Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

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.

Stay tuned.

The Mighty Girl Sleuth the Second

The Mighty Girl Sleuth the Second

Well I finished the other Nancy Drew. I don’t know what’s happened to me. Though these games have never exactly been lengthy, I at least used to savor them. It just feels like I reach this point that is usually right before the penultimate chain of events where all I want to do is hurry up and get done. Despite truly enjoying this installment’s puzzles and characters, this was no different for Labyrinth of Lies.

Here Nancy is in Greece working at a museum when she arrives to see that her boss has run off to track down some missing jewelry for an exhibit. For the thousandth time, she is given relatively high security clearance for a teenager with complete access to the exhibits and artifacts. But this means I get to do one of my favorite parts of these games: chores!

That might sound sarcastic, but it’s really not. I’m speaking earnestly.

The one part of these games that keeps me convinced that school-aged children are a large part of their intended demographic is the subtle doses of learning. Each game takes place in a different location that lends itself to history, science, and mythology. More often than not, Nancy is simultaneously working and sleuthing in these games, meaning she has a to-do list each day. With too many examples to count, let’s talk about this game. It has all three!

History: Well, more specifically, art history. Considering you’re at an art museum, this is a given. But to be able to complete the work your boss, Melina, wants you to do in her absent, you have to read certain books and glean the useful information from them. Here you need to learn about the different styles of temples and vases so that you can prepare their corresponding exhibits. Obviously these tasks are a mix of deducting and puzzling, but these are wrapped with an educational ribbon.

Science: For someone who can tell you nothing about the subject, this was my favorite part of the game. You are asked to authenticate a few pieces of jewelry in the museum, and in the office are some guidelines. You get to see how you can tell if different gemstones and metals are real. Sadly you only get to do this process three times. Often you get to do optional versions of past puzzles for kicks, and I wish this had been an option. With the funny business happening at this museum, would it have really been a waste of time for me to prove the authenticity of, well, everything?

Mythology: Honesty, it’s important. I’d be lying if I said I liked the implementation of Greek mythology. I feel like these games use it in every other game for some reason or another, and I’m getting a little tired of it. Seriously, there are thousands of cultures and millions of years to pull from. Why harp on this one constantly? And sadly, all of the puzzles seem to be based in it. I honestly don’t feel like I can talk in detail without sounding completely irrational and launching into a potentially culturally-insensitive rant that will result in Zeus smiting me down, lightning bolts and all.

One standout has to be one character. Typically I don’t bother getting invested in these characters, viewing them instead as vehicles to give me information and tasks to do. More often than not, I speed through conversations, knowing that anything important will get through on either my task list or in my journal. But here I was intrigued by one guy in general: Grigor.

Now that’s not his real name, but we are never privy to that information. He is meant to make you think. From looking at his tablet he leaves out quite a bit considering everyone he works with is a possible art-stealing mastermind, you see that he has observational skills that rival Nancy’s. Through further investigation, you find out he grew up in foster care, having to constantly adapt his personality to whoever his new family wanted him to be. This made him an expert at reading people and using their setting and personal belongings to build a character profile for them .It makes you wonder how Nancy would have reacted in a similar situation, far away from her dad’s influence, the Hardy boys, and her friends and boyfriend who consistently enable her reckless behavior. She probably would have done the same thing as Grigor as much out of her survival instinct as much as her natural curiosity.

But now I’m off to continue my adventure game kick. Lucky for you that Sherlock bundle was on sale last week. Oh, sorry, I misspoke. Lucky for me. 

Stay tuned.

The Mighty Girl Sleuth

The Mighty Girl Sleuth

I can’t stop solving mysteries. It’s not going to be long before it starts to bleed into my real life.

I played and beat the first of the two Nancy Drew games I bought back when I got Sherlock Holmes. This one is “The Shattered Medallion.” Nancy Drew is reluctantly competing in an Amazing Race rip-off with George, and it is run by Sonny Joon, the series’ closest thing to a recurring character that didn’t originate from the book series. Throughout the different games, you seem to consistently be two steps behind him. In multiple games, you are his job replacement, and you can look through all of his old drawings and leftover candy wrappers. Here you can finally put a face to the UFO doodles—and it doesn’t disappoint. The best way to describe him is purple. Really.

(via Her Interactive)

He is also the vaguest character in a sea full on reality show contestants who don’t know what a straight answer is. All of the competitors you get to talk to take this competition seriously. They keep everything about themselves for the confessional booth, afraid of giving away a weakness or accidentally letting Nancy see through their ultimate plan to win. One is a girl who has been on multiple reality shows and either straight up lies or uses sarcasm in every conversation. Another just refuses to answer any questions. She at least has the excuse of working a job with high security clearance; she’s used to keeping secrets. Then her partner gives nothing away because he has no depth. He will constantly answer yes or no questions with both yes or no and refuse to pick. Honestly, he is actually the most likable purely because he has nothing potentially sinister lurking beneath the surface.

Considering I have played these games since elementary school, I have spent a lot of time debating whether or not I will ever grow out of them. The last Sherlock Holmes game did make me realize that I can appreciate a mystery simulator (we’re going to pretend that’s a genre since many are doing away with the pointing and the clicking) that isn’t riddled with logic puzzles—pun intended.

What made this one harder to swallow was the format. Since the main gameplay was participating in this game show, there were loads of disjointed puzzles. I’m used to these games having some straightforward brainteasers and then more where half of the mystery is in figuring out what the mystery even is. For example, here you are constantly finding comics that Sonny drew and left lying around, each with a hidden message, meaning you have to interpret these before you even know what puzzle you need to be solving. Sadly this is one of the only instances of this mechanic. The rest are variations of different kinds of traditional conundrums. I can tell I have played these games for a long time when I’ve lost count of how many times I have solved a “don’t let any like colors touch” jigsaw puzzle. Same goes for using both hieroglyphs and zodiac signs.

I remember back when this game came out in July. I was hurting for money and trying to talk myself out of buying it, so I went online to read user reviews, knowing anyone who bothers to review a Nancy Drew game for free is a lifelong player like me. All of them had similar complaints to what I’ve discovered on my own. The disconnected set-up of the puzzles makes it feel like there is no mystery. Throughout the game you are trying to figure out Sonny’s motive for essentially hijack the season of a popular reality show. He’s obviously trying to figure something out and using the contestants as his minions, but you aren’t really fully clued in to this plot until close to the end of the game. The more research you do, the more it is hinted at, but it’s never clear until it’s almost all over. Usually you know from the game’s introduction—and sometimes even the back of the box—what you are going to be solving.

Honestly this wasn’t one of my favorite installments. It’s definitely not the worst one I’ve played, but the set up with the puzzles felt more like a watered-down Professor Layton title than a Nancy Drew mystery game. I think I looked up the solutions more times than I ever have purely because the puzzle wasn’t fun enough for me to waste my time on. As a hardcore fan, I obviously wouldn’t suggest skipping this installment, but it definitely wouldn’t be where I would choose to introduce a newcomer to the games.

But hey, with over thirty games out now, they can’t all be home runs. I will gladly admit to being a Nancy Drew apologist. Except for the hidden picture games. That’s one bandwagon they didn’t need to hop on.

Now off to the other Nancy Drew I have lined up.

Stay tuned.