Over 200 million Nancy Drew books have been sold.
I grew up reading the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, and
Nancy Drew mysteries. So reviewing my first Nancy Drew mystery was an
opportunity to interact with a “friend” from my childhood. What a good
time we had together!
Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion
is the third game in this series. It is a first person, 3D adventure
game. Play is nonlinear and controlled entirely by the mouse. This game
provides lighthearted, spooky fun that is suitable for kids ages ten and
up, yet also offers diverting entertainment for adults.
Just to avoid confusion -- this spookiness is not that
of a game such as Dark Fall, but more along the lines of that found in the
Scooby-Doo cartoons. It provides moments when glimpsing a small movement
makes you think, “Oh, what was that?” or “Gee, did that really move?” A
half-heard sound makes you listen a little more closely. This is not the
kind of story that keeps you up nights and prevents you from ever walking
into a darkened room again.
Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew Series, is a pseudonym for a
variety of ghost writers.
Accidentally or on purpose?
Fans of the series know that Nancy Drew lives in River
Heights with her dad, Carson Drew and their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, who
practically reared her. In Message in a Haunted Mansion, Nancy
travels to San Francisco to render aid to Rose Green, an old and dear
friend of Hannah’s.
Rose decides to reach for her dream and sinks her life
savings into an old Victorian house intending to restore it as a Bed and
Breakfast. But, alas, life never goes as planned, especially not in games
and Rose’s plans are no exception to this rule. A number of unexplained
accidents occur during renovation and Nancy arrives to help with the
transformation of the house and, oh by the way, to quietly investigate the
accidents. Are these incidents the result of sabotage, as Rose believes?
Or, as Abby, the slightly bohemian co-owner of the hotel insists, is the
hotel haunted? Nancy pokes and prods, searches and questions, explores
and investigates in order to determine “who” (or in this case, possibly,
“what”) “dunnit.” Along the way, she uncovers the truth about the
present-day happenings along with some interesting history about the house
and its inhabitants in days gone by.
Nancy Drew has not been out of print since her introduction in the 1930’s.
Nancy and Who?
Nancy investigates alone, but she often interacts with
the inhabitants of the house. In addition, she phones her friends, George
and Bess who can provide clues when asked, her housekeeper/substitute mom,
Hannah, and her friend, Emily. I must say, it would have been nice to
have speed dial. Dialing those long numbers becomes tiresome. The
dialogue with these characters is adequate to advance the game, but not
particularly entertaining on its own merits. However, I liked the fact
that some choices in the dialogue tree disappeared depending on choices I
made. In the end, I always ended up with all the information I needed.
Nancy visits face to face with four characters during
the game, Rose, Abby, Charlie, and Louis. Rose, the more conservative
partner, is dressed conservatively. Abby’s more spiritual and esoteric
nature is reflected in her brightly colored clothing, long hair and hoop
earrings. Charlie, the workman of the group, sports dirt in the
appropriate places while Louis, the antiques dealer, is always dressed to
the “T.” They all change facial expression from time to time, gesture
when speaking, and occasionally one of them ambles across a room. The
characters are not deeply developed and I did not become invested in any
of them. However, they fulfill well their role of providing Nancy with
little tidbits of information; giving her information about both the house
and its inhabitants, along with an occasional clue or bit of direction.
Nancy Drew Books have been printed in 17 languages including Norwegian,
Finnish, Czech and Malaysian.
Riddle me this:
Message in a Haunted Mansion
presents puzzles which are smoothly integrated into the storyline and
serve to advance it in a natural way. They require no special knowledge
(such as base eight math or chemical weights, for example), and all the
information needed to solve each puzzle is found within the game. To this
end, take my advice and keep good notes. Puzzles can be accessed before
you have found all the clues necessary to solve them—just back out and
come back when you find the missing bits. These puzzles entertained me,
often intrigued me, sometimes absorbed me, but never frustrated me. In
other words, they are fun!
This game provides a nice mix of puzzle types. Nancy
picks up many inventory items and she uses everything she picks up—no red
herrings here. There are logic puzzles, a tangram, mechanical puzzles,
one slider (I did it, I did it--happydance) and the inevitable timed
puzzle near the end. However, this timed puzzle allows plenty of time to
complete it, and its conclusion is very satisfying in its own way. I was
able to easily finish this one, unlike other timed puzzles when I hold my
breath and pray until the final second.
Those who like mazes will be happy to know there is one,
and that it is randomly generated. Since it is different each time and
can be accessed at will, maze fans can play again and again. Those that
hate mazes will be happy to know you only have to complete the maze once.
There are no sound puzzles, color puzzles, or
Nancy in side profile with a magnifying glass was invented by Bill Gillies
and has become a well recognized trademark.
The game begins with a shot of the soon-to-be Bed and
Breakfast during a thunderstorm, followed immediately by the opening scene
of Nancy in her bedroom. True to its Victorian setting, Nancy’s bedroom
is decorated in rich tones of red and decorated with beautiful antique
Chinese furnishings. The library is full of wood, leather, Persian rugs,
portraits, and opulently colored books. More portraits line the walls of
the ornate staircase. All this Victoriana is blended with the occasional
modern touch such as a computer or a calculator.
Overall, the graphics create a game world which, while
not exceptional, provides the necessary ambiance. Graphics are detailed
but, with a few welcome exceptions, usually static. I appreciated the
worn look of the covers of many of the books I examined. Much of the
writing on the letters which revealed backstory and/or clues was difficult
to read. However, I found I liked that aspect of it as it seemed more
real to me. After all, old documents are usually hard to read.
