With this admonition, we are introduced to the latest offering in the
Nancy Drew series, Legend of the Crystal Skull. Nancy Drew
and her best friend, Bess Marvin, have arrived in New Orleans for a
serious weekend of shopping, music, and fun. But first, Nancy has to check
on Henry Bolet, a university acquaintance of her longtime beau, Ned.
Henry’s only relative, Bruno Bolet, recently passed away and Ned wants to
be sure that Henry is okay.
Trivia: The most famous
and mysterious crystal skull is known as the Mitchell-Hedges skull.
Nancy leaves Bess in their French Quarter hotel and takes a cab to
Henry’s place. It is a dark and relentlessly stormy night. She knocks and
the door slowly swings open. Our intrepid sleuth enters, calls out
and…….oh no, you’ll have to discover the rest for yourself.
Trivia: Ana Hedges claims
she unearthed the skull in 1926 in Belize, but her claims were never
Crystal Skull is told from the first person viewpoint. It is
totally mouse controlled. Arrows indicate where Nancy can move, and a
click takes you there. Happily, it is Alt+Tab friendly.
You can save at will and you name your own saves. In addition, you see
a small screenshot and saves are unlimited.
As in all Nancy Drew games, you can play either as a Junior or a Senior
Detective. As a Senior investigator, I often felt at sea as to what I
should be doing and why. Fortunately, the very detailed “To Do” list on
the Junior level eliminated my confusion. Also, some puzzles will be less
complicated on the Junior level and you can receive more hints. Both
levels include a journal with Nancy’s/Bess’s thoughts on the people, area,
Trivia: Hedges claimed a
descendent of the Maya told her the skull was used by the High Priest to
Phoning Bess results in her character becoming the playable one. To
become Nancy again, the procedure is reversed. While I enjoyed playing as
both Nancy and Bess, I found this automatic swapping tedious. It would
have been better for Nancy to refuse to call Bess unnecessarily rather
than having to switch active players twice. It only takes a minute, but
those minutes add up and detract from the game.
Crystal Skull’s hotspots are generous, but activation is
inconsistent. Some are always “hot.” A few only appear after being
triggered. Others disappear once you solve that challenge. While not a
huge difficulty, it was a tad confusing.
Overall, the interface is easy to use and I appreciate that it includes
an option to skip the credits.
Mitchell-Hedges skull is also referred to as the Skull of Doom in
reference to the bad luck which has followed its possessors.
As the game opened, I was surprised to see a window called Nancy Drew
Central. From this window you can start any Nancy Drew game installed and
connect to Her Interactive’s forum for hints or technical support. I found
this aggravating and intrusive, as I don’t like games to install anything
extra on my hard drive. It appears to be a superfluous program which does
nothing for me that I cannot do for myself.
Trivia: The Skull of Doom
was carved from a block of clear quartz 5 inches high, 7 inches long, and
5 inches wide.
Nancy and Bess interact with a contrasting and realistic group of
non-player characters (NPCs). Dr. Gilbert Buford is picture perfect as an
old-school southern doctor—white hair, bow tie, soft spoken, and
possessing an eye for the ladies.
Shifting from a conversation with Dr. Buford to those with Lamont
Warrick is like moving from old South to the new. Lamont owns a curio shop
stocked with all sorts of interesting (okay, a few things are just weird)
merchandise. He’s friendly, he’s helpful, and he is always alert for a
chance to make a buck.
Henry Bolet, Ned’s friend, is another picture of diversity. He sports a
Goth look, right down to his polished black fingernails. He just wants to
collect his inheritance and get on with his life.
Trivia: Of all the crystal
skulls unearthed, only the Skull of Doom has a hinged, detachable jaw.
I have two favorite characters. Renee Amande is the first. A genteel
southern matron employed as Bruno’s housekeeper, she is perfectly clad in
a large hat, modest skirt, impeccable blouse, and pearl bracelet.
Incongruously, a mojo bag rests on her chest, which (though out of place
for most southern gals) is ideal in this setting.
My other favorite personality is one we meet only by phone. The
delightfully daffy, moniker-mangling Professor Beatrice Gertrude Winifred
Hotchkiss adds a great touch of humor in her conversations with an
increasingly frustrated Nancy.
These non-player characters seem more alive than those of any other
Nancy Drew offering I’ve played. I think this is due to two important
First, the characters are credible. Mouth movements are synchronized to
speech. The faces are expressive. Body and head movements combine to give
the player a sense that these folks are real.
Secondly, the voice acting is excellent, particularly……everyone. Walayn
Sharples’ interpretation of a genteel southern gentlewoman is spot-on,
making Renee sound exactly like the little ole ladies I was reared among.
Trivia: The Skull of Doom is the same size as that of
a small human and has realistic details.
Realistic characters need an authentic environment. Though not
conversant with “mansions,” I have been in many old southern homes. I was
pleased by what I saw--I just would have liked to see more. The house
clearly has more rooms than we were allowed to visit.
One bedroom is sparsely furnished and terribly run down. The windows
are bare, the beds show signs of age and neglect, and water has stained
the torn, dirty wallpaper.
The library fulfilled my every expectation--rows of books, a few
trophies, a desk, glass doors leading to the garden and an iguana. Okay,
perhaps that last item is a mite unexpected. As the storm has scuttled the
electricity, it is all lit by camping lanterns and candlelight.
