Nancy Drew: Danger by Design
takes Nancy on a covert operation to Paris, the City of Lights.
Ostensibly, she is there as an aide to Minette, a mask-wearing,
up-and-coming designer of haute couture for plus-size women. Actually,
Nancy is there to discover why Minette is falling behind schedule
designing her spring collection, and why her behavior is increasingly
And erratic it is! Nancy’s introduction to her faux employer involves
a “flying” plant, slamming doors, screeching, crying, and laughing.
Things just get stranger from there.
The story has its interesting moments. It begins with basic questions
such as: “What’s the real story behind the mask Minette always wears”? and
“What’s with all that screaming—therapy or psychosis”? The story explores
bits and pieces of Parisian history, tosses in a touch of romance, and
includes a possible treasure hunt. (Or was that just a rumor?) Hooks are
baited, hints delivered -- but the story ultimately fizzles, overwhelmed
by seemingly purposeless puzzles and the cumulative weight of small but
A Case Book, a Scrapbook, a Manual, and a Ticket
Danger by Design begins with a peek into Nancy’s bedroom --
actually a tutorial in disguise. Experienced players can skip this and
fly directly to Paris. If you care to linger, you can thumb through a
scrapbook of Nancy’s previous cases. I enjoyed my glimpse into Nancy’s
home, finding this artifice quite clever.
Danger by Design offers interesting contrasts in character
development. Minette’s bizarre costume, blank Noh mask, and puerile
behavior create a woman you hate instantly. Minette’s assistant, Heather,
has a plastic look and a placid manner. Jing Jing, Nancy’s roommate, is a
lively, friendly fashion model with a penchant for word games. Oh, yes,
because Jing Jing needs to gain weight she spends a lot of time in the
kitchen baking things.
Jean Mi, GlamGlam magazine’s arrogant fashion editor, puts me in mind
of an archetypal Hollywood producer with his “office at a table in the
café,” his big medallion, open shirt and vest. Park vendors, a fashion
photographer, a historical figure, and several folks we meet only as
voices on the telephone complete the cast of new characters. Nancy’s
friends Bess, George, Frank, and Joe also chime in from time to time.
Though this game provides varied dramatis personae, I was not able to
interact with them as often or as meaningfully as I desired. I wanted
more and varied dialogue, and the opportunity to delve more deeply into
the various characters’ backgrounds.
Mellifluous to Earsplitting and Beyond
The voice acting in Danger by Design vacillates from excellent
to execrable. Nancy’s voice is charming, right on. Minette’s voice
perfectly imparts her despotic, narcissistic, and unstable character. It
made me want to slap her, but I think that was the idea. Many character
voices matched their avatars perfectly. But several voices failed,
sounding fake and inappropriate. At least one was downright creepy.
With the notable exception of Nancy’s footsteps (which I rarely heard),
the ambient sounds immersed me in the atmosphere of a large city. A
cacophony of traffic echoed in the background, radios blared, crowds
murmured, and paper rustled. Once I heard a riot. Burbling water,
chirping birds, cooing pigeons, and chattering squirrels crafted a
pleasant backdrop to Nancy’s investigations in Pont Neuf.
The background music is a treat. Each locale has its own musical
style; the music stays low-key, never overwhelming the voice or ambient
sounds. I muted it during timed puzzles, but that is a reflection of my
low tolerance for such puzzles, rather than a comment on the music.
Have You Seen Paris?
The graphics are good. Not mind-blowing, but certainly adequate to the
task. I happily noted the unexpected reflection of Jing Jing’s dining
room light in her tabletop. Shadows were mostly lacking, however. In
keeping with their respective characters, Jing Jing’s apartment is light,
airy and cheerful, while Minette’s studio is dark and broody. The public
art in Pont Neuf is colorful, and the bright blue door to Nancy’s
temporary office is appealing.
In spite of the Paris setting, Danger by Design is not a virtual
tour of Paris. The few outside shots of buildings are “softened,” in
direct contrast to the crisp graphics found in the interiors. The
greatest sense of Paris is provided by the metro map. Outside of that,
the settings could be almost any urban area. The ability to interact with
the environment was limited. My exploration “itch” was not quite
Posers, Mazes, and Ciphers
The game features some appealing “out the box” logic puzzles, which
gave me that “Hooray, I did it!” feeling. But it places them alongside
too many fetch and carry puzzles and too many puzzles that felt like time
fillers. The need to switch from mouse to the keyboard to complete one
puzzle drove me to the message boards to figure out what I was doing
wrong. Inexplicably, one puzzle is done entirely in the dark!
There are several timed puzzles, and some necessitate fast reflexes.
What should have been a series of enjoyable puzzle-solving experiences
instead mutated into frustrating, tooth grinding exercises in futility.