Occasionally and unexpectedly, you catch the flit of a
ghostly form across a mirror. Furniture mysteriously comes alive, and
doors close of their own accord. Candles light themselves and then
extinguish themselves. These small movements help establish an expectant
and tense mood.
The overall tone of the graphics in the house was
slightly blurry around the edges. It reminded me of photos taken with a
softening lens -- bright, colorful, detailed, but with no hard edges to be
found. I liked this as it added ever so slightly to the ghostly feel of
When introduced in 1930, Nancy was 16 years old and had just finished high
Ghostly whispers, creaks, and crinkles:
The voice acting is professional and easy on the ears.
The voices of the characters we see support the image shown us, while the
voices of those we meet only on the phone draw an image for us. Emily’s
voice is lively and expressive, Hannah’s voice cracks with age, while Bess
and George fairly scream “giggly teen here.” Nancy’s voice is pleasant,
if a little calmer at times that I would have expected. All in all, a
From the loading screen on, the background music is
appropriate and occasionally spooky. At times, it builds tension; at
times, it is almost contemplative. I found it to be a gentle blend of
diverse instruments that is happy to stay in the background. Yet, it
often sets a tone of tension and expectancy. This is one game where I
never felt compelled to mute the background music.
Message in a Haunted Mansion
has good quality ambient sounds and uses them skillfully to immerse the
player in the atmosphere of the game. Thunder booms, clocks tick, doors
and stairs creak, disembodied voices mutter, murmur, and laugh. Footsteps
fade, pages crinkle, and chandeliers rattle. I never quite knew what I
would hear next.
Many Nancy Drew titles have been revised or changed completely retaining
only the original name.
From the attic to the basement and back again:
As in all Nancy Drew games, you can play as either
Junior or Senior Detective. Junior detectives receive slightly more
obvious clues and some of the puzzles may be a bit easier. I chose senior
detective, but no matter which you choose, Nancy explores, completes
missions and solves puzzles to gain access to hidden clues and secret
areas. After all, what is a Victorian mansion without hidden rooms?
There is an interesting twist in this game -- Nancy can
accomplish certain goals only at certain times. However, she can control
game time through the use of a clock in her bedroom, saving the gamer from
mindless wandering just to advance the clock. There is a lot of ‘to and
fro,’ but this is not terribly time-consuming as the game world is limited
to the house.
Nancy can die, and in addition, she can be “taken to the
airport” if she acts in a manner Rose finds offensive. Apparently, my
detective instincts are not well-honed and my manners need some work, as I
experienced both more than once. But, thanks to the Second Chance button,
I came back not older, (Nancy has not aged in over 70 years) but certainly
This game loaded easily and quickly, and ran (with a few
very minor exceptions) glitch free. The interface is simple, intuitive,
and easy to use. All movements are mouse controlled. Simply point and
click to move Nancy, to pick up and use inventory, and to examine
objects. The cursor turns red, both to indicate hot spots and to indicate
that Nancy can move in a specific direction.
There is no camera control. While I found the interface
easy to use, there is a tutorial for the brand new gamer. The disk has to
be in the drive to play the game.
There are seven save slots and you can name your own
saves—yes! You can save anytime you wish—yes again! I particularly like
that the game confirms the save. This keeps me from saving the same game
multiple times in order to be sure I have a save in that particular spot,
as I am wont to do otherwise.
The wonderful Second Chance button allows you to
experiment and do things you might otherwise not try for fear of dying, or
worse. It brings you back to the second just before you died or were
expelled or failed to apprehend the villain, allowing you to try again and
again, if need be.
Message in a Haunted Mansion,
like most Nancy Drew games, is Alt+Tab friendly. Options include the
ability to separately control the volume of voice, music, and special
effects. Captions are available.
The game was stable on my system. I have only one
complaint. The hotspots were occasionally slow to show up. Sometimes I
had to run the cursor over the same area two or more times in order to get
the hot spot to show. There are two patches for this game available at
www.herinteractive.com, neither of which corrected this particular
Nancy Drew series, as well as many others, was the brain child of Edward
I enjoyed experiencing Message in a Haunted Mansion.
It was immersive and engrossing and I found the witty references to both
Carolyn Keene and Nancy Drew in the game amusing. It occupied my thoughts
whether I was playing or not. Tidbits of the backstory of the house and
its previous owners blended well into Nancy’s investigation into current
events. This interweaving told an interesting story, and I was sorry to
see it end.
This game is a lot of fun for those looking for light
entertainment. Despite the name, it is not meant to frighten. The
puzzles are entertaining, the graphics are good, the sound is well done,
and the ambience of the game is spooky in an amusing way. The historical
story of the house is engaging, while the current mystery keeps you
guessing. The end is satisfying.
background, and ambient sounds
and logic puzzles
1 Maze –
randomly generated, can be replayed if desired
1 Timed puzzle
with a very generous time limit
No sound or
color based puzzles
7 saves -- you
can name them
2 patches – use
the bird puzzle patch only if you can’t solve the puzzle Stable
My computer specs:
System: Win XP Professional SP1
GHz Intel Pentium 4
Memory: 1 GB
Dual Channel DDR400 SDRAM
Version: 9.0b (4.09.0000.0902)
Trivia in this review is from
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