Secret of Shadow Ranch: A Nancy Drew Review #10

Introduction

I’ve been looking forward to replaying Secret of Shadow Ranch, since it’s one of my favorites. I have a bit of a thing for the American Southwest, so it’s right up my alley. And, it holds up better than some of the earlier games in the series.

Story

Bess and George are going to visit their aunt and uncle’s ranch in Arizona, and have invited Nancy along for the trip. But the pair get stuck in the airport, leaving Nancy alone to deal with the strange occurrences around the ranch. The phantom horse of a notorious bank robber has been causing no end of trouble around the ranch, and it’s up to Nancy to get to the bottom of things.

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Characters

Ed and Bet Rawley are Bess and George’s aunt and uncle, and the unseen hosts of Nancy’s trip. Nancy only communicates to them via phone, since they’re in the hospital for the duration of her stay.

shortyShorty Thurmond is the ranch’s cook. He loves to gossip and finds the stories surrounding Dirk Valentine and his treasure immensely appealing. Get him talking about the phantom horse and/or Valentine’s treasure and you’ll see that he’s hungry for gold. Could he be orchestrating events to run the Rawleys off the ranch so he can hunt for his fortune in peace?

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Dave Gregory is head foreman of the ranch. He’s hardworking, quiet, and friendly enough, but makes it clear that Nancy is at the ranch at a bad time. Shadow Ranch is short-handed, and the recent disasters are only making matters worse. He thinks the phantom horse is just a prank, and seems uninterested in the rumors of Valentine’s treasure. But could his attractive face be hiding secret motives?

tex_brittenTex Britten takes his job as head wrangler very seriously — maybe even too seriously. He’s all gruff and doesn’t mince words, instead preferring to keep his head down and do his work. He doesn’t enjoy having Nancy around, as he thinks she’s just going to be in the way. But in the way of what? Treasure hunting, perhaps?

83091-nancy-drew-the-secret-of-shadow-ranch-windows-screenshot-maryMary Yazzie owns a gifts and sundry shop near Shadow Ranch, where she sells pieces by local artists as well as regional antiques. She seems nice, but becomes upset whenever talk of the Rawleys comes up. She has been trying to buy a piece of Shadow Ranch and is extremely upset that Bet and Ed are unwilling to sell. Why is she so desperate for the land, and why does she always dodge questions about her motivation? 

Gameplay

Holy landscape view, Batman! Look at that gaming window size! No more stinking square screens for us!

Aside from that, SoSR is a great game. It features some nifty puzzles and a whole lot of dialog, which I like. Travel is decently quick and easy. And I never found myself frustrated with the controls. Everything worked together the way it should, making for a smooth play experience.

 
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What’s New

In addition to the large playing window, this is the first game to feature Nancy’s smartphone. We’ve been able to access the internet via her laptop in the past few games, but now Nancy can access information anywhere. Woo!

Conclusion

SoSR is a well-loved favorite of the Nancy Drew community, and for good reason. Whether you’re a Senior Detective or someone new to the franchise, SoSR is well worth your time. It’s a grand time and I’d recommend it to anyone.

 

Does this post look familiar? It’s a repost from my old blog.

Secret of Shadow Ranch: A Nancy Drew Review #10

Danger on Deception Island: A Nancy Drew Review #9

Introduction

Not going to lie, I think of Danger on Deception Island as a dud. If you’ve poked through this blog for any amount of time, you know I love Her Interactive and think they’re fantastic, but no company is perfect, and they’re no exception. DoDI falls flat.

Plot Summary

Bess and George have arranged a vacation for Nancy so she can take a much-needed break from work. But, as usual, Nancy stumbles into another case. A lone orca has made its way to Deception Island and has sparked political wildfires that have swept through the harbor faster than anyone was prepared for. The people whose livelihood depends on the sea are annoyed that they can’t just cart the whale out, while the environmentalists want everyone to leave well enough alone. When Nancy’s hostess finds her boat nearly destroyed by vandals who don’t agree with her views, Nancy knows things are more dangerous than they seem.

