Nancy Drew: Danger by Design



Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Her Interactive

Released:  July 2006

PC Requirements:   400Mhz Pentium, 64MB RAM, 300 MB
hard drive space, 16-bit color graphics
video card with at least 16MB of VRAM,
16-bit Window-compatible
stereo sound card, 12X CD ROM, Mouse
and Speakers.


Additional Screenshots





by Looney4Labs


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 erratic.

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 deadly annoyances. 

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.

Supporting Players

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 satisfied.

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. 

User Friendly?

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 plain annoying.

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 routine.  

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.


Short list:

1st person, mouse-controlled

Alt+Tab Friendly


Several timed challenges and other timed elements

Inconsistent voice acting

Logic based puzzles

Several color based puzzles

No sound puzzles

1 maze

No sliders


Mechanical puzzles

A lot of fetch and carry

Intuitive interface

Choice of difficulty level

Save anytime

Unlimited saves

One fight scene

Game froze, requiring an uninstall and reinstall to progress


I played as a Senior Detective on:

Win XP Professional SP1

3.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4

1 GB Dual Channel DDR400 SDRAM

128 DDR NVIDIA Geforce FX5200 Ultra


Grade: B-



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