The Hardy Boys are two teenage brothers living at home with mom & dad who like to play detective & will be familiar to anyone who has played the Nancy Drew games.
A robbery has taken place at Spencer Mansion, the only possible suspect has been detained but as there are some puzzling aspects to the theft the Hardy boys, Frank & Joe, are called in to help tie-up the loose ends. But not everything is as straightforward as it seems & as they start to investigate they find themselves drawn into a more intricate mystery.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story which for me was the main strength of the game. It was well structured & for the most part flowed along to one of the best done conclusions I have come across in a long time.
A big bonus of the game, I thought, was the exceptionally good voice acting (in comparison to many others) which help a lot in giving some personality to the characters you meet & contribute to giving a homely & natural feel to the story. One of the characters featured is Nancy Drew herself but for me it didn’t work as she was not voiced by Lani Minnelli. She is featured so minimally that I feel a little cynically that she was only included as a selling point of the game.
The Hardy Boys has a similar feel to the Nancy Drew games but apart from that and any graphical similarity I found it quite different.
It is played in third person perspective with the option of playing either Frank, Joe, or both together. I didn’t feel that this feature was put to full use in the game as there were few situations where I found it necessary to control the boys independently & be able to switch between the two.
The interface is point & click played entirely with the mouse with the usual walk, talk, look, take & gear (action) icons & the large downward pointing arrow to back out of a close-up view.
The inventory is accessed by right-clicking & items can be combined by clicking one onto another. Combined items can also be dismantled in the inventory by double-clicking on them & also some items can be examined more closely by double-clicking on them – I didn’t realise this until later in the game as it is not mentioned in the manual.
Moving the cursor to the top right of the screen brings up the Character Select Mode where you can choose who to control, a Travel Map for quick travel between locations & a Task Bar. Here you have the option to click on the game menu (which can also be accessed by pressing Esc), the inventory or your Cell Phone. The Cell Phone allows you to make phone calls, but you also have access, by double-clicking, to a journal which stores the content of any documents you find in more detail & also a Quest Log which can be helpful if you’re not sure what to do next.
As with all good detective stories the mystery is solved by collecting & analysing evidence & questioning people. For anyone who doesn’t like a lot of dialogue you will be pleased that there is not too much!, puzzles are a nice mixture of problem solving, inventory manipulation & logic puzzles which range from simple to not too difficult & are well integrated into the story, although there were at least two which I could only solve by trial & error. There are no colour matching, sound puzzles, mazes, sliders or timed puzzles, except for one fairly simple one at the beginning, and unlike the ND games there are no challenging games or difficult arcade sequences to ‘pad out’ the game.
The graphics, similar to the ND series, were quite pleasing although environments were static & not as rich & as finely detailed as many other games & character movement no more than okay.
I enjoyed the intermittent music in the game but felt that it could have benefitted from a few ambient sounds and/or incidental music to heighten the atmosphere in some of the locations.
The main downside to the game was the very long loading time which I didn’t mind when first launching the game but found excessive between scene changes within the game. Other minor annoyances included finding a couple of items in my inventory without having any indication in the game that I had picked them up, questioning a character about someone who is standing next to them!, finding instructions in my Quest Log before it was relevant for them to be there & misleading or badly worded ‘rules’ for a puzzle involving placing shapes on a grid. This in itself was clumsy as I had to attempt several times to get the shapes to ‘stick’ where I wanted them & to solve the puzzle had to break one of the ‘rules’. There were also a few other places in the game where it took a few clicks to get a response.
I also found that inventory items remained even after they shouldn’t have still been there & I picked up the same thing twice even though it didn’t appear to be there the 2nd time!
I also experienced one crash & a lack of a hotspot in one location although this could have been due to a bad installation rather than a bug.
Overall, I thought the positive aspects of the game far outweighed the negative & although there was room for improvement it was a very nicely balanced game in all respects -it had an interesting story which was slowly unravelled via a combination of dialogue based enquiry & a variety of puzzles that didn't dominate the plot & weren't too difficult. It is by no means amongst the most challenging games I've played so may not appeal much to the 'hard core' gamer but if you're a fan of Nancy Drew you may like this despite the differences. I enjoyed it very much & there were no chores to do!