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Characters

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Katie Firestone is George’s friend and Nancy’s host. She runs whale-watching tours that are able to get much closer to the orca than any other, which many view as an exploitation of her position as a scientist. She’s headstrong and outspoken, and her opinions on the orca have not won her favor with other residents of the harbor.

Holt Scotto

Holt Scotto is a fisherman who has made his living from the harbor almost his entire life. Now he’s running for harbormaster as a representative of the traditional fisherman. He hates that the orca is in the harbor, as she’s eating up the fish and forcing fishing boats to detour, costing them pricey fuel.

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Andy Jason owns Whale World, a educational center and whale-watching tour company. He is enthusiastic in his love for whales and has done well for himself business-wise. So well, in fact, that he’s offered to buy Katie out multiple times, which she has steadfastedly refused.  Could he be so wrapped up in his business that he’s willing to destroy her rather than live with the competition?

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Jenna Deblin owns a cafe on the harbor that’s been passed down her family line. She’s chatty, friendly, and well-liked by almost everyone, but when it comes to Katie and her desire to move the whale to an aquarium, she becomes quite contrary. She wants the whale to be rejoined with its pod as quickly as possible so it can live out its natural life. Could her inner fire be so hot that she would unleash her rage by destroying Katie?

Gameplay and Puzzles

DoDI had great potential to be a game right up my alley. I love animals, so a storyline revolving around an animal and the tricky moral standing of captivity vs. life in the wild sounded great. But the gameplay shoots everything down. I felt like I was never in the right place in the game and had to travel constantly. Con.Stant.Ly. And the travel in this one suuuuucks. You have to ride a bike everywhere, which is fine, but you have to watch your progress on a map and it takes forever. And God forbid you forget to click on the helmet before getting on the bike. Instant death. Even though the helmet is hanging on the handlebars and one would ASSUME that it automatically got applied when clicking on the bike for travel! (Ask me how many times I forgot to click on the helmet…)

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Found randomly on Pinterest. I’m not the only one.

Then, the main puzzle of the game forces you to travel around in this stupid kayak with the worst controls ever. I hate that kayak so much. And I was in it ALL THE FREAKING TIME! Gah. I’m done talking about this. It’s bad. 

What Makes This One Special

Uhm, the terrible travel mechanics?

 

Summary

Skip it. Skip it, skip it, skip it. I don’t care that you like whales. SKIP IT. There are so many fantastic games for you to play in the series; don’t waste your time on this one.

 

Does this post look familiar? It is a lightly-edited repost from my old blog.

Danger on Deception Island: A Nancy Drew Review #9

The Haunted Carousel: A Nancy Drew Review #8

Introduction

The Haunted Carousel is a decent game. It has no major problems or downsides, but it didn’t grip me, either. It’s solid, but not exciting in any meaningful way. Coming right after a game as fantastic Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake doesn’t help its case.

Story

New Jersey is home to Captain’s Cove amusement park. At first glance, Captain’s Cove seems just like any other amusement park — colorful, loud, and filled with entertainment — but it’s not a normal place. Inexplicable accidents have plagued the park and the carousel has started running on its own since its lead horse was stolen. Nancy has been hired by Paula Santos, the owner of the park, to get to the bottom of things.

THC Carousel Flyer

Characters

The characters in THC are some of the weakest in the series. They’re not bad, but they’re not great, either. All of them are pretty forgettable, and after playing again after all these years, I’m not surprised I couldn’t think of any of them before popping the game in.

Harlan Bishop

Harlan Bishop is the Captain’s Cove security guard. He’s friendly, but doesn’t like to talk about his past. He thinks the hauntings are a prank and takes the accidents happening around the park somewhat personally. His job means a lot to him and he’s eager to prove he’s up to whatever task gets thrown his way. Maybe even eager enough to cause some accidents that threaten security so he can prove himself.

