Treasure in the Royal Tower: A Nancy Drew Review #4

Treasure in the Royal Tower marks a turning point for Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series. Previous titles have been fine in their own right, but Treasure in the Royal Tower is clearly on another level. Widely considered to be one of the greatest games of the series, TitRT has a lot going for it.

detfeature_treasureintheroyaltower03
Promotional image from HerInteractive.com

Story

After her last three cases, Nancy is ready for some much-needed R&R. To unwind, she decides to visit Wickford Castle Ski Resort in Wisconsin. But before she can hit the slopes, a blizzard snows her and a few others into the castle.

Shortly after getting trapped inside by the weather, strange things begin happening in the castle. The historical library is vandalized and an eccentric woman’s room is robbed. Rumors abound that the incidents are connected to the valuable secret hidden within Marie Antionette’s tower, which has been sealed off since its addition to the castle by the original millionaire owner.

Gameplay & Atmosphere

Immediately apparent is the beauty of the game. Wickford Castle is a gorgeous setting and Her Interactive did a great job making the castle rich in detail. Though the game takes place completely in the castle and the immediate grounds, it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as Message in a Haunted Mansion. Part of this is due to the castle’s larger size, but most of it comes from how fun it is to go around and look at all the paintings, the tapestries, and to examine the intricate work on the furnishings.

trt_wallpaper1
promotional wallpaper from HerInteractive.com

Just to top off the pleasant, atmospheric experience is the background music. The background music isn’t particularly interesting in the first three games, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, background music is supposed to fade, you know, into the background. But TitRT manages to create a soundtrack that is never distracting, while also quite pleasant to listen to. It’s perfect for the visually lovely setting, and I found myself pausing to simply enjoy it while wandering the halls to get to my next destination.

trt_library
image from HerInteractive.com

The real core of the game, the puzzles that actually make TitRT a game, are top-notch as well. I often found myself challenged, but never felt as though I would be stuck forever. Re-playing the game reminded me just how many puzzles I consider to be particularly good come from this title.

Characters

TitRT also offers much more visually pleasing character models. Despite the excellent voice work in all of the Nancy Drew games, the jerky movements and over-expressive faces of previous character models are just a little too far in the uncanny valley for comfort. Talking with others in TitRT is a much more pleasant experience.

It’s not just the improved models that make this so nice, but the bang-up job Her Interactive did with characterization. The various suspects are each interesting in their own right.

Dexter Egan

Dexter1
image from ardnek-nancydrewgames.blogspot.com

Mr. Egan is the caretaker of the castle. He does everything from cleaning to cooking, and has neither time nor patience for socialization. He’s gruff, but in a “I’m-kind-of-mean-to-everybody-not-just-you” kind of way. He doesn’t like to talk about his past, or the mysterious tower. Of course in a Nancy Drew game, this makes him instantly suspicious.

Jacques Brunais

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image from adventurelantern.com

Jacques is the resort’s ski instructor. Once an Olympic-level athlete, Jacques came to the states after choking in competition and shaming his mother-country of France. He is fascinated by the tower because of its deep connection to French history, but is he desperate enough to restore his name that he’d be willing to spirit the treasure within back home?

Lisa Ostrum

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image from nancydrewpcreview.blogspot.com

Lisa is a photojournalist covering Wickford Castle as part of her beat. She’s curious about the tower and desperate to find a way in, but is it to add excitement to her story, or receive personal financial gain?

Professor Beatrice Hotchkiss

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image from thenancydrew.wikia.com

Professor Hotchkiss is a historian working on a book about Marie Antoinette. She came to Wickford Castle to be near the tower and see if any secrets about the infamous queen could be unearthed by examining it. Her eccentric nature makes her suspicious, since she refuses to leave her room, and won’t tell anyone what was stolen from within it.

On a personal note, I must say that Professor Hotchkiss is one of my favorite characters in the entire Nancy Drew franchise, if not my absolute favorite. She’s just so much fun! And I’m not alone in this by a long shot.

Recommendation

Whether you’re new to the series or a Senior Detective, Treasure in the Royal Tower is worth your time. It is solid enough to withstand a playing without a golden layer of nostalgia coloring it, so new players will have a good time. Older players will see some tropes that are used in later games coming up for the first time. Not to mention a certain recurring character…

 

Treasure in the Royal Tower: A Nancy Drew Review #4

Message in a Haunted Mansion: A Nancy Drew Review #3

Just in time for October, we have the first in my favorite category of Nancy Drew mysteries — hauntings! Though I wouldn’t call the Nancy Drew series scary as a whole, Her Interactive knows how to set up a creepy mystery.

Story

Rose Green, a friend of a friend of Nancy’s is turning a Victorian mansion into a bed and breakfast in San Francisco. Renovations have been moving much more slowly than anticipated due to a large number of accidents occurring in the house. It’s up to Nancy to discover if the problems are being caused by someone within the house or the ghostly spirits rumored to walk the halls.

Characters

Rose Green is the main character of this game, as she owns the house and will run the B&B once it opens. She doesn’t believe the stories being thrown around about ghosts and spirits, and suspects that choosing an inexperienced handyman is the root of her troubles. Rose is a very practical person, and I found myself drawn to her for her down-to-earth approach to all the problems she encounters. It’s also worth noting that Rose is a woman of color, and a woman of color in charge of the whole operation. Good on you, Her Interactive, for starting to introduce some diversity!

The aforementioned handyman is a college student named Charlie Murphy. He cam to Rose looking for work: Work Rose couldn’t refuse at his low prices. He claims to know nothing about the accidents and insists that his work is top-notch, despite his relatively short time in the carpentry business. Though he is the most likely suspect for all the things that have gone wrong around the house, it’s hard to argue with his baby-face and friendly nature. Plus I’m pretty sure his voice actor is the same one who voices Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned, in later games, so it was difficult to think of him as anything other than a source of good information and support. But that’s player knowledge, and player knowledge must be resisted!

Louis Chandler is the resident expert on all things Victorian and has been helping Charlie and Rose ensure that all the renovations are as accurate as possible. He came to Rose as an adviser and has offered her a break in his consulting fees in exchange for unfettered use of the house’s original library. He seems unconcerned with the recent plague of accidents and doesn’t think Abby’s stories of unsettled spirits hold any water. Though he doesn’t appear to have a motive for causing the accidents, he is guiding Charlie’s inexperienced hand and often dodges Nancy’s questions.

The only one who truly seems to believe the talk of spirits is Abby Sideris, Rose’s friend and co-owner of the mansion. All Abby ever wants to talk about are the spirits haunting the house, and she barely acknowledges the upcoming opening of the B&B. She doesn’t concern herself with renovations or the business side of things like Rose does, but instead focuses her time and energy in getting in touch with the ghosts of the mansion. But does she really believe in the ghosts, or is she trying to divert suspicion from herself?

Abby

Gameplay

The entirety of MiaHM takes place within the mansion, which works both for an against the game as a whole. The lack of travel shortens the game considerably, but in a way that subtracts little and adds a great deal of convenience for the player. My least favorite part of Nancy Drew games is always the travel between locations. However, having only one location does make the game feel a bit claustrophobic. Granted, this helps enhance the feeling of creepiness and danger that comes from playing around in a potentially haunted old mansion.

Haunting games are my favorite category of Nancy Drew games, and replaying the first of this type was great fun. There were a couple of genuinely creepy moments, but it’s obvious that Her Interactive is just getting started with the scary games. There’s so much going on that suggests a haunting that I became numb to the stimulus. Every time I crossed a certain hallway, I saw a ghost out of the corner of my eye, and there were often spirits visible within the mirrors of the mansion. But, because the game takes place entirely in the mansion and the player runs around the area a lot, these events are triggered a great number of times, and seeing the exact same thing so many times takes the creepiness factor way down.

Recommendation

If you’re looking to try out a Nancy Drew game, go ahead and give MiaHM a shot. It’s super short and a great way to get your feet wet. It has held up decently well over the years and provides a good number of puzzles with just the right amount of challenge for players unfamiliar with the genre.

If you’re familiar with the series, you might want to skip this one. It’s good, but experienced sleuths will blast though it extremely quickly. Sink your teeth into one of the more difficult and longer later games.

Message in a Haunted Mansion: A Nancy Drew Review #3

Stay Tuned for Danger: A Nancy Drew Review #2

image from HerInteractive.com
image from HerInteractive.com

Story

Mattie Jensen, a star on the popular soap opera Light of Our Love, invites Nancy to stay with her in New York in order to investigate a series of death threats aimed at her co-star. The victim, Rick Arlen, seems unconcerned about the threats and refuses to go to the police, despite the increasing severity of his stalker’s actions.

One Giant Problem

Stay Tuned for Danger is quite old for a computer game. 18 years old, in fact.

My computer is not old. It is very new.

The two didn’t play well together.

I played off my hard-copy disk and my computer refused to support the game’s sound, even while running in compatibility mode. Even my partner – magical computer genie that he is – couldn’t finagle it into working. But I’m stubborn, and knew that I wanted to play every single game, so I decided to play it without sound.

