Another season, another Nancy Drew mystery. If you haven’t seen my past reviews from my favorite adventure game series, click here and here. Having discussed the general details of these games before, this review will focus solely on the specifics of the most current one, Sea of Darkness.
Ten years after playing my first one from the series, and I am still buying them twice a year. Though always a different theme, location, and story, the basic gameplay stays the same. While I’ve been able to plot the evolution of the Sherlock Holmes’ titles from the same genre, the Nancy Drew formula is left untouched. Though iterative, I–once again–couldn’t get enough.
This time around, Nancy travels to Iceland to look into how a treasure hunter disappeared while renovating the historic ship “Heerlijkheid” in Her Interactive’s latest game Nancy Drew: Sea of Darkness. After you arrive, you do what you normally would: talk to people, pick up stray objects that you might use later, and solve many a puzzle.
Also like usual, the characters have one-note personalities. You have loud and burly ex-sailor Gunnar, the overly polite Cultural Center worker Soren, the slippery and sneaky treasure hunter who isn’t missing Dansky, and the stiff and distant town legacy Elizabet. Everyone has the one or two necessary characteristics for a passable NPC, but they come off as caricatures. Any other adventure game with flat characters would invoke wrath, but, call it bias, I’ve never played the Nancy Drew games for the characters–I play for the puzzles.
Sea of Darkness had more intuitive environmental puzzles while the logic puzzles lacked variety. For once the abundance of hidden passageways and secret locks aren’t impossible to find. Between the books and documents you find around town and the conversations you have with the locals, you can logic out the steps needed to progress through the game without resorting to a walkthrough or a wiki. For example a mid-game trek through a set of ice caves felt straightforward and easy to navigate instead of the equivalent of sifting through a city leveled by an earthquake.
Despite this improvement, the logic puzzles are a step back. With a few exceptions, most of them are variations of Sudoku–also known as the bane of my existence. As a frequent shopper for puzzle books, I get frustrated with how Sudoku has saturated the market. I find it boring and repetitive with no departure from the formula in sight. This made the developer’s choice to replace all my favorite Nancy Drew brain teasers with ten Sudoku puzzles is a waking nightmare.
Even with my frustration, my surprise at the game’s easy-to-follow narrative and environment outshone my disappointment, making this a strong addition to this long-running series.