Joy Trent

Joy Trent handles all the financial information for the park. She’s been the park’s bookkeeper for years, but doesn’t seem to like being there very much. She’s quiet and very private — the exact opposite of her robot companion MILES THE MAGNIFICENT MEMORY MACHINE. MILES THE MAGNIFICENT MEMORY MACHINE isn’t quite his own character, but he’s still the best person in the game, and the only one I could remember before replaying.

Ingrid Corey

Ingrid Corey is the park’s mechanic who has found the recent accidents stressful. Though nobody will outright say it, many of the other employees think she probably has a hand in the failing rides, whether intentional or through negligence is irrelevant. And the recent influx of money hasn’t helped her reputation.

Elliot Chen

Finally, there’s Elliot Chen, the park’s art director. He’s a talented artist, but a chronic procrastinator who finds the park closing a godsend. Even though he claims he’s using the time to get caught up on his weeks of backlogged work, he’s often suspiciously absent from his studio. 

 

Puzzles

I wasn’t a fan of the puzzles in this one. None of them were particularly challenging or innovative. The whole game I was kind of waiting for “The Big One,” but it never came. There is, however, a puzzle regarding shorthand that was cool and made me want to study it more fully.

 

New Features

Oh boy, Nancy got a cell phone! Woooo! Now she can call Bess and George from anywhere.

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Final Thoughts

The Haunted Carousel is a decent game, but not one I would think to recommend to anyone. Not with a game as strong as Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake available so close in the timeline, and Secret of Shadow Ranch coming up so soon. It feels like treading water between two major high points in the series.

The Haunted Carousel: A Nancy Drew Review #8

Dream Daddy Is a Dream Come True

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I don’t normally like to do anything for Valentine’s Day, since it’s kind of a crap holiday all about making romantic love seem like it’s the be-all, end-all goal for everyone in the world, and transforms acts of love and lust into obligations, BUT this year, I’m going with a themed post. Sort of. There’s dating involved…

Let’s talk about Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator.

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Official promo art from the Steam Store.

Dream Daddy is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: You play as a dad. You hang out with and date other dads. But there’s so much more to it than just romancing attractive men (which, don’t worry, there’s lots of that, too!). It’s got mystery. It’s got heartfelt emotional sequences. It’s got great music. It’s got dad jokes.

So. Many. Dad Jokes.

Character Design

Let’s start with character design, since one of the first things you get to do is create a dad to play as. I love character creators and always spend an unholy amount of time customizing my avatars, and Dream Daddy did not disappoint. I spent a long time customizing Alex and had a huge amount of fun doing so.

Build That Dad
Side note: Don’t name your character Alex. Story makes it confusing later.

Dream Daddy offers lots of different options in every category (except clothing. Not a ton of choice there.), but let us focus for a moment on the foundation: The body. I immediately loved this game because of those two rows of body types available. Because those two body types allow you to play as either a cis- or trans- man.

That’s right. All three body types are available as both cis- or trans-. Holy shit. It’s such a small thing to include, development-wise, but not small at all in terms of representation. LGBT+ representation is not where it should be in games, and it is so wonderful to be able to play as a trans man in a world where it’s no big deal. It’s just another fact about you, but does not define you. You are treated just like the cis men around you, because everyone knows you are just as worthy of love and respect as them. The utopian future liberals dream of.

God and Snitches
This man has four children. I never once saw the fourth child.

Appearances aside — though the appearances are no small part of this game, it looks great — the characters are interesting and engaging. The various dateable dads are each charming in their way and contain a bit more depth than their outward archetypes would lead one to believe. And the kids are great too, each with their own personality, even though we don’t see a whole lot of the various children.

Amanda Yelling Dog
A child truly after my own heart.

Except, of course, your character’s child, Amanda. Amanda is an amazing character who I grew to love over the course of the game. She’s cute and charming and smart while also containing flaws and going through struggles that keep her interesting and grounded. My heart sank when I saw her struggling or hurting, and soared when she triumphed. I really felt like her dad.

Gameplay

With all that gushing out of the way, let’s get into gameplay gushing.

