The game starts with Nancy being awakened by her
cell phone. The caller is Savannah Woodham, a ghost-hunter/paranormal
expert who assisted Nancy in her previous adventure, Shadow at the
Water's Edge. She needs Nancy's help. A young woman (Jessalyn Thornton)
has disappeared during a scavenger hunt at a run-down, supposedly
haunted mansion belonging to the Thornton family. There is some concern
that Jessalyn may have been abducted or killed by the vengeful ghost of
Charlotte, a 21-year-old woman who died in a fire in what may or may not
have been an accident. There are all kinds of stories from local people
who claim to have encountered Ghost Charlotte. Of course Nancy doesn't
believe any of that ghost stuff. Nancy is a skeptic who believes there's
a rational explanation for everything -- and she's determined to get to
the bottom of whatever happened at Thornton manor and find the missing
The characters are mostly members of the Thornton
family, a wealthy southern family that is (or was) in the business of
ginning cotton. Clara is the matriarch, and the mother of missing
Jessalyn. Colton is Jessalyn's fiance. Wade is a cousin -- who has spent
time in prison. Charlotte is the ghost, a cousin of Clara. Harper is
Charlotte's sister. Nancy will spend time talking to the members of the
family -- at least to those who are still alive. Sometimes talking to
them opens up new game options elsewhere in the house -- or they give
her an object that is useful to her investigation.
Nancy's cell phone allows her to talk with
Savannah, Beth and Ned, and Addison Hammond (a friend of Jessalyn's who
was with her the night she disappeared).
Nancy's cell phone also has a camera, which allows
you to take pictures of clues.
Not so very long ago, in 1989, the mansion was a
showplace suitable for holding masked balls. But now, a mere 24 years
later, it is in an advanced state of decay, rotting and falling apart,
with holes in the floor and black mildew all over the walls. The
relatively rapid deterioration may be due to the heat and humidity in
that part of the United States. At least that's the explanation I came
The game takes place entirely within the ruined
mansion, its grounds, family cemetary, and outbuildings. This is a
departure from other Nancy Drew games I've played, where Nancy visits
several locations in the course of investigating and talking to
different characters, some brighter and cheerier than others. In Ghost
of Thornton Hall, if it isn't nighttime, it is at least extremely
overcast outdoors. So the time you spend in unrelentingly dark grayish
environments permeates the game without respite -- not a bad idea for a
Many of the puzzles have to do with collecting
information from several areas and deciding how and where to use it. For
example, you need to pay close attention to what is written on the
tombstones you find scattered around the graveyard, because all or part
of the information may be required to solve a puzzle (or megapuzzle that
combines information from several places). Another example -- there are
a number of books scattered about the house. You will need information
from these books to puzzle out codes necessary to progress in the game.
There are also the usual inventory puzzles, though
you may have to scrub the screen with the mouse in order to find
inventory due to the dark graphics. The cursor will change shape from a
magnifying glass to a hand when you hover your cursor over inventory.
There is also quite a bit of exploration of the
house and grounds. Besides the main house, there are the "ruins" of the
burned building where Charlotte died in a fire. There is also a family
cemetary with tombstones, a statue, a fountain, and a crypt. The main
house itself is riddled with secret passages that Nancy will discover
during the course of the game.
I was expecting to see more set piece puzzles
(puzzles that involve the manipulation of a device, piece of machinery,
or puzzle box). There are a few, and most of them are doozies, even as a
"amateur detective." But there are fewer than I'm used to seeing in the
Nancy Drew games I've played. There is one 3x3 slider, but the MaGtRo
walkthrough provides a simple solution for sliderphobes.
There were two or three timed puzzles, where Nancy
can be flattened by falling debris or asphyxiated unless she moves fast
enough. But the "second chance" feature helps out if Nancy has a really
Ghost of Thornton Hall uses the same
point-and-click controls as other Nancy Drew games. The inventory area
is at the bottom of the screen, and looks like the same one that was
used for Lost Queen and Deadly Device. Nancy's Journal and Task List
(for Amateur Detectives) are at the right The checklist that appears when
playing as a Amateur Detective automatically places checked items at the
bottom of the list. Nancy's cell phone has a permanent spot to the left
of the inventory items, and includes a Camera, phone numbers, and
Settings for Wallpaper and "Ring Back."
There was less learning about the past or about
cultures in this game than in other Nancy Drew games I've played. There
was a little about female spies during the Civil War, and bad conditions
in cotton factories, but for the most part the educational aspects were
Again none!!! (yay again)
The Southern accents of some of the characters
seemed a bit "off," but the voice actors did a good job of putting
emotion in their voices and sounding convincing.
Visually the game is very dark, both inside the
house and outside. Fortunately I was able to jack up the brightness of
my monitor to compensate, but there was another problem -- the inventory
bar at the bottom of the screen was so much brighter than the rest of
the screen that it made it even harder to see what was going on. A black
inventory bar would have made more sense than the beige/tan inventory
bar that was so eye-searingly bright compared to the rest of the
picture. For some reason many of the screenshots I've seen online do not
show the inventory bar
Other than the overly bright inventory bar, the
graphics were atmospheric and well done. There were some subtle
animations. I particularly enjoyed the little brown critter that would
periodically scuttle across the cellar floor. It was too fast for me to
get a good look at it, so I don't know what it was. It looked a little
like a light brown hedgehog, but it was probably just a big rat.
The music was spooky and of the ambient, unhummable
variety. Sometimes there would be something that resembled singing.
Apparently Charlotte had a lovely singing voice, and there were stories
about how her singing led people out of danger before she scarred them
forever with her terrifying presence.
The DVD case version of the game is for both
Windows and Mac. There was a 20 digit alphanumeric "Mac installation
code" on the back of the manual, which is apparently necessary for
installing on a Mac. Mercifully I didn't have to mess with inputting a
code when installing the game on my PC. I just inserted the disc and ran
the Setup.exe. There is a separate Setup.msi file to install the game on
64-bit versions of Windows.
The instructions recommend temporarily disabling
your antivirus when you install. But since I didn't read the
instructions until after finishing the game, I neglected to do this and
the game had no problems running. I use Microsoft Security Essentials on
XP SP3, so the result may be different with a different antivirus. I
should mention that the game took about an hour to install, and it might
have taken less time if I'd disabled Security Essentials while
The game manual is very sketchy, including a few
general instructions telling how to install and start the game on PC and
Mac. There is a pdf manual that installs with the game, but it contains
no more information than what is in the paper manual (actually only a
folded piece of paper) that comes in the DVD case. Apparently
HerInteractive feels the interface is intuitive enough that you don't
need a manual, though I don't know if this would be true for a first
There are separate volume controls for voice,
(sound) effects, and music. There is also a checkbox that allows you to
choose whether to play full screen or windowed. I wasn't really sure
what was meant by "fast convo" in the game options, but the default
setting was "on" and I left it that way. (A Google search later revealed
HerInteractive had posted the answer to the mystery on their webpage
for the game: "The all new Fast Convo feature allows the player to
accelerate through all character conversations").
Unfortunately there were no brightness controls,
which would have been useful in this particular game. Nor was there an
option to darken the inventory bar, or choose a darker color choice for
the inventory bar.
Nancy Drew: Ghost of Thornton Hall is worth a play
if you enjoy Nancy Drew games. If you haven't enjoyed other Nancy Drews,
this game is unlikely to change your mind.
I wasn't happy with the explanation given for the
ghostly manifestations, or with the end of the game in general. The
story itself was interesting, but (without going into spoiler territory)
I think they could have done a better job tying up loose ends.
Chances are you'll have to brighten your monitor
and/or your video card settings because the game is visually a lot
darker than most adventure games.