What is it?
This is another instalment in the well-known Nancy
Drew series. In fact, this is number eleven. Think about that for a
moment. Eleven games based on a dramatic character. That's not IV,
that's not IX, that's XI. That's even more than the Final Fantasy
series. I think that counts as a successful series. Okay, so we're
in multiple, multiple sequels territory here, and if the developer
and publisher haven't completely nailed this one, there is something
seriously wrong with the world... or at least their QA (Quality
The Nancy Drew games are marketed
with a particular market segment in mind; the 10+ female gamer. So,
as I am lucky enough to know one such young lady quite well, I
thought I'd bring her along and let you hear from her too. She's
known as Purple Bear (her choice!), she's my 10-year-old daughter,
and I'll be dropping her comments in from time to time.
Where does it come from?
The character of Nancy Drew was
originated by Edward Stratemeyer, alongside the Hardy Boys and many
others. Since then, she has solved around 350 mysteries, written by
many different authors. A number of the stories have been made into
a long running TV series. Then in 1997, Her Interactive decided to
specialise in adventure games aimed at the female pre-teen and teen
market, and chose Nancy Drew to lead their campaign.
Seven years, and eleven games
later, they're still going strong. However, this is the first one to
involve international travel; it is set in England - more on this
Is there a plot?
This is a detective mystery; what
kind of detective mystery would it be if it didn't have a plot?
Nancy has been invited to England
to visit with Linda, daughter of her neighbour, Mrs. Petrov. Linda
has recently married an English diplomat, Hugh Penvellyn, gaining a
stepdaughter in the process. But Linda is no longer seeing visitors,
and has taken to hiding behind a curtain in her bedroom. Now this
would not be much of a mystery if it weren't for the location. Linda
now lives in Blackmoor Manor on the misty moors of Essex, in a 14th
century manor house. There are rumours of family treasure, and of
course, there's the Beast that haunts the moors to add a little
spice to the mix.
Purple Bear would like to add,
"The story fits together well. Some bits were surprising, but
nothing was really
scary. I did feel concerned about what was happening to the
characters. I think LouLou is my favourite character, because I like
the way she talks and acts. Finishing the dragon puzzle made me feel
Being British, I can see there are
some nasty holes in this plot. For one thing, Essex does not have
moors. Fens (wet-lands), yes; moors, no. Therefore, the house should
be Blackfen Manor. Worse, Penvellyn is not an Essex name -
especially not one that would have survived from the 14th century.
This story belongs in Devon or Cornwall - on Exmoor or Dartmoor!
Where they have moors, dark manors, rumours of beasts, and ancient
families with names like Penvellyn! Perhaps somebody at Her
Interactive thinks that Exmoor is in Essex?
Having said all that, inaccuracies
aside, I agree with Purple Bear - the story does fit together
nicely, and drives the game throughout.
How do you play?
In common with the other two Nancy
Drew games I have seen -- "Message in a Haunted Mansion" and "The
Final Scene" -- Curse of Blackmoor Manor is a first person,
point-n-click adventure game. The user interface is clean and clear.
The older games have a slightly more cluttered main game screen, so
this is an improvement. The menus are structured the same as the
earlier games -- with the usual buttons you'd expect to see on any
game. However, a notable feature of the Nancy Drew games is the
'Second Chance' button. Essentially, just before critical moments in
the game (moments when you can die, or the game ends prematurely),
there is an auto-save which means you can immediately return to the
point before the mistaken decision.
Purple Bear says, "I like playing
in the first person; it feels better to be in control. It was easy
to use things in the game, and it was quite good that the tool bar
covers the talking. The main part of the screen is much bigger than
in Nancy Drew, The Final Scene."
Game play is all about talking to
the people in the house and on the telephone, collecting clues from
written and pictorial materials, and solving puzzles. The game
contains a nice selection of puzzle types, but there is a sliding
tiles puzzle, a maze, and a couple of timed sequences. There are two
levels of difficulty to the game; 'Junior Detective' and 'Senior
Detective'. Junior Detective gives more help and hints, and is more
generous with the timed features. Since Purple Bear and I are both
new to Nancy Drew games, we started with Junior Detective, but on
replay, I'd certainly go for Senior.
Other Notable Features
Neither Purple Bear nor I had to
make much use of the Second Chance button. In fact, I deliberately
tried a few things just to see if I'd need the Second Chance as a
result. There are some nice "game over" moments to see if you do,
and of course, they don't affect your overall progress.
Bear points out that, "LouLou [the hint system] is a good source of
information if you use her right. The main characters were easier to
get information from than LouLou, but less fun. But sometimes LouLou
could be annoying, like my little sister."
I must comment on two particularly
annoying features. Firstly, the cursor; although it is clearly
drawn, and indicates what actions are available (moving, magnifying,
acting, doing nothing, and speaking), the active spot of the cursor
is somewhere in the centre of the image, rather than at the top left
point, where most arrow-like cursors are active! I found this
particularly annoying in Nancy’s phone / web-browser device.
The second annoying feature was
the accents of the characters. Several of the British accents are
weak, and the American origin of the actors comes through to spoil
the experience from time to time. Once again, Nancy is played by
Lani Minella, and several of the other actors have played roles in
previous Nancy Drew games, but there is little evidence of British
acting talent being used to voice British characters. Jonah von
Spreecken’s “Cockney” accent brought tears to my eyes. Let’s put it
this way; Dick van Dyke did a better Cockney accent in Mary Poppins!
Puzzle and game clues and hints
come from all sources in the house; people, pictures, objects,
books, maps, diagrams and Nancy’s mobile phone/web browser. Of
particular note is LouLou, the parrot. At turns annoying, as only a
parrot can be, and endearingly amusing, LouLou adds significantly to
the humour and fun in the game.
Are there any other novelties?
Not really. I’ve never played a
game with such a strong notion of the passage of time before, but
this appears to be the norm for Nancy Drew games, so it’s hardly
As a complete experience, I
enjoyed playing this game, even though it is aimed at a completely
different market segment from where I would normally be found. The
puzzles were not in the least bit trivial, despite playing at
‘Junior’ level. There were no graphical glitches or game play bugs,
but there were some crashes-to-desktop. I am certainly not ruling
out playing other Nancy Drew games – older or newer.
2 timed puzzles,
1 maze, 1 sliding tiles game, and 1 sound-matching puzzle
35 save game
Plot hole the
size of Essex
rather poor English accents
Good story and
and graphics, though the people are somewhat cartoony
replayability due to the different difficulty levels and complex
and well placed and helpful sound effects.
I’ll give the final word to Purple
Bear: "I think the game is aimed at the right age group. It's not
too easy and it's not too hard. But I needed a little bit of help
with some of the puzzles. I look forward to playing more Nancy Drew,
in fact I'd like some more for my birthday or Christmas."
What do you need to play it?
400 MHz or greater Pentium II or
equivalent class CPU
64 MB of RAM
300 MB or more hard drive space
16MB DirectX compatible video
16 bit DirectX compatible sound
12X CD-ROM drive
(We used Win XP, AMD XP 2000, 512
MB RAM, and an ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)
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