“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.”
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
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
“Our patience is wearing
Though I experienced one crash upon Alt+Tabbing with several windows
open, Ransom was generally stable on my computer.
“I should get going.”
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
First person, nonlinear
Save at will (except during
Name your own saves
All mouse controlled
Easy to use interface
Choice of 2 levels of
Diary and to-do list on junior
level, diary only on senior level
Hints available on junior level
Voice acting a little too
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
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
Sound card: Creative Labs Sound
Blaster X-FI Xtreme Music