You’ll play several mini-games. One can be replayed at any time, and I
indulged myself with that one often. Death waits in the maze. Mechanical
puzzles, decoding, and a spot of computer hacking round out the mix.
Several tasks require color discrimination. The game has no sound
dependent puzzles and no sliders.
I know that in any game, it is difficult to forge a perfect puzzle
balance. The developer must give the gamer enough clues to solve the
puzzles while still maintaining a challenging but not unachievable
difficulty level. For me, Danger by Design missed that crucial
balance. There are some intriguing, thought-provoking puzzles, but too
often I felt I was fetching and carrying, killing time, or frantically
clicking to beat the clock.
Danger by Design is a first person, mouse-controlled (except for
one puzzle) adventure game. The intuitive interface is easy to use. As
always, you can choose to play as a Junior or a Senior Detective. The
Junior level provides some hints, a to-do list, and changes the difficulty
of some of the puzzles.
This game allows unlimited saves, whenever you want, and you name them.
Nirvana! It is Alt+Tab friendly, and provides subtitles. Happily, it
allows separate adjustments of voice, background music, and sound effects
and even provides a sound file alongside those options enabling you to
immediately hear the effects of your adjustments.
Nancy’s journal automatically records important conversations. The
Metro map provides for quick location changes and adds that Parisian touch
to the game.
Happily, I discovered many small, gladdening details scattered in
unexpected places. An aptly named park vendor brought a smile to my
face. (I’ll leave it to you to discover which one.) I particularly
enjoyed embedded references to past Nancy Drew games. Folks with the
necessary gaming background will appreciate them, but recognizing them is
not essential to plot advancement. The clever placement of the iconic
“Nancy with a magnifying glass” in the background of one scene provided a
“Gee, look at that!” moment. Listening to Nancy struggle with her French
accent brought a smile. The screen saver on Nancy’s computer made me
laugh. I only wish these wonderful touches of wit and humor had been
integrated more frequently.
Many Petite Problems
Although not a bad game, numerous small elements combined to diminish
my enjoyment of Danger by Design. First and foremost, too many
timed components. Next, the fight scene. Yes, I said a fight! By action
standards, it is ridiculously easy. But I don’t expect nor want
fisticuffs in Nancy Drew games. It was intrusive, out of place, and just
Paris brings out Nancy’s artistic side and she paints a picture or
two. The first time was fun. The second time -- still fun. But enforced
repetition brought monotony. A greater variation in the choice of art to
paint would remove the tedium and make the process more entertaining.
Since Nancy is in Paris, she uses a calling card to keep in touch with
folks back home. Calling home involves dialing 21 numbers with a pause in
the middle for the calling card to connect. The numbers cannot be quickly
clicked through, thus bringing the game to a screaming halt. This could
have been avoided by using speed dial, or by adding the ability to click
on the number and be connected. This is a small detail, but one which
repeatedly exasperated me.
I found no way to skip dialogue that I had already heard. I called
friends and acquaintances several times in search of clues, and used the
second chance button more than a few times. The ability to skip familiar
dialogue would have greatly enhanced the experience.
Information that was in my inventory became unavailable in two
instances just before I needed it to solve a puzzle. In both cases, I
could have opened a save to get the information, but requiring that smacks
of poor design. Without that information, those puzzles were unsolvable.
And One Big Problem
Lastly, my game froze. My computer exceeds all suggested
specifications, and I had used the recommended full install. I tried
replaying from saves. I closed windows and turned off my virus scanner.
Finally, I emailed Her Interactive technical support, but received no
acknowledgement or help.
Eventually, I uninstalled and reinstalled the game, this time with the
antivirus software disabled, and I was then able to resume play. I
routinely play games with higher requirements, but this was the first time
I’ve been forced to go through the uninstall-reinstall-turn off everything
For this game in particular, it is important to heed the warning in the
manual to shut down antivirus software before installing.
There is no patch available at this time.
I’m not sure exactly where the developers were hoping to go with this
game, but I’m pretty certain that its inconsistent quality and sometimes
wearisome game play were not their original intention. Plot points
started but not finished, a plethora of small but nagging design issues,
high and low points in voice acting, difficult timed puzzles, hand to hand
combat, and a major freeze – these combined to deliver a decidedly less
than stellar gaming experience.
Danger by Design is not the worst game I’ve ever played, but it
is far from the best.
Several timed challenges and
other timed elements
Inconsistent voice acting
Logic based puzzles
Several color based puzzles
No sound puzzles
A lot of fetch and carry
Choice of difficulty level
One fight scene
Game froze, requiring an
uninstall and reinstall to progress
I played as a Senior Detective on: