A few years ago, while on a cross-country airplane
trip, I had the occasion to play Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger
on a laptop. I found it a pleasant diversion, though it was not a game
that “wowed” me or that called emphatically to be finished once I tucked
away the laptop. I had been a Nancy Drew fan in my youth. Now,
however, I confess that I remember the book covers a lot better than the
text between the covers.
So it is essentially as a Nancy Drew novice that I entered the world
of Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon.
Ms. Drew has come a long way since the earliest games and the
The Hostess with the Mostest
Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon opens with a letter from Nancy
to a friend. Nancy has finessed her way onto a train heading out West.
The train is the property of Lori Girard, a young, blonde celebrity (the
sort of person who is famous for being famous). Lori has extended an
invitation to the Hardy Boys, as well as to a celebrity police
detective, a ghost hunter, and a writer of historical romances. These
people will travel out West with Lori to solve a mystery presented by
the former owner of the train – wealthy adventurer Jake Hurley. Jake
had purchased the train in the 1870s so he could participate in the Gold
Rush in cushioned, well-supplied comfort. Years later, after his young
wife’s death, Jake Hurley disappeared. The train was subsequently
discovered stopped dead on the tracks with the engineer also dead,
apparently of a heart attack. It’s no surprise that the train acquired
a reputation for being haunted.
Lori Girard has gathered these people together to try and locate the
reportedly fabulous riches in Jake Hurley’s lost mine. There are clues
throughout the train, left there by Jake to be discovered after his
death. Shortly after Lori explains this challenge to her assembled
guests (among them the party-crashing Nancy Drew) the train goes through
a tunnel, the lights flicker into darkness and the guests realize that
their hostess has disappeared.
Has Lori been kidnapped? Has the ghost of Jake’s dead wife spirited
her away? Is she indulging in yet another publicity stunt? We’ll soon
find out, because Ms. Drew is on the case! If she can solve the mystery
of Lori’s disappearance, perhaps we will all be closer to discovering
the mystery of Jake’s disappearance and the location of his fabled mine.
Fare Forward, Travellers
It doesn’t take long for the gamer to discover that the true star of
Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon is the train. Decorated in lavish
Victorian style, the train is filled with wood and marble carvings,
colorful patterned carpets, stained glass, and richly detailed curtains
and wallpapers. There are mysterious gadgets made of carved metals,
reminiscent of something out of Jules Verne. You explore all this using
first person perspective and in the role of Nancy Drew -- with an
unprecedented (though brief) interlude during which you play as Frank
Hardy. (Note: you do not shoot anything, insult anyone, or crash into
anything while playing the role of a male detective in a Nancy Drew
Much care has been taken to give a sense of train movement as you
speed through the night. You’ll hear the shriek of the train whistle
and the sound of wheels on the rails. Patterns of light blink through
the windows and flitter down the train corridor walls. Movement between
cars feels realistically hazardous.
The high resolution cutscenes in Last Train are quite effective. I
wish there had been more of them. There’s a spectacular cutscene near
the end of the game – a reward for solving several multistepped puzzles.
There is musical accompaniment to your exploration of the train, made
up of short loops from various themes. Some of these – particularly the
western themes – I enjoyed. However, you do hear them over and over,
and one in particular – a slow, lyrical theme – quickly sounded rather
worn-out to me. The best music occurs late in the game, during the
I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can
Jake Hurley’s train contains a knotty collection of puzzles. You’ve
probably experienced puzzle boxes – well, this is a puzzle train.
Almost everything you see on the train is a clue. You’ll get a sense of
the long-dead Jake’s genius/madness. Yes, he was crazy to think that
anyone could piece these elaborate clues together, though Jake seemed to
think it would be easy. Not surprisingly, until Ms. Drew happens along,
the clues have been gathering dust.
