves a little to be desired, but is overall very convincing. However, I’ve noticed that Nancy could use some more affect in her voice – or perhaps just better lines than “What did you find?” or “So what do you think about this suspect?” When she gets funny lines, Lani Minella can really ham it up into some great comedy, but boring lines (particularly no-brainers like “I’ll have to find a tool to open this thing”) sound dull and monotonous.
The Hardy Boys serve mostly as NPCs in the game, although there is one situation in which you get to play as Frank Hardy. Otherwise they act merely as extra sources of information and you are required to talk on them on several occasions to gain information important to the case. They are actually rather amusing companions during the ride as they banter in the way most brothers do, but I wish that they had played a more active role in the mystery.
The main plot of this game will no doubt be familiar to fans of the series or the books: a dead man left a bunch of riddles concerning his treasure, you have to find it and, oh yeah, there are ghosts lurking about.
I won’t spend another review ranting about the need for new plots but, really, I do hope someone out there is listening and can back me up.
This new search for hidden treasure involves a mixed bag of puzzles. Some of them are entirely unnecessary because of their ridiculous simplicity. Her Interactive often goes through the trouble to hide every clue inside some kind of puzzle box but never takes the time to create interesting, unique and challenging puzzles for each one. Only about half of the boxes get that full attention while the rest get silly games like pushing a button fifteen times in a mechanical steeplechase game or solving a randomized button-pushing (yet again!) sequence puzzle.
It is frustrating that at every step of the journey in this game there is a puzzle to solve, because it is easy to see that these easy puzzles are thrown in only to lengthen gameplay. Finding the pen, for instance, is awfully foolish, as is trying to open a grate with trick screws.
Needless to say, Her Interactive uses just about every past puzzle concept in this game, but does introduce some new ones. Some of these new additions are long and well-planned but poorly executed. Others don’t really have any obvious clues to help solve them, and others yet are simply preposterous, like moving a pair of dance shoes around on a floor in a dance pattern that is drawn on a piece of paper.
I cannot say anything further except that while the puzzles feel comfortable in their environment and are for the most part not too much of a hassle (with the exception of four – count ‘em, four – pipe-connecting puzzles), they simply aren’t good ones.
There are also a lot of puzzles that I didn’t find completely fair because of items hid in ridiculously obtuse places. In some cases all you need is just a very careful eye, but in other cases you just have to scan every inch of every room until you come upon a new hotspot.
However, through various puzzles gamers will naturally have a chance to learn about some topics that don’t quite make idle chatter these days: needlepoint and gemstones. The puzzles that accompany these topics are probably the only good, challenging puzzles that experienced gamers will enjoy.
PULL THE EMERGENCY BRAKE!
You may very well have to stop your train ride right here if your computer does not meet the system requirements for this game, which have been updated since Old Clock and have already put sad faces on many longstanding Nancy Drew fans for the mere reason that they don’t have 1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU. This is a big change from the mere 400Mhz Pentium required for previous games. I have no idea what my computer (a circa-‘02 Gateway XP) can handle, but the game is running smoothly despite some momentary freezing here and there. Apparently the change in Pentium (whatever that is) was decided upon after research of Her Interactive’s current user base.
I should also mention that this one of the very few Nancy Drew games to have two disks! You don’t actually use the second – it’s just for installation purposes – but you may want to double-check that you get one with your game.
THE FINAL STOP
This is an entry in the series that long-time fans will love. Despite its serious lack of background music, the game delivers strong in so many ways that you will overlook any weak puzzles and enjoy another outing with Nancy, the Hardys, and the usual collection of goofy and humorous characters (even a recurring character from a previous mystery!), accompanied by dialogue that’s more crisp and witty than it has been in awhile.
If you’re new to the series, don’t start here – but think about how much you will enjoy this game once you have played some of its predecessors!
You’ll be glad you bought yourself a ticket on this train – and make sure to reserve your seat for a trip to Paris for Nancy’s next case!
Until next crime …!
Final Grade: A-
1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU,
128 MB of RAM,
650 MB or more of hard drive space,
32 MB DirectX compatible video card,
16 bit DirectX compatible sound card,
24X CD-ROM drive, mouse, and speakers