Genre: Mystery Adventure
Release Date: October 2007
Note: Originally published 19 October 2007
When developing a formula for a TV series, movie, book, or adventure game, it is difficult to keep things consistently original and innovative. To determine what needs changing and how to change it while still satisfying the audience and keeping with the original spirit of the project and its goals is a challenging process. At some point, devising new storylines and developing characters becomes increasingly complex with each new venture.
Yet somehow, a spunky teenaged wannabe-sleuth by the name of Nancy Drew has managed to stay fresh and inventive for over seventy-five years. Through countless mediums, her adventures have captivated boys and girls of all ages and continue to do so today with even more imagination than before. It’s no wonder, then, that after sixteen bestselling adventure games for the PC, she makes slow but steady improvements, and in her latest mystery may have stumbled across the best formula so far.
What seems like another innocent trip leads to inevitable danger for our dashing heroine. Her boyfriend, Ned, sends her to New Orleans to check in with an acquaintance of his, Henry Bolet, whose uncle recently passed away. An encounter with a skeleton man, however, convinces her that there’s more to Henry and his uncle Bruno than expected. Her investigation ultimately leads her all around the bayou, from the creepy Bolet estate to the French Quarter, in search of the titular crystal skull that supposedly begets immortality - and that everybody seems to be after for themselves. And this time around, Nancy’s brought her best friend Bess with her! Now players can switch back and forth between the two and play either at the mansion with the former or in the French Quarter with the latter simply by calling the other on the in-game cell phone.
At the start of a new game, the gamer is aptly advised to play at nighttime with all of the lights out in order to experience the most out of the game. Indeed, I recognized shades of Scratches and Black Mirror as I skulked around the main house and cemetery. The graphics, especially the eerie shadows and somber tones, give everything a frightening appearance, and sudden claps of thunder and lightning may send a shiver down your spine. Everything is beautifully modeled and the details really stand out! It also rains throughout, a nice effect that contributes to the mood of the game, and at one point you must navigate through the mansion by candlelight (easier said than done!), which takes the gaming experience to a very different level. While the music could’ve made a big difference here, it was mostly unobtrusive and, when prevalent, resembled big band jazz rather than the creepy tunes that could’ve heightened the tension. Not to mention that the repetition of the background melodies can become annoying.
This is one of the first Nancy Drew mysteries that, I am happy to report, has very few chores! Most of the non-linear puzzles revolve around the investigative method of finding clues and saving them for later use. Most of them are not particularly testing so long as you take notes and are able to recall certain patterns or images. There is not a whole lot of sense in some of them, and one does have to stretch the imagination at times to figure out why the puzzle even exists to begin with, but as they stick to the tried-and-true detection process, they are certainly an improvement on previous games. My personal favorite involved a Rube Goldberg-type contraption that took a lot of critical thinking and trial and error!
Voice acting is up to par with previous entries, and the characters’ animations, from lip-synching to gesturing, is nearly flawless and very realistic. The dialogue, as always, is well-written and sprinkled with comedic bits for those who like a little wit with their whodunit. And for those who also like to learn something along the way, hoodoo (and even dental anatomy!) play key roles in some of the puzzles.
It should also be noted that the opportunity to play as Bess is a welcome and refreshing change for the series. With a few simple clicks of the inventory -- which is very efficient and easy to use, I might add -- you can switch between Nancy and Bess quickly, which comes in handy when information that one obtains can help the other solve a puzzle. If you get stuck, though, Nancy’s loyal boyfriend Ned is also available by cell phone to offer hints for Junior level sleuths. Also accessible for Junior detectives is a checklist of tasks that can be checked off when completed so the player can keep track of his or her progress in solving the mystery!
Many steadfast fans of the Nancy Drew series (myself included) have been complaining that the series has been going downhill recently. While some enhancements have been made to each game, the feeling of the older games has been lost and the newer games have revolved around the same dull plot and lengthy chores. I am pleased to say, however, that this game is a step up from its predecessors and takes into account many of the gripes that most longtime fans have had recently. The graphics and puzzles in particular have been improved significantly, and while there are still some weak areas here and there, the overall product is wholly satisfying. If you’re looking for light entertainment and solid gameplay, Legend of the Crystal Skull is worth your dollar.
Final Grade: A-
1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU,
128 MB of RAM,
1 GB or more of hard drive space,
32 MB DirectX 9.0 compatible video card,
16 bit DirectX compatible sound card,
24X CD-ROM drive, mouse, and speakers