Nancy Drew. What does the name conjure up? A female
detective -- curious, intrepid, her sleuthing skills accentuated by youth
And as for the Nancy Drew adventure games? Well, I expect a Nancy Drew
game to have an engaging story. The setting will be quaint or exotic.
Nancy will volunteer her services to help a friend or “employer,” but
she’s really there to solve a mystery. (After her most recent adventure
experiences, our heroine should write a bestseller: “Crazy Bosses I Have
Known.”) Outlandish local characters will round out the game’s cast.
Puzzles will match the setting -- historical symbols, crafts, tasks,
colorful food. Suspense? Sure, but for the most part the game will be
relaxing and may even contain optional educational elements. The
interface will be easy and the game glitch-free.
So, how well does Nancy Drew: The Creature of Kapu Cave – the
fifteenth installment in the series – measure up?
Unusual Location, Eccentric Boss
In The Creature of Kapu Cave, Nancy Drew arrives on the Island
of Hawaii (exotic location -- check). You first assume the role of
Nancy, viewing the world from a first person perspective. Much of the
early portion of the game takes place near the beach and in the tropical
forest. You stroll down stretches of white sand and explore winding paths
fringed with dense foliage and undulating roots and branches.
Nancy is in Hawaii to assist Dr. Quigley Kim, an entomologist studying
insects for clues as to why the pineapple crop is failing. Dr. Kim is a
hardy out-of-doors soul who spends quality time in the treetops observing
wasps and other insects. She brings a special meaning to the term “in her
own little world.” She is clearly more a bug person than a people person.
Another scientist, horticulturist Malachi
Craven runs the Hilihili Research Facility. His world is top secret. The
lab contains stacks of plants in cages and tanks of poisonous-looking
green glop like the stuff in lava lamps. Dr. Craven has a fierce temper
and is allergic to his own plants. (I’ll bet they’re allergic to him,
There’s yet another larger than life character on the island – Big
Island Mike Mapu. This fellow (“Big” could easily refer to the island or
to Mike) runs Hawaiian tours; his motto: “A busy customer is a happy
customer.” He directs his guests toward the various activities (fishing,
making seashell jewelry) that occupied the ancient Hawaiians. When
completed, the resulting products are redeemable for “Big Island Bucks.”
(And Mike later sells the products for real bucks, pocketing the profit.)
Earning Big Island Bucks is necessary because a few of the challenges in
the game can only be accomplished after renting gear or using equipment
from Mike. So Nancy and the Hardy Boys spend some time participating in
this unusual economy.
An Engaging, Suspenseful Story
Did I mention the Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe? Their employer, Aiken
Biotech, is considering Big Island Mike’s daughter, Pua, as a spokesperson
in corporate ads. The Hardy Boys are there to investigate the Mapu
family’s reputation. To do this they spend as much time as they can with
Mike and his shapely daughter -- which means snorkeling, making snow
cones, and surfing (spiced with a bit of snooping). Later in the game,
you assume the roles of Frank and Joe and will play this way for a
surprisingly long time – slightly less than half the game, I’d say.
Mike and Pua are certain that the failure of the pineapple crop is due
to the ravages of Kane ‘Okala, a mythic Hawaiian whose neighbors chucked
him into a volcano. Rumor has it that he somehow survived the molten lava
and has been appearing from time to time to wreak revenge upon random
victims. Kane ‘Okala’s existence seems confirmed by a cut scene showing
the destruction of much of Dr. Quigley Kim’s equipment. Add to the mix a
not so mythic cutthroat thief who is hiding from the police, and you have
a sweet scenario for mystification and danger.