Since Dream Daddy is a visual novel, most of the time spent in the game is reading, which is to be expected. There are a decent number of dialogue options that appear frequently enough that Dream Daddy does feel more like a game than a novel, though many of them seem to be false choices. While interacting with various dads in dates, your dialogue choices impact their affection for you, but pretty frequently — especially outside of dates — the various options are just different quips that will give your character some flavor, but not have a huge impact on how the scene plays out.

Coffee Shop Awkwardness
There were a couple of options here, but all of them ended in this basic (too relateable) awkwardness.

I was pretty pleased with the frequency of interaction present in the game and was fully engaged any time I turned it on. I always felt like I was interacting with the experience, rather than just letting it wash over me like some visual novels do.

Aside from the dialogue options, there are also various mini-games scattered throughout the experience. I liked the games, since they link directly into the story while still providing some variation. Each one I played was fun and simple, but I was a little annoyed that none came with any sort of directions. I was able to figure each out, because they really are simple, but I usually lost a couple of points while I figured out if I was supposed to click or use buttons or whatever. A bit more guidance would have great, especially to help out more casual audiences who don’t have as much background skill/experience with games.

Narrative and General Mood

I won’t get into any spoilers, but rest assured that the various stories in this game are great. I haven’t done all of the romance tracks yet, but the ones I’ve completed have been absolutely charming and contained pleasant surprises in character development and story progression. And for the non-date stuff, please see the gushing about Amanda above. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but I loved the story with her.

Sorry Cake.jpg
Oh, Amanda. I love you.

The best thing about Dream Daddy is the absolute joy that radiates from this game. It’s not always happy — sad things happen and there’s a fair bit of disappointment and sadness scattered throughout — but it’s always joyful. I always left the game feeling good, no matter how I was feeling when I started it. It made me laugh out loud more than any other game I’ve ever played and I loved spending time in its bright, candy-colored world.

CONCLUSION

If it’s not painfully obvious at this point, I highly recommend Dream Daddy to anyone who enjoys visual novels. And if you’re not sure if you like visual novels, it’s a pretty good introduction to the genre. Play it if you like comedy, romance, and cute dads.

Best Dad.jpg
Mat is Best Dad. Fight me.

 

 

Dream Daddy Is a Dream Come True

Praise for The Productivity Project

I’m a person who loves systems. I thrive on routines, plan for fun, and have tried more life hacks than you could shake a stick at. Because of this interest in organization, I’m a little bit hooked on “productivity porn.” I love seeing how other people organize their lives and shamelessly stealing aspects of their routines that I like.

One of my favorite sources to steal from is Cortex, a Relay.FM podcast hosted by Myke Hurley and CGP Grey. Both are “independent content creators” and the show covers various aspects of their working lives and how they stay productive. In one episode, Grey recommends The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey as a great productivity porn book, which I immediately placed a hold on at the library.

Me and everybody else in my area, it seems. I was on the wait list for over a month. But it was well worth the wait — I loved The Productivity Project.

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The book is a look at a year in Bailey’s life which he dedicated to studying productivity. He threw himself into productivity experiments and relates the entire experience in a way that is both helpful and humorous. Unlike many other productivity books on the market, The Productivity Project does not prescribe a certain approach or system, but rather provides an overview of many different systems and hacks that Bailey tried over the course of the project and a rundown of how they affected his productivity, as well on thoughts on why they either worked or didn’t.

Bailey’s writing is inviting and conversational rather than instructional or commanding, like so many time-management solution books slip into. I enjoyed it because I didn’t feel like Bailey was trying to get me to buy into any one approach, but rather laying out tools I could work into any system that I liked. And he wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel and create a system from scratch. It was just a guy trying out a bunch of stuff to see what worked and what didn’t, which I totally related to.

If you are at all interested in The Productivity Project, I recommend picking it up. It’s a quick read and a great resource that I think anyone bothering to read this review will like. If you’re the type of person who would grab a book called The Productivity Project, you’re set for a good time.

 

Praise for The Productivity Project

Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake: A Nancy Drew Review #7

Introduction

This is a post I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading. You see, Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake was the first Nancy Drew game I played and remains my favorite to date. It’s near and dear to my heart, which makes it pretty much impossible to view objectively. Fortunately, it wasn’t just my nostalgia coloring my fondness for the title. It holds up to the passage of time pretty well and remains a solid game.

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Not the most welcoming place to come spend the night alone.

Story

Nancy’s father’s friend, Sally McDonald, recently bought an old cabin to fix up in the Moon Lake area of Pennsylvania. It’s a beautiful area and a nature-lover’s paradise. But soon after buying the home, Sally started receiving terrifying visits from ghost dogs who attack the house. By time Nancy arrives to investigate, Sally has become so frightened that she’s left, leaving Nancy alone in the haunted old house.

Now, I realize that a cabin haunted by ghost dogs sounds really, really stupid, but Her Interactive has the skill to bring the idea to life. The first night you’re there, you experience one of their attacks, and it’s scary. Back when I was a kid, this was the first game I played that scared me. I didn’t know games could be scary, and it added a whole new dimension to the way I approached play.

Characters

At this point, Her Interactive has proved that it knows how to make great characters. Ghost Dogs‘s cast is no exception.

emily
Too bad I don’t like fishing. I’d like to be on Emily’s Wall of Fame.

Emily Griffen owns the general store Em’s Emporium. It has everything the tourist camper would need to enjoy his or her time on the lake, and many of the basic staples residents would need as well. She’s obsessed with combing the lake for Prohibition-era treasures, and firmly believes that Mickey Malone’s cabin houses valuable secrets.

I like Emily because she’s just so normal. She runs her business, has some strong opinions on what’s best for her community, wishes for more for herself, and is just living her life. She’s down-to-earth and easy to relate to.

Red Knott
For heaven’s sake, don’t scare the birds!

Red Knott is an avid birdwatcher who comes to Moon Lake every year. He hates tourists and doesn’t like Sally much, since her cabin — long abandoned — is right next to his stand. The loud renovations and general noise of living have scared away many of his precious birds, and he may have turned to extreme measures to rid the area of her.

 

Jeff Akres
Everyone loves a man in uniform.

Jeff Akers loves his job as a park ranger, which is good, since he’s the only one at Moon Lake. He strictly adheres to all rules and regulations, and takes a great deal of pleasure from making others adhere to them as well. He was desperately hoping that the parks department would purchase the land Sally’s cabin is situated on, expanding the size of the park and allowing for more tourism. Perhaps he wanted it badly enough to scare away the obstacle to his career success.

Puzzles

There are lots of different kinds of puzzles in this one, which help to make it so good. There are “arrange the things” puzzles, “find the things” puzzles, and “figure out how to fix the thing” puzzles. While this isn’t much different from other games in the series, there are a better-than-usual mix of the puzzle types. And a higher frequency of them in general. Rather than the game progressing due to overtly triggered events (here’s looking at you Stay Tuned for Danger), the plot moves forward based on Nancy’s ability to get puzzles solved. What I mean by this is, there’s more action on the player’s end and less dialogue tree manipulation and looking at the right thing at the right time. This makes everything feel more involved and fun.

New Features

Nothing new, which isn’t a bad thing. Her Interactive has found a system of features that works, and it’s sticking to what it knows it can do well. Nothing stands out as spectacular because everything works seamlessly, which is the best situation to be in, honestly.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of Nancy Drew or mystery games or looking to get your feet wet, Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake is an excellent gaming choice. In fact, I just replayed it myself AND found a copy to gift to my cousin-in-law who has started getting interested in puzzle gaming. If people are interested in the genre, I always recommend Ghost Dogs.

Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake: A Nancy Drew Review #7

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Sometimes a book comes into your life at just the right moment.

When a friend of mine recommended The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I was struggling with a bout of depression brought on by the winter holiday season. I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, so I’ve learned a lot of techniques to keep me above water during the bad times. But the holidays always trigger periods of severity for me, and this past December was my first without antidepressant medication in many, many years, so it was hard.

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was exactly what I needed to get through that time. The first of a trilogy, THTK serves as the introduction to a world that is a pleasure to get lost in. It