You’ll find a huge variety of puzzles in this game – some inventory
puzzles, many pattern and sequencing puzzles, block puzzles, matching
challenges, a mathematical scale puzzle, a word recognition puzzle,
symbol interpretations, a board game, a couple of treasure hunts -- even
a handful of easy, timed mini-games. Most of the challenges are just
hard enough that they get you to think, but not hard enough that they
stump you for hours
(there was only one exception to this – a number sequence for which I
still haven’t found a clue).
Some of the puzzles are of historical and scientific interest, like
the sampler puzzles and the conundrums drawn from the Periodic Table of
Chemical Elements. (After using it in this game, I’m surprised we
haven’t seen more Periodic Table puzzles in games, as it provides a
dazzling array of numbers, letters, names, properties and even colors
with which to confront/confuse the gamer. The version of the Periodic
Table in Last Train provides its own historical
puzzle/anachronism, as Jake Hurley appears to have used the 21st
century version, though he died at the beginning of the 20th
There is also a cooking puzzle in the game. I had heard about such
“practical” challenges in the Nancy Drew games, and was secretly
dreading the necessity to have to face one, as I happen to be a terrible
cook. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this particular cooking
puzzle. Not only was it fun, it was funny. Bring on more cooking
One Woman’s Junk is Another Woman’s Artifact
About halfway through Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, you
begin to see scenery from the world around you, the train reaches its
destination, and you can finally leave the train and step out-of-doors.
The first stop, Copper Gorge, is considerably less impressive than the
train itself. Its best part is the fun it pokes at American-style
tourist attractions, as exemplified in the “Copper Gorge Museum and
Taffy Shop.” Along with historical “arteefacts” from Copper Gorge’s
glory days as a mining town, you’ll see coffee mugs, T-shirts, arcade
games, “MinRs Allowed” signs and boxes and boxes of taffy. The museum
is supervised by a lifesize cartoon mascot with a western accent so
outrageous that it surely took years of practice to master.
This game does convey a sense of traveling out West. However, that
out-West feeling could have been more effectively developed if the
environments outside the train had been somewhat larger, or if more
views of the Western landscape had been available as the train moved
forward on the map.
Everyone Will Have Her Fifteen Minutes of Fame
There is quite a lot of character interaction throughout Last
Train to Blue Moon Canyon. The characters are well developed and
fun to talk to. The voice acting performances are excellent, if not
fine-edged – most of these characters are celebrities and have larger
than life personalities.
Two non-celebrities on the train (well, in the game they are
non-celebrities) are the aforementioned Hardy Boys. Like the other
characters, the Brothers Hardy function mostly as Ms. Drew’s advisers
and conversational partners, rather than actual participants. (The one
exception to this is the role-playing switch mentioned above.) Still,
Frank and Joe Hardy do add a nice, “normalizing” dimension to the cast
of self-absorbed publicity hounds on the train.
Having previously assumed that the Hardy Boys would be antagonistic
to Nancy (they are competitors in detection), I expected them to
be, well, a couple of junior Philip Marlowes -- young men of few words
and blunt attitudes. Instead, Frank and Joe are handsome, engaging,
well-spoken and polite. They are the sort of young men who (as a any
mother with daughters will attest) inspire the old-fashioned maternal
desire to suggest an arranged marriage.
There’s also the opportunity in Last Train to speak to two of
Ms. Drew’s friends -- Bess and George -- who are not along for the
ride. You can dial them up on Nancy’s cell phone; they provide
commentary and colorful chatter. I feel that my newbie status in the
Nancy Drew gaming universe was most problematic during these encounters
with Bess and George, as I didn’t always appreciate or even fully follow
the chatter. I’m sure that, had I gradually gotten to know them through
other games in the series, Bess would have seemed considerably less
The character animation in Last Train is pretty good. Obvious
care was taken with the lip synching. Body movements during speech
(including shadows cast) are lifelike and give realistic emphasis to the
dialogs. Facial animation is not as detailed, although this is largely
compensated for by the characters’ gestures and the voice acting.