Plenty of Puzzles
contains a variety of puzzles, many drawing thematically and graphically
from the Hawaiian culture and surroundings. The challenges range from
inventory to sorting and recording tasks to a board-game-like activity to
pattern recognition and sequencing. The sequencing puzzles reset if you
step back from them. Fishing is technically a timed challenge – although
once you’ve figured out what you’re doing, it’s hard not to catch the
fish. Also, you solve two sound based puzzles. (If you have the “Closed
Captioning” option turned on, these can be done without listening to the
A timed underwater sequence is a memory test
-- and it’s pretty entertaining, as you are swept away by the currents
once you’ve made the correct choice. There’s also a point later in the
game where it’s necessary to make a fast exit. If you mismanage either of
these, the game gives you a Second Chance over and over again.
You’ll encounter one stealth setup. It
isn’t difficult. But in common with other stealth sequences I’ve played,
what works and doesn’t work in terms of sneaking past the “guards” seems
The Longest Puzzle
One particularly complex, multi-stepped
puzzle took a long time to complete. I spent an hour sorting and trying
to identify seeds before realizing that there were instructions available
for this task. I enjoyed the puzzle at first -- the seeds are colorful,
varied, and exquisitely shaped.
When I finally found the instructions, I
realized that these items weren’t all seeds – they were also insect parts
and frass. I found to my surprise that the most attractive items I had
been sorting were actually pieces of insects. As for the frass, well,
Anyway, after laboriously resorting and
recording six sets of data, I processed them and came up with a wrong
answer -- one of the six sets of data was slightly off. Unfortunately,
there was no way to find out where I had gone wrong without redoing all of
the work (gnashing my teeth as I did so).
Relaxing -- and Educational
Until the ending of Kapu Cave, where
many of the main characters start to converge in one spot, the game has a
pleasant, leisurely pace. Among other things, you can explore the beach,
try out different baits for fishing, snorkel for shells hidden in the
coral reef, and experiment with combinations of beads and shells. The
extent to which to engage in these activities is mostly up to you.
There’s an information kiosk where you can read about Hawaiian folklore,
plants, people and animals. I also tried the optional Wiki Tiki video
arcade machine and laughed at the squeaky voices.
The game’s tempo picks up in the last
quarter or so of the game and provides a satisfying contrast to the first
Interface, Stability and Extras
has a mouse-controlled point-and-click interface. I could not find a
360-degree panning feature, though one is mentioned in the opening
tutorial. The inventory is a snap to use and you can even customize its
The game provides two levels of difficulty.
The easier Junior Level provides a notebook with a to-do list and
occasional telephone conversational clues that are not available on Senior
Level. The board game sequence also seems a bit easier to win on Junior
The game loaded without a hiccup and ran
without a glitch.
What You Hear
I loved the music in this game, which mostly
recalls ethnic Hawaiian music. It is rhythmic, with the sound of strings,
chanting voices, flutes, whistles, and drums. Sometimes there’s a hint of
dissonance when danger lurks. Ambient sounds are also well done,
especially bird and insect noises in the tropical forest.
The voice-overs are quite good. Lani
Minella expertly reprises her role as the now familiar voice of Nancy
Drew. Dr. Quigley Kim’s voice has the right nasal quality to suit her
character, and the voice-over artist, Leslie Wadsworth, displays precise
comic timing. The Hardy Boys sound like teenagers – okay, sophisticated
teenagers. The dialog is crisp and clever. However, dialogs cannot be
clicked through (something that annoyed me frequently during gameplay).
Initial Expectations Fulfilled?
I’d say that my expectations for the kind of
experience that a Nancy Drew game offers were fulfilled by The Creature
of Kapu Cave. However, there’s more.
In certain ways, Kapu Cave has
improved the Nancy Drew adventure game franchise. Character models, for
instance, are significantly improved since Last Train to Blue Moon
Canyon (the most recent Nancy Drew I’ve played). Faces are more
expressive during dialogs, figures are more three dimensional, and the
characters aren’t as stationary.
In a change from previous games, Nancy no longer contacts Bess and
George (young friends) on her cell phone when she needs encouragement from
home. Instead, she calls her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Ned’s
conversational skills are more…well…sensible than Bess’s. It’s also
amusing to hear his voice becoming tinged with jealousy when he learns
about Frank and Joe.
