Waverly Academy is the 21st
game in the Nancy Drew adventure game series which, like a longlife
battery, impressively just keeps on going.
So, this time around let’s don our
uniforms, pack our plimsolls and join Nancy as she infiltrates an
exclusive girls’ boarding school in an effort to discover the identity
behind the mysterious “Black Cat”, who has been sending threatening
messages to the students. What is the reason behind these messages? Are
the accidents which follow merely coincidence, or is it only a matter of
time before someone gets seriously hurt? It’s all up to you, Nancy Drew.
BRING IT ON
Well, we’re off to a crackingly good start
with this game, not least because it is absolutely nothing like its
predecessor, Ransom of the Seven Ships, which proved disappointing
for so many Nancy fans. Waverly Academy is back up to the usual
high standard we’ve become accustomed to with Nancy Drew, carrying an
involving storyline, puzzles that entertain and stretch the brain in all
the right places, plenty of characters with whom to interact, and
excellent voice acting -- most notably from Lani Minella, who has played
the part of Nancy from the very beginning and who embodies the role to
plays in first person perspective. The player is able to move around the
environment via the onscreen arrows. There is occasional slow panning, but
this is controllable and should not cause any problems for those affected
by motion sickness.
The pacing seems deliberately relaxed,
with very little real tension, and is none the worse for it. How pleasant
to be able to wander and solve puzzles at your own pace without the
constant ticking of a timer and a Game-Over-you-have-failed screen.
The graphics are of high quality as
always, and I noticed a definite improvement in the characters’ facial
animations this time around. The school itself is fairly compact for the
areas you are allowed to explore. The ground floor contains a large foyer
with a highly polished wooden floor and inlaid school emblem. Corridors
either side, lined with glass cases containing historical school exhibits,
will lead the player to the small rec room with its games corner and snack
shop, or to the impressive library lined wall-to-wall with books. The
upper floor consists of two connecting halls where the students’ bedrooms
are situated. Those with a deliriously poor sense of navigation will be
pleased to learn that it really isn’t possible to get lost at Waverly
Academy. There is a small surrounding outside area allowing access to the
school cellar, and that is pretty much it. But it’s the story and puzzles
that we’re here for, and Waverly Academy doesn’t disappoint.
PEOPLE, PUZZLES, PRETZELS
The game characters are well-rounded and
interesting. Although stereotypical - the jock, the goth, the oddball, and
so on - snippets of their individual backstories can be gleaned by
informal chatting with their fellow students. You are able to keep
up-to-date with all the latest school gossip via the Twitter-like network
uploaded to your phone.
There is only one timed puzzle. It is at
the end of the game, and is generous, so play without trepidation. Other
puzzles are of the logic, spatial and jigsaw variety, and are great fun to
solve. Nancy will also undertake several photography assignments over the
course of the game.
Yes, there are mini-games, as is usual
with Nancy Drew. The air hockey is enjoyable and fairly easy to beat; the
“Scram” (darts) less so. As Nancy is a Waverly newbie, one of her daily
duties is to serve behind the snack shop counter. A failure to do so will
earn demerits, and too many demerits will result in expulsion, so make
sure to keep an eye on the in-game clock. The snack shop is simple to get
to grips with, and takes just a few minutes out of each day.
There are no mazes, sliders or sound
CENTRE OF OPERATIONS
One reason amongst many as to why I look
forward to each new Nancy Drew adventure is that the games remain
constant. “A fixed point in an ever-changing age”; from the opening theme
music, to the introduction at Nancy’s desk (always cannily updated with
memorabilia from her most recent cases), to the interface itself. You can
choose to play at either Junior or Senior level. Your choice here will not
affect the story itself, only the level of difficulty of some of the
puzzles that you encounter. Junior level provides the added benefit of a
Task List, invaluable for checking what has been done and for a push in
the right direction if you’re unsure as to what to do next. Make a fatal
error and there’s always the Second Chance option to fall back on. There
are unlimited save slots. The game box reads “For mystery fans 10 to
Adult”. Don’t think for a minute that this game series is strictly for the
younger set, as even at Junior level you’ll always find a challenging
puzzle or two (or three, or four).
I’VE BUGGED YOU ENOUGH
installed without any problems, and played perfectly throughout. I
encountered no dead ends, no glitches or desktop crashes.
If you are a fan of Nancy Drew - or if you
were up until Ransom of the Seven Ships, but are now feeling
discouraged and hesitant - I’d recommend Waverly Academy as a
return to form and all round Good Fun for mystery fans (age 10 to Adult).