Henry’s parlor décor is a mishmash, featuring a scale model of the
cemetery next door and a few unique paintings. The garden showcases a
buzzard-themed tomb. I particularly enjoyed the charming catfish downspout
I spotted on one of the buildings.
Trivia: Art restorer Frank
Dorland claims the Skull of Doom was carved without the use of metal
Though the setting is gloomy, it is never overly dark. Clues are not
obscured and I did no pixel hunting. The ambience is moody and caliginous;
it is never scary or gruesome.
I experienced one small discontinuity with Nancy’s shadow. Though the
night is rainy, her shadow is always in front of her, no matter which
direction she approaches from. Also, I had a small, one-time glitch
causing Nancy’s shadow to appear simultaneously on two different paths.
Trivia: Dorland believes
it was chiseled into form using diamonds and that the finer shaping and
details were done with sand over a period of 150 to 300 years.
Ambient Sounds and Background Music
Ambient sounds are authentic when present. There is rain, rain, and
more rain. Thunder resounds, footsteps echo, doors creak, gears clank, and
I noticed with pleasure the occasional hooting owl.
You’ll explore to the sound of intermittent music. Sometimes it’s a
pleasant, melancholy jazz. Occasionally, it’s a heart thumping, adrenalin
producing beat. Other times, it’s calming. Often, though, it’s just you
and the wind and the rain. I appreciated the music while exploring, and
cherished the quiet while pondering my next move.
Trivia: Dorland also
claims the Skull of Doom originated in Atlantis and was carried by the
Crystal Skull is heavier on puzzles and exploration than on
dialogue, but you will chat from time to time. Usually, the conversation
flows naturally. I can easily imagine myself speaking those words.
Regrettably, in a few areas stiffness creeps in—particularly between
Ned and Nancy. I simply cannot imagine myself ending a phone conversation
with my special someone by saying “That’s all I have to report.” Those
between Nancy and Bess were strained at times and Henry frequently dropped
“groovy” which didn’t fit his persona.
Unfortunately, dialogues, once initiated, cannot be skipped. Since I
often check with NPCs “just in case,” this quickly became annoying. Also,
though Nancy and Bess have apparent branching choices, all roads lead to
the same end.
Crystal Skull contains a significant amount of required reading.
Most is well written and entertaining and frequently humorous.
Trivia: Laboratory tests
run by Hewlett-Packard reveal the Skull of Doom is pure crystalline
The puzzles are varied and absorbing. A couple are innovative and
several are outstanding. One, a Rube Goldberg contraption, is a hoot to
put together and rewards your efforts with a piquant cut scene of the
whole contrivance working.
Amongst the many types are those requiring only logic, locked doors to
get past, matching challenges to best, and sensible inventory problems.
A multi-stepped riddler is my favorite. My hat is off to whoever
Thankfully, I found no pure sound puzzles. I say “pure,” as two utilize
music, but this is easily worked around by enabling captions. The notes
played are shown at the bottom of the screen. Thus, you can solve them
even if you can’t match notes or recreate music by ear. (Hurray for Her
As in all Nancy Drew games, there is one timed bit at the end, but it
is by far the easiest I’ve seen. You can die in two places, but you get a
Second Chance (or third or fourth) from the spot you died in. The message
following my first “death” made me laugh out loud.
There are no color dependent posers or any sliders. There are several
mini-games. One calls for logic and one I solved by experimentation and
Trivia: Further testing by
Hewlett-Packard reveal the Skull of Doom was made from a single
left-handed growing crystal.
Regrettably, one mini-game is a click-fest requiring both rapid
clicking and fast mouse movements. The first time I beat it, I was happy.
The second time—it was harder, but l I managed and was proud of myself.
The third time—harder still and a colossal pain in the derriere.
The fourth time (game design requires three times and possibly four) it
was so difficult that I quit the game in disgust. This is a first for me,
and occurred on both difficulty levels. My hand and arm ached. This hurdle
will make Crystal Skull hard (if not impossible) for some players
to complete without resorting to a saved game. This is unfortunate and
unnecessary, as otherwise the puzzles are intriguing and enjoyable.
Also, the game requires a lot of to-and-fro. The area you cover is not
extensive--so trekking around isn't onerous -- but I do believe I wore a
groove in the paving stones of the garden and cemetery.
Trivia: Though tales
abound of 13 skulls which, when brought together have magical properties,
all but the Skull of Doom have been shown to be of modern origin.
Crystal Skull has many elements which combine to make an
entertaining game. Absorbing puzzles, a story that is neatly sewn up at
the end, characters that are easy to relate to, an easy interface,
graphics dripping with ambience, excellent voice acting, and a choice of
difficulty levels makes this a game many will like.
When all is said and done, the test of any game rests on the answer to
two questions. Did I enjoy playing it? Yes. Would I recommend it to
others? Yes, but due to a very difficult button mashing mini-game, I can
only recommend it to those with fast reflexes.
1st person viewpoint
Save at will
Name your own saves
Choice of difficulty level
Play as both Nancy and Bess
No pixel hunting
Installs Nancy Drew Central
along with the game
Varied and appealing non-player
First-rate voice acting
Authentic ambient sounds
Gloomy rather than spooky
Stimulating, wide range of
puzzles which may require a lot of “to-and- fro”
No mazes, sound or color
dependent or sliding puzzles
You can die, but start back
where you died
A few mini-games, including one
which requires fast reflexes and must be beaten multiple times
Story neatly summed up
I played on: