Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch



Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Her Interactive

Released:  2004

PC Requirements:   400Mhz Pentium, 64MB RAM, 300 MB, hard drive space, 16-bit color graphics video card with at least 16MB of VRAM, 16-bit Window-compatible stereo sound card, 12X CD ROM, Mouse and Speakers.




Additional Screenshots



by gatorlaw

The Secret of Shadow Ranch

It has been quite a while since the first Nancy Drew mystery raised it’s interactive head and peeked out from the store shelves. Well actually it wasn’t on any store shelf,  for it was available only through the Her Interactive online store. Been following their progress ever since. Now here we are with what is one of the great success stories in adventure gaming and game development itself. As Her-Interactive grew, they arrived at  a working format that they have used as the core of each new game, and this approach has worked well for the series.

I think it is fairly well accepted that Her-Interactive employ a “formulaic” approach to the Nancy Drew titles. Each new one has small subtle changes, experimental features and nudged improvements – but overall the same familiar theme music comes up at the menu screen, the same voice actors/actresses are used for the main characters and there is a predictability to the story pathways and interface. A bad thing? Nope, not to me. Goes hand in hand with an old business truism – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. OK, maybe you say “Sounds reasonable to me, so why even bring it up?”

Well to make a few points, of course. First there is a misapprehension that Nancy Drew games are made for adults. Well, they are labeled as “for everyone”, but this is in truth always with a clear eye on their hard core fan base – “the girl who is not afraid of a mouse”. As such, the games have and will continue to be responsive to the marketing feedback from that group of gamers. Needless to say, just because the games are designed for teen and younger girls doesn’t mean that these same games can’t be fun for adults or nostalgic gamers, with a fond memory of their younger years.

So how do they keep selling these games and is the current one up to par? Short answer – yes. It is not my favorite Nancy Drew game or arguably even the best – but it is at the head of the pack and for a number of reasons. The first of which is the story line and such things.

Range Roving with Nancy or Saddle up little Cowgirl,

I have to admit that my reading material for Nancy Drew is focused on the old classics made back in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. I was crest fallen when they turned Nancy from a blonde to a titian haired girl sleuth and always loved the roadster over the more modern vehicles. I also collect Horatio Alger books so go figure. And no I wasn’t remotely alive when any of these originals were first written and published. Just like the way they wrote in those days. So I am not really on top of the Secret of Shadow Ranch essentials. In this newest mis-adventure Nancy finds herself on a ranch. However, once again her pals George and Bess are a no show, the ranch owners themselves are settled in at the local hospital, the ranch hands are an odd lot and there is a phantom glow in the dark stallion whose very appearance is suppose to portend bad luck. Then there is the matter of the legend of the ghostly horse, a tragic tale of love and robbery, hidden loot and a broken heart. Oh and the gallows thing – but that’s another story. This part of the game was well written to this reviewer. The voice talent was strong and the enduring love of the robber for his brilliant beauty was touching in places. Now maybe cynicism is rampant among jaded gamers – but I liked this part of the game and found it oddly compelling.

Ropin, Ridin and Barrel Racin

This tracked the devices used in DODI, where you got to bike and Kayak. Though it wasn’t puzzling – I had fun with the practical aspects of the game. Now here’s a little known factoid from my own past. I am a born and bred native Texan and actually barrel raced as a kid. Or as we say it in Texas – I rodeoed. There was a great deal of useful info about the care, feeding and other details about horses that was informative, accurate and well researched. You have to learn how to rope items (or actually click at the right time) but it wasn’t brain numbing and was entertaining. I don’t play the Nancy Drew games to be challenged and run through reams of notes , though it is useful to take more than a few pages in the game. You will have to pass a short quiz on everything horses, feed them or risk having to put your horse out of it’s colicky misery, saddle up and hit the trails. The map feature means you don’t have to actually wait for ever to get from one spot to another but there are a few flash slides of scenery along the way. Make sure you pay attention to tips on posters and words of advice from seasoned trail hands or you could find yourself in some trouble. Yep, Nancy can get fired in this game. A feature first introduced in Haunted Carousel and one that provides some minor comedic moments. So be careful out there.

Happy Trails and Ghost Towns...

The Her Interactive team has taken increasing care to try and make the music thematically based in their games. There were some nice rollicking sea chantey tunes in DODI and the music in Shadow Ranch was appropriately western based. Rather than continually looping though it did recede after a few rounds and was less over powering than in past games. There were a few times where I got a bit weary of the same tunes, particularly as you will spend a great amount of time riding from place to place in the three days you spend at Shadow Ranch. But for the most part I found the music again an enjoyable feature of the game. There was also a nice transition to a creepy ambiance for spookier parts of the game and again this was very well done.

Trail Bosses, Badlanders and

There were the standard cast of several supporting characters or better to call them potential suspects in the game. They were personable and maybe even tweaked a bit more in this latest game. There is the talkative cook, who is full of information and chatter. Though his cooking seems to be not exactly up to par. There is the stern faced foreman, who is about as talkative as a concrete block and as warm. There is a charming ranch hand who apparently has an eye for Nancy. Yahoo. Finally there is an native American  store owner, who has plenty of secrets of her own. One of the interesting tweaks in Shadow Ranch was a more fleshed out character base that you don’t see or meet, yet deal with over the phone. One in particular had some of the best and funniest dialogue in the game. This phone character is a Bureaucrat who takes names, dates and keeps a very careful eyes on the requests and interests of all who contact him. This is a man you want on your side or at least where you can see him coming. I don’t want to spoil the fun, just be ready for some interesting side bits in this current title. It marked a high point of the game for this reviewer. Of course, all the River Heights “chums” are present, Frank & Joe Hardy, Bess and George. Still waiting for the game that has one or all making an actual appearance – but their inclusion in the game is worthwhile. George and Bess once again play an active part in the gameplay by securing some facts and info that Nancy needs to solve the mystery. Yes, and they as well as the Hardy boys serve as hint facilitators should anyone become mired in the game. Not that an adult would have any trouble in a game designed for “everyone” *cough  *

Treasure Hunting and challenges...

OK, let’s get this said right now. I am not going to tell you that if puzzling is more than a way of life for you – this game will have you up late at nights. Come on, this is a Nancy Drew game. But, there were some fun and yes even momentarily perplexing puzzles in the game. There is an easy maze, lots of coded messages, and one (why must they do this to me again) arcade type game. Ok, so it was really a puzzle disguised as an arcade game, does it have to be on a machine? Just kidding. There are some make a cake, ride the horse, click on the rope type challenges also. But with a nod for the general audience the Her Interactive team is trying to interest and satisfy, I think there was again a great balance achieved. These games will be at best not more than a couple of short evenings diversion for most adults – but that is fine with me. As I have said before, gaming is not always about perplexing mind kicking challenge to me. It is at it’s heart meant to be diverting, affordable well valued fun. And I felt fine with the level of puzzling for this game and liked the mix.

Pony Up …

Well the mystery is solved, bad guys revealed and Nancy Drew has solved yet another case. Bottom line time is here. Get the game? Well sure, why wouldn’t you? It’s not a puzzle fest or even perhaps the riveting game of your dreams. But Nancy Drew was never intended to be thought provoking in game or book form. Any game ideally should be judged according to the standards and measures set forth by the developers themselves. Her Interactive has set itself the goal of providing well rounded, well crafted family fun – with an eye for a solid story and familiar gameplay coupled with a versatile challenge mix. Here they have scored a success on all points. Now the only sad part is I have to wait til October for the next Nancy Drew game to come out. Happy sleuthing.

Final Grade: B-

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