Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:     Her Interactive, Inc.

Publisher:    Her Interactive, Inc. & The Adventure Company

Released:  2000

PC Requirements:   Windows 95/98/ME/XP, 166 MHz Pentium Processor, 16 MB RAM, 8 X CD-ROM Drive, 135 MB Hard Disk Space, 16-bit Color Graphics Video Card, DirectX Compatible

Walkthrough   Walkthrough




by Looney4Labs


Trivia: 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. 


Trivia: 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.


Trivia:  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.


Trivia: 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 mini-games.   


Trivia: Nancy in side profile with a magnifying glass was invented by Bill Gillies and has become a well recognized trademark.

Picture Perfect?

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 the game. 


Trivia: When introduced in 1930, Nancy was 16 years old and had just finished high school.

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 positive experience. 

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. 


Trivia: 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 wiser.

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, neither of which corrected this particular problem.


Trivia: The Nancy Drew series, as well as many others, was the brain child of Edward Stratemeyer.

Looking back:

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. 


Short list:

1st person

Mouse controlled

Good voice, background, and ambient sounds

Lighthearted spooky fun

1 slider

Mostly inventory and logic puzzles

1 Mechanical puzzle

1 Maze – randomly generated, can be replayed if desired

1 Timed puzzle with a very generous time limit

No sound or color based puzzles


Alt+Tab friendly

7 saves -- you can name them

Save anytime

2 patches – use the bird puzzle patch only if you can’t solve the puzzle Stable


Grade: B+


My computer specs:

Operating System:  Win XP Professional SP1

Processor: 3.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4

Memory: 1 GB Dual Channel DDR400 SDRAM

DirectX Version:  9.0b (4.09.0000.0902)


Trivia in this review is from


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