Casual Game Spotlight: Nancy Drew Adventure SeriesSeptember 2, 2014
It’s easy to get lost in the broad, broad market of casual gaming. From your time management simulators to your hidden object games, there’s a lot to choose from—which means a plethora of pale imitations to sift through. But amongst the piles and piles of casual gaming titles out there, there will always be those that stand out for being truly innovative and uniquely sophisticated, and of those games, the Nancy Drew Adventure Series is in a class all its own.
The games function as loose adaptations of the wildly popular mystery books by Carolyn Keene (a pseudonym for multiple authors), which star a feisty, clever, impossibly brave girl detective named Nancy Drew. Mysteries seem to follow Nancy everywhere, from ghost dogs to haunted carousels to murdered scientists, but with her smarts and courage and a little help from her friends, she always manages to solve the case.
The main Nancy Drew Series spans an impressive 30 games, with the first (Secrets Can Kill) dating back to 1998, and a 31st(Labyrinth of Lies) due out in October. Since 1998, HerInteractive has released two Nancy games a year, and that’s not including console ports and the Nancy Drew Dossier series, a kind of Nancy-Lite series that more closely resembles your average ‘casual’ game. Many Nancy fans have grown up with the games, and loyalty return to the series to play each new installation, regardless of age.
This diverse audience shows in the games: the puzzles are, at times, truly challenging on an adult level, and customizable difficulty settings allow the player to decide just how hard they want to tax their brains. Not only are they sophisticated in terms of gameplay, but artistry as well. Each Nancy Drew game is fully voiced, and each suspect character is fully animated (with quality improving tremendously over time). The settings are some of the most fun, detailed you’ll ever see in games of this ilk, and you really get to dive into them, opening drawers and unlocking secret passageways that only open up the game worlds more and more. Suspects are right there with you, and they speak and engage with you in interactive conversation trees that let you set the pace of each interrogation.
There’s a wonderful variety to the plots, too, which can range from genuinely scary ghost stories (see: The Haunted Mansion or Shadow At the Water’s Edge) to simple cultural excursions gone wrong (try Secret of The Scarlet Hand to work at a museum and help curate the coolest Mayan exhibit ever, or check out Danger By Design to traipse around Paris looking for stolen art). As the series progresses, it also becomes more self-referential, bringing fan-favourite characters back into the mix as phone-friends and littering the backgrounds with easter eggs that reward you for exploring. It’s intensely gratifying to come across newspaper articles updating you on past suspects, or to hear an old friend pop up on the phone and offer a vital clue for the current case. This has even led to a few reoccurring plots that you’ll see develop over literally dozens of games. See that doodle on that notebook in Secret of the Scarlet Hand? Twelve years and over 20 games later, that will actually matter a whole lot!
I can’t think of a better game series for young girls—with a bold, admirable heroine, an emphasis on problem solving and discovery, and so many fun, memorable stories and characters, the Nancy Drew games really do have something to offer for everyone. So for you newbies, here’s a quick list of my personal top five favourite Nancy Drew games (but I promise, they’re all good!).
After a series of mysterious accidents at Wickford Castle, home to an old French tower once belonging to Marie Antoinette, Nancy Drew is called in to investigate. This atmosphere in this game is great, with wind constantly roaring at the windows, muffled by the oppressive castle walls. The winding, empty halls of the castle (with their multiple dead ends) make the place feel simultaneously endless and isolated. You’re very alone here, and you’ll feel it, especially at night when your few suspects go to sleep. The deeper you crawl into the castle walls, the more secrets you find. Add to this a fun plot about Marie Antoinette’s hidden diamond and one of the most memorable suspects in the form of Professor Hotchkiss, and it’s one of the best games in the series.
Someone has been terrorizing the valedictorian candidates at an all-girl’s boarding school, leaving them ominous notes with inky scratch marks and calling him/herself ‘the Black Cat.’ With an Edgar Allen Poe theme (the culprit models his or her notes after Poe horror stories, hence the ‘black cat’ monnicker), this one is deceptively dark in tone, and heavy on the character development. Each valedictorian candidate is a suspect, and you’ll learn a lot about them and why they’re all so driven to succeed (the valedictorian gets a free ride at a university of her choice). This one has one of the best twists of the series—I promise you won’t see it coming!
When Nancy scores a job as an assistant curator at the prestigious Beech Hill Museum, she thinks all she needs to worry about is getting the latest Mayan exhibit up and running. When a priceless carving is stolen and a red handprint the only clue left behind, Nancy takes up the case! The museum is beautiful, the characters all have interesting backstories and complex motivations, and there are a number of fun twists and turns along the way. Nancy has to stretch her resources to all corners of the world to solve this one. Plus it’s got an educational element that fits naturally into the plot and doesn’t feel intrusive!
Nancy is called out to the excavation of an Egyptian Queen’s tomb in order to investigate possible sabotage amongst a cut-throat team of academics and treasure hunters. Investigate a tomb, be on the look out for a sarcophagus, and enjoy the dreamy setting and the ever-increasing complexity of the tomb’s puzzles as what begins as a small series of room opens up more and more as the game progresses. This one has great atmosphere and pacing, with a setting that only gets more fascinating the more you pry it open, and a lot of fun tasks that teach you a bit about Egyptian mythology and hieroglyphics.
Possibly the scariest game in the series, this game takes Nancy to Japan, where she stays at an old traditional inn that’s allegedly haunted. Most Nancy Drew games, with some exceptions, tend to fall into two categories: creepy mysteries, and international location mysteries. This one gives you the best of both major staples. Genuinely creepy, with a tense atmosphere and a wide array of places to explore across Japan, this is the game to try if you want a good ghost story.