Nancy Drew 20: Ransom of the Seven Ships



Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Her Interactive

Released:  July 2009

PC Requirements:  Windows XP/Vista, 1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU, 256 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


Additional Screenshots





by Looney4Labs


 “What’s up?” Nancy Drew

Let’s face it. Nancy Drew gets around. She has solved mysteries all over the globe including Paris, Italy, Canada, England and multiple locales in the United States. She is one well-traveled lady. In Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, her twentieth outing, Nancy takes a well-earned vacation amongst the azure seas and flamingo sands of the Bahamas. Or does she?

“We were forced to sail straight into disaster.” El Toro

Bess has won a five day stay at the Shark Diving Eco-Tourist Resort on ultra-remote Dread Island in the Bahamas. Naturally, she invites her cousin, George, and her best friend, Nancy to come along. Because our sleuth has a conflicting engagement, George and Bess arrive on the island first with Nancy scheduled to catch up with them one day later.

As Nancy alights from the float plane (the island’s only link to the mainland), George races toward her, calling and waving animatedly. However, what at first glance seems to be an exuberant greeting is, in reality, a desperate plea for help.

It seems the owners of the resort are missing and, more importantly, so is Bess. She left to enjoy a sunset on nearby Sangre beach, but never returned. Instead, George received a ransom letter demanding that Nancy locate El Toro’s sunken treasure in exchange for Bess’ safe return.

As Sherlock would say, “The game is afoot.”

“Stranger Danger.” Coucou

This is an isolated island and Nancy has very few folks with whom to interact. The funniest is Coucou, a talking double yellow headed Amazon parrot whose grandmother you may have met in Curse of Blackmoor Manor. Coucou provides comic relief on the senior level and on the junior level, hints in exchange for food.

Though Nancy frequently phoned both George and Bess in previous games, we never actually saw them—until now. We meet George in the opening scene, and Nancy interacts with her as needed in the game. You even get a chance to play as George. True to the description in the original books—she is tall, slender, and athletically built with chin-length dark hair.

Bess is perfect in every nuance. It’s as if she stepped straight from the pages of the books onto your computer screen.

The only other inhabitant of the island is Johnny Rolle, a Jamaican vagabond who goes where his whims and the waves take him. Though he is camping near the beach where Bess disappeared, he claims to know nothing. He is not interested in helping Nancy search for Bess, but he can be convinced to render aid if Nancy will help him first.

 “Talking is my game.” Coucou

All the voice acting is top-notch, but I do have one small quibble. Though Nancy Drew is one calm character, I expected to hear some hint of stress in her voice from time to time. After all, the victim, Bess, is her best friend--but she remained completely cool and unflappable, almost aloof, throughout. Perhaps this was done to be consistent with her in-control persona, but it rang a little false for this story.

As you might expect in a game with limited non-player characters, Ransom of the Seven Ships is not a dialogue heavy game. The back story is conveyed through documents, while conversations tend to point Nancy in a specific direction. Most are well written and short, which is a blessing as they cannot be skipped.

Nancy and George can speak as often as you deem necessary via a walkie-talkie. I appreciated the chance to chat with/play as George, but the exchange that facilitates the switch soon became annoying. A quick swap option without the banal duologue would be a great improvement!

“This I gotta see.” Nancy Drew

Though danger threatens George and Nancy, it does so in gorgeous surroundings. Dread Island is encircled by turquoise seas, and features luxuriously verdant trees and tropical flowers all which contrast beautifully with its sugar white and roseate beaches. Most of the game is bright, shadows are where they would be in nature, and small animations bring life to the environment. Waves pound, wind blows, footsteps crunch, birds shriek, monkeys chatter, metal clunks and upbeat percussion-driven music provides an authentic ambience as Nancy snoops…errrr, investigates. 

“To the one who has entered here, you must find your way out.” El Toro

The game features a first person perspective; Nancy moves smoothly through her nonlinear world via mouse clicks. Several adjustable options make it easy to customize the game play to your taste. For instance, the music, voice and sound effects are all independently adjustable and you choose between small and large text for subtitles. Also, you can play in either of two full screen modes, or windowed. As usual in these games, an optional tutorial is available at the game’s beginning.