Overall, with the inclusion of the Hardy Boys and Ned Nickerson, as
well as with puzzles based on Hawaiian and scientific/natural themes,
Kapu Cave seems aimed at an older, more general audience of gamers
than some of the earlier Nancy Drew games. This game can be played and
enjoyed by the young girls that have always been a large part of the Nancy
Drew core audience, but it does not “doff the hat” quite as much to that
demographic as in the past.
At times the gameworld in Kapu Cave
feels restrictive. While exploring the environments you usually can’t
turn to left or right, but can only go forward or look behind you. This
limitation is particularly irksome when crossing bridges and walking on
ledges. It seems odd not to look down or to see what is around you as you
dangle above water or rock or lava. The number of locations is limited,
and this – together with the movement restriction -- makes the game
The final portion of the game contains a new
series of locations to explore, but each one is closed off as you move
through it. You go in so far, something happens, and you can’t go back.
While it’s a great way to heighten the tension -- and it gets your heart
beating faster -- it also means that you can’t reexamine the areas at your
leisure. These sequences heightened the sense of restrictiveness.
Nonlinearity – Will you Choose the Lesser
features unusual flexibility or nonlinearity. Nonlinearity – that’s
supposed to be a good thing, right? As I mentioned before, you can switch
back and forth between the roles of Nancy and the Hardy Boys and
participate in many optional activities. In addition, certain optional
dialogs reveal much about character motivation. These confessions are, in
fact, another layer of challenge for gamers to discover.
As a result, the gamer can easily make it
through this game on a narrow path that omits gameplay and character
elements. And the game doesn’t tell you what you’ve missed. After a
couple of playthroughs, I suspect that I am still missing things – a bit
of evidence I didn’t find that ought to be there, for instance, and a
confession of personal motivation from one character that I was never able
On the plus side, the ability to skip a
task/challenge allows the gamer to opt out of an activity that she may
find repetitive or too difficult. This also makes replay more attractive,
as the gamer can go back and try aspects of the game that previously were
untapped. Replayability is important in a game that some gamers will be
playing at least twice at different difficulty levels. But on the
negative side, these added layers can leave the gamer with a nagging
feeling that the gaming experience may not be complete.
Quick List for Nancy Drew: The Creature of Kapu Cave
A relaxing saunter through the Hawaiian tropical forest and along the
beach right up until the suspenseful ending. The plot includes
dovetailing mysteries that involve a wacky scientist, a grouchy scientist,
and a mythic creature with a vengeful disposition.
First person perspective, no 360-degree panning. You assume the role
of Nancy Drew for about half of the game; the rest of the time you play as
Joe or Frank Hardy.
A classy, optional tutorial. Improved character modeling, very good
writing and voice-overs. You can’t click through dialogs. Locations
often seem restrictive. Nonlinear gameplay makes it possible to miss
activities, clues, and character motivation.
Appropriate for all ages, although children under ten will need help
with the puzzles. A nice mix of challenges including inventory,
observation, interpreting data and patterns. One stealth challenge. Two
sound puzzles that are much easier with the “Captioning” option turned
on. No sliders, no mazes, some mild timed challenges. Two puzzles for
which the difficulty increases if you can’t discriminate colors. Optional
arcade game, extra fishing and snorkeling activities. You can die but
the “Second Chance” option brings you right back to try again.
Difficult puzzles: (1) a board game-like-challenge in which your every
move changes the tiles on the “board” and your opponent’s moves also
change the board, and (2) an intricate sorting challenge in which a
single error means that you start again from scratch.
35 save slots. No problems with installation; no glitches during
Nancy Drew: The Creature of Kapu Cave is aimed at gamers
who like sleuthing in exotic surroundings with a lively cast of suspects.
Also aimed at the many fans of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.
Final Grade: B
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