Turns out, sound is a big part of what makes the Nancy Drew games fun for me. It just wasn’t the same without the background music, character voices, and sound effects. It was so much less fun that I ended up starting my Senior Detective game over with the difficulty at Junior Detective, just so things would go by a little faster. And I used the forums way more than I should have for the same reason. I just wanted to move on to the next one.

But, I do want to give credit to Her Interactive for their work on subtitling the game. STfD’s closed captioning is truly exceptional, and allowed me to enjoy the dialog even without the sound. Thank goodness, because a great deal of the game is spent in conversations.

Also, the game is now available in a remastered edition from HerInteractive.com, so you don’t have to worry about any of that!

Characters/Suspects

The first person Nancy meets is Mattie Jensen, her hostess and the reason Nancy even has her second case. Mattie is a successful actress and it was nice to have a successful young woman in a place of prominence in the roster. She cares for others and is into traditionally “girly” things, but never comes across as a caricature of young women in general. I remember liking Mattie a lot as a kid, and that hasn’t changed.

Mattie Jensen
Mattie Jensen

Rick Arlen is Mattie’s co-star and the center of the case. Because he stars as the romantic lead of the show, he has a large base of adoring female fans, but if they ever interacted with him, they would maybe be singing a different tune. Rick is skeevy and always seems to be trying to get some from every woman he meets. Including Nancy. When I was younger, I thought it was kind of funny, but now that I’ve met people like this in my own life, I just kind of hated the guy.

Rick Arlen, reminding you to
Rick Arlen, reminding you to “stay beautiful!”

Besides co-staring on Light of Our Love, Rick and Mattie share an agent. Dwayne Powers met Rick and Mattie during the early days of their careers, when they played small theater shows together. Dwayne doesn’t stick out as a character, since Nancy doesn’t interact with him nearly as much as the Rick or Mattie. He’s just kind of there, you know?

Dwayne Powers in his sad office.
Dwayne Powers in his sad office.

Lillian Weiss is the director of Light of Our Love and lets you know it. From square one she makes it known that she doesn’t like you, or anyone really. She’s the stereotypical cold woman of business who will do whatever it takes to get things done. She serves as a barrier for much of the investigation, which stacks the deck against her as a character.

Lillian and her resting ***** face.
Lillian and her permanent scowl.

Above even Lillian on the food chain is Millie Strathorn, the owner of World Wide Broadcasting. Though you’d never know it from the way she keeps herself sequestered away in the prop room. Sometimes it’s hard to know if she even knows she owns the studio. Her sense of reality has become skewed.

Millie is by far the most memorable character of STfD. Even outside of her dottiness, she’s funny, with a genuine sense of humor about everything. The prop room was my favorite area in the game, and a good deal of that was because of Millie.

Mad Millie, owner of WWB and fearless guardian of the prop room.
Mad Millie, owner of WWB and fearless guardian of the prop room.

Gameplay

Getting past the lack of sound took some time and the bug certainly lessened my enjoyment of the game, but it wasn’t the only problem. Her Interactive was still getting into the swing of things with STfD, so the gameplay is rough.

It’s hard to move around in STfD: A big problem when Nancy is constantly moving from one place to another. A lot of times I would click somewhere, thinking that I was going to move in that direction, only to zoom in on something I didn’t care about. And vice-versa. This may be fixed in the new remastered version, but it was certainly a bear to deal with using the original game.

There’s also a lack of puzzles in this game when compared to others in the series. Rather than having Nancy solve something in order to move on, the game was more concerned with having Nancy talk to people and see clues in the correct order. At one point, tired of running around trying to figure out how to activate the next segment of the game, I looked at the forums – only to find that I had done everything, I just hadn’t zoomed in far enough on one item for it to count. I’d read the information on the thing without actually having Nancy read it. Ugh.

Dangerous, but lovely set.
Dangerous, but lovely set.

Recommendation

While I’m glad I played STfD in order to return to the Nancy Drew series’ roots, I’m happy to move on. I don’t recommend it to anyone new to the franchise, as there are so many other games that are much more polished and enjoyable.

 

Does this post look familiar? It was originally published on my old blog back in October 2015 and has been transplanted here with some light editing.

Stay Tuned for Danger: A Nancy Drew Review #2

Secrets Can Kill: A Nancy Drew Review #1

In an attempt to go back and examine my gaming roots, I’ve decided to replay all of Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew mystery games in order of release. I played these games a ton as a kid and am convinced they’re a big part of the reason I like gaming today. I’m not sure how they’ve held up with time, but I’m excited to try them out.

 

image from HerInteractive.com
image from HerInteractive.com

Secrets Can Kill threw me a bit of a curveball, right off the bat. Technically, it’s the first of the series, but Her Interactive recently released a remastered edition. I debated whether to move the game in my timeline to reflect its re-released date, but decided to go ahead and keep it first.