The characters in this game fill it with personality, but they are,
to a man (so to speak) rooted to the spot. Not only rooted, but cut in
half: they tend to be seated behind desks, tables or equipment so that
you see them only from the waist up. Although this type of rootedness
is common among adventure game NPCs (non-player characters), it is
particularly noticeable here because a couple of the challenges can’t be
completed until these characters move. Budging them is harder than you
would think. (I even tried stopping the train to see if THAT would move
them, but I only succeeded in accidentally getting Nancy’s head bashed
Yes, you can suffer fatal failure in Last Train. In fact,
it’s kind of fun to die in this game. Ms. Drew usually makes an
insightful final comment (like “oops”), there’s a quick glimpse of
Approaching Doom, and the screen goes blank. You then find yourself
back at the main menu, where you can select “Second Chance,” which
places you back in the game right before the fatal error.
Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon installed and ran for me without a
The interface is point-and-click, including a somewhat odd 360 degree
panning feature in the center of certain rooms. Panning is only
available in select locations – and you can’t tell it’s available until
you start sweeping the cursor around the room. Then the cursor changes
into circular arrows, and the game goes into a jerky panning sequence.
I never did get used to this.
The game contains a nice Tutorial that is helpful if you haven’t
played the Nancy Drew games before. You can play on Senior Detective or
Junior Detective levels. In the Junior Detective level, you are given a
checklist that provides extra direction and hints, and you can dial up
Bess and George on the phone for more detailed hints.
The interface at the bottom of the screen contains a standard
inventory apparatus, and a casebook/journal that keeps you up-to-date on
what you’ve learned so far. In addition, Ms. Drew has recently acquired
a camera phone with which she can take pictures, either to keep as a
reference for puzzle solutions, or to submit to friends and family back
home for analysis. This was only partially successful, as the camera
screen is so tiny that it was virtually impossible to get enough in the
picture to help with puzzles.
Whose Demographic Is This, Anyway?
All-in-all I had a highly entertaining journey on Last Train,
much more than I had expected from my (admittedly) short experience with
Stay Tuned for Danger. Now on the one hand, playing several of
the other Nancy Drew games first would have added nuance to the Last
Train experience. But on the other hand, this game is a great
introduction to Ms. Drew and her world. I’m sure you will find longtime
fans who will say the opposite, but my advice (if you haven’t played any
previous Nancy Drew games) would be to start with Last Train
because of its engaging story and its sumptuous graphical quality. Then
work backwards through the series.
I thought this game was perfect for preteen and early teenage girls,
and if I was grading it from the perspective of that demographic alone,
I’d give it an A+. The writing, the graphics, and the multitudinous
puzzles and challenges also make this a well-above-average game for
adults (particularly adults who have fond memories of reading the Nancy
Drew books). Still, it’s clear that design decisions were made for this
game based on the assumption that a large chunk of the game’s audience
would be young girls. When compared to adventure games that address a
more general audience, Last Train has fewer environments, spends
more time with traditionally female preoccupations (dolls, samplers,
dancing steps), and contains portions of dialog that are clearly of
more interest to young females than to anyone else.
Quick List for Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon
First person point-and-click mystery game featuring the famous girl
detective. The Hardy Boys also come along for the ride. Two levels of
gameplay. Unlimited save slots. Subtitles available.
A very generous collection of different kinds of puzzles, including
inventory and sequencing puzzles. Easy timed, mini-games. No sliding
tile puzzles, one music puzzle that’s really a symbol interpretation
puzzle, one maze-like challenge. A large percentage of the puzzles
require you to discriminate colors.
Plenty of character interaction, excellent voice acting. Gorgeous
Victorian interiors on the train. A lighthearted sense of humor in much
of the game, but the game does touch on themes of betrayal, death, and
the tests of character that wealth and celebrity status can bring. You
can die in the game, but the “Second Chance” option brings you right
back to the point before your fatal error.
No glitches. No problems with installation.
Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon is aimed at Nancy Drew
fans, Hardy Boy fans, and adventurers who enjoy a variety of puzzle
challenges while solving mysteries in eye-catching historical
Final Grade: B+
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