Review by trancejeremy
Needed more adventure, fewer lame mini-games
Why is a man in his mid 30s playing a Nancy Drew game, much less writing a review of a one? Well, because I like adventure games, and those are the main reason I bought a DS. I also watched the 70s TV show as a kid.
Adventure games have faded a bit in popularity from the early years of computer gaming, but recently there has been something of a resurgence, mostly fueled by Nancy Drew. There's been close to twenty of them on the PC in the last decade or so, most of them huge hits despite scant attention paid to them by the gaming media.
Noting this success, a couple years ago I wondered "Why don't they put one on the DS?". Apparently others thought this, as Majesco decided to publish one. And so we finally have this. Nancy Drew and the Deadly Secret of Olde World Park.
Nancy Drew dates back to 1930 or so, but she still has the same cast of characters around her - her father, a lawyer; her doofus boyfriend, Ned; her friends Bess and George, who are cousins - one glamorous, the other a tomboy. The only curious thing is that unlike previous Nancy Drews I've seen, this one apparently can't drive a car. (She used to have a convertible)
Not surprisingly, the player plays Nancy Drew, as inquisitive as ever. The game starts with her getting a frantic call from her friend Bess about a dress being stolen. Can Nancy (and the player) help? Of course.
Finding the dress is only the tip of the iceberg, as it leads to a mystery behind Olde World Park. Which is far too complicated to explain, actually, even if I wanted to spoil it.
The dialogue is actually well written and often funny. At least I enjoyed it. I was also amused that the game refers to a "vintage" car, meaning one from the 1980s, which threw me for a moment. I kept looking for something from the 50s or 60s.
On the surface, it plays like a traditional adventure game. Move your little character over a location, looking at things and finding clues, picking up objects, talking to people, solving puzzles, moving the plot forward.
But are three problems here. First off, the gameplay is awfully linear. I realize this is probably aimed at younger gamers, 10-12, I'd think, but kids aren't stupid. There's really no exploration or room to discover anything on their own, which if anything, I think kids would find more fun than adults.
Basically, there's no exploration. You are generally limited to 1 or 2 screens/backdrops at a time. And every relevent item is highlighted with a symbol over the head.
Secondly, there is an over reliance on lame mini-games. Most tasks require the player completing a mini-game to accomplish. There's nothing inherently wrong with mini-games, but at the same time, poor ones can detract from the game and feel simply like busy work. For instance, the ones in Hotel Dusk immersed you in the story, because they were very similar to what your character was supposed to be doing. Here, they are obviously just mini-games.
For instance, to pick a lock, you simply wait until a little dot passes through a color circle and tap the screen. Or to get someone to talk, you might have to re-arrange a picture.
The only mini-game that resembled what Nancy was supposed to be doing was the sneaking min-game. Basically Nancy has to stay in the shadows and avoid someone. While that was probably overused in this, that type of connection, between the action and the gameplay made an otherwise mediocre minigame enjoyable.
All the other mini-games were just chores to play. Particularly the one where you have to defuse bombs, it requires you to press the DS buttons instead of use the touch screen. Buttons are one place where Nintendo has lagged behind Sony and Microsoft, they are simply labeled A, B, X, Y, instead of being color or symbol coded. I can't tell which is which without looking, and if I do look, it's too slow.
Those two problems could be overlooked if not for the shortness of the game. Adventure games are rarely long, but this will likely only take you 3 hours. Maybe not one sitting, but no more than two.
The graphics are nice enough for the most part. Nancy and her friends are depicted more like comic book characters than anything else, and the dialogue is told in similar style.
Sound isn't much. Mostly just ambient effects. Luminous Arc proved that DS games can have a lot of spoken dialogue, I think adventure games like this should have it as well. But publishers are cheap and don't want to pay for that.
It's actually not a bad game, despite its flaws, I really enjoyed it while it lasted, it just could have been a lot better and longer. And the length makes it hard to justify as a buy, since the linearity gives it no replay value. At the very least, they could have added unlockable outfits (which make more sense in a game aimed at girls than something like say, Silent Hill, which does have them)
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Nancy Drew: The Deadly Secret of Olde World Park (US, 09/18/07)
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