Story

SCK is Nancy’s first case, and her darkest so far. While in Florida visiting her aunt, Nancy is asked to go undercover at the local high school to investigate the recent murder of a student. Now, my memory could be failing me, but I’m pretty sure this is the only Nancy Drew game that involves murder. The victim is never shown and there is no detail given about the crime itself, but murder is a gruesome cause for Nancy’s involvement. And worse, it’s the murder of a high school kid.

But the horror of the crime works for the game. After reaching a certain point in her investigation, Nancy receives threats from an unknown menace. These threats are genuinely scary when viewed in the light of the recent crime. Whoever killed Jake Rogers knew him. If the murderer was willing to kill a local high school student that they knew as a member of the community, they’re almost certainly going to be willing to kill an outsider the majority of the town doesn’t know.

But the most disturbing aspect of the case is the potential involvement of other students. It’s bad enough that there was a murder, but it’s so much worse to think another kid did it.

Suspects

The characters in this game had completely slipped from my mind. All of them are decent suspects, but none are interesting enough to be “sticky” like some of the characters in later games. A big part of this comes from the lack of depth each possesses.

image from herinteractive.wikia.com
Hector “Hulk” Sanchez

The first person I met was Hector “Hulk” Sanchez, the local football star. That one sentence tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Hulk is a shining example of the high school jock stereotype. He’s cocky, loud, and unapologetic. He doesn’t hide the fact that he didn’t like Jake because he was a “dweeb,” which suggests he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. He has zero sense of self-preservation, probably because he’s convinced the town is in love with him and he’s untouchable. Granted, he’s probably right.

Daryl Gray
Daryl Gray

Daryl Grey is another side of the popular kid coin. He works at the local hotspot, Maxine’s Diner, and has plenty of money from his internship with his father’s multi-million dollar company. He’s popular enough to be student body president and is quite proud of the fact. Daryl also considers himself a bit of a wizard with the ladies, if his flimsy attempts at flirtation are any indication. He puts a lot of faith in pick-up lines.

Connie Watson
Connie Watson

Daryl’s none-to-subtle approach works for Connie Watson, a hall monitor who considers him “the only guy worth dating.” When asking Connie about any of the other suspects, her opinion tends to revolve around their date-ability. I did appreciate that she practices Judo and has something defining her other than the fact that she’s the only girl (besides Nancy herself). All too often, games put in the token girl character and there’s nothing interesting about her besides her sex.

Hal Tanaka
Hal Tanaka

Hal Tanaka is the only boy Connie doesn’t seem interested in thinking about in terms of his relationship status, probably because he is nothing but stereotypes. I thought Hulk was an uninteresting stew of stereotypical portrayals, but he’s got nothing on Hal. Hal is an exchange student from Japan who has come to America to become a doctor. He is concerned with nothing but his studies and talks about nothing but his studies, except for some brief forays into talking about bringing honor to his family. Oh, God.

Detective Beech
Detective Beech

The only character Nancy interacts with who is not a student is Detective Beech, the undercover detective who hired her. Detective Beech doesn’t seem to be a very good undercover cop, since he doesn’t have a cover story prepared for talking to Nancy all the time, he’s completely unwilling to share details about the case with her, and does nothing except sit at the diner and drink coffee.

Gameplay

Aside from the lackluster characters, SCK is a pretty fun game. Rather than a number of smaller puzzles, there’s one very long, very involved puzzle that spans the entirety of the game that involves secret messages hidden by Jake before his death. These messages must be decoded and acted upon in order to advance the plot.

The intricacy of the puzzle was a lot of fun and involved taking a lot of handwritten notes, which I love doing. The only thing I didn’t really like was the lack of communication with other characters this created. The puzzle is very self-contained, and Nancy isn’t required to talk with other characters as much as in other games. Talking with others is my favorite thing about the Nancy Drew games, so this was a bit of a bummer for me. Totally valid, but still a bummer.

As far as controls go, the remastered version blows the original out of the water. I remember having to switch disks all the time with the old one, which is no longer an issue. In fact, I didn’t use a disk at all with this one: I bought a digital copy from Steam.

There’s also a lot less clicking with the remastered one, since they added in the auto-scroll features at the edges of the screen like the newer games have. Thank goodness. That little scroller is a blessing because it saves me from my obnoxiously loud mouse.

Recommendation

SCK is a solid game that fans of the Nancy Drew series will enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend it to those new to the series. There are a ton of other games to choose from that are more engaging and have much better characters than SCK. 

Does this post look familiar? It was originally published on my old blog back in October 2015 and has been transplanted here with some light editing.

Secrets Can Kill: A Nancy Drew Review #1