Saving is easy as you can save at will, name your own saves, and there is no limit on their number. The smart cursor changes shape to indicate when you may use, pick up, or examine an object, as well as the direction you might travel.

For those playing on Junior Detective, there is a very helpful To Do list. However, those who choose Senior Detective will have to make do with Nancy’s list of observations.

Despite the fact that the interface is generally easy to use, I had two issues with it. One is small and the other is very large. First, the small one. Brown or black inventory items tended to ‘disappear’ against the background of the inventory bag. Since the articles are not named as you mouse over them, I sometimes had to take an object out of inventory in order to identify it. This is not a big deal unless you are underwater and your oxygen is nearly gone. At that point, those few seconds may spell the difference between life and yet another death.

Now for the elephant in the middle of the room. Though the player can switch places with George and view a map of the island which hangs in the resort, this did not negate the need for nor serve the same purpose as a mini-map. Because of this game’s nonlinearity, players may find themselves doing a lot of “to and fro” across a landscape featuring an isometric view of either curvaceous, back-looping roads or a flat, endlessly blue sea. At least, I did.

I was lost often and for long periods of time. This, in turn, led to quite a lot of frustration and aggravation and a feeling of literally not knowing where to go—well, more correctly, how to get to where I wanted to go. Frequently, I didn’t go back to check a previous screen because I had no idea how long it would take me to arrive there or to return to my current screen. All of these negative feelings could have been avoided if only there had been a mini-map. I realize this is not going to be a problem for those with a great sense of direction, but for me it was a game crushing deficit.

“Do you really know how to play a game?” Nancy Drew

And now on to the meat of the game—the puzzles. Ransom brings us a nice variety of engaging conundrums to work our way through. There are the expected inventory puzzles as well as ciphers, logic problems, one maze, three mini-games, mechanical posers, and an intriguing slider.

Your dexterity may be challenged in several ways. You will drive Nancy around (sliding the mouse, fairly easy), help her scale a sheer cliff whilst boulders rain down from above (not too bad), sail around the island (easy unless a whale jumps into the ship and sinks it or the wind changes and sends the ship crashing into a rock or buoy) and beat a dexterous monkey in a coconut throwing contest (may I say arrrgh?).

While I enjoyed most of the puzzles, there were several I would have relished infinitely more had they not been timed. Most Nancy Drew games have one timed sequence at the end, but Ransom has several sprinkled throughout the game. Nancy spends a lot of time underwater in this game. That being the case, she has limited oxygen in her dive tank. Cogitate too long and you die. It’s a good thing that there are amusing death messages. I got to see them all. More than once.

One of the timed puzzles is also color dependent. I am not color-blind, but I had difficulty with some of the in-between shades. In addition, there is one puzzle based on sound, though there is another way to solve it.

“Our patience is wearing thin.” Kidnappers

Though I experienced one crash upon Alt+Tabbing with several windows open, Ransom was generally stable on my computer.

 “I should get going.” Nancy Drew

Sleuthing with Nancy Drew on Dread Isle was both demanding and entertaining. The graphics, ambient sounds, voice acting and story were all satisfying. However, the lack of a mini-map and the inclusion of several timed puzzles added stress to what was otherwise an enjoyable game.  

Grade: B-

Short List:

First person, nonlinear adventure game

Tutorial available

Save at will (except during puzzles)

Saves unlimited

Name your own saves

All mouse controlled

Alt+tab friendly

Easy to use interface

Subtitles available

Choice of 2 levels of difficulty

Diary and to-do list on junior level, diary only on senior level

Hints available on junior level only

Voice acting a little too laid-back

Atmospheric music looped

Several timed puzzles

Puzzle types include logic, decoding, inventory, slider, maze, mechanical

Several mini-games with one requiring fast reflexes

One color-dependent puzzle

One sound-dependent puzzle

Options include text size, windowed or full screen viewing, voice, music, and sound effects volume

Dying possible (even probable)

Lots of to-and-fro and fro and fro

Not necessary to allow game to access internet to play, though it will try

Dialogue cannot be skipped

I played on:

OS: Win XP Professional SP3

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad CPU @ 2.40 GHz

Ram: 3.25GB Dual Channel DDR2 667 w/ECC 2-DIMMs

Gx card: nVidia GE Force 8800 GTS

Sound card: Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-FI Xtreme Music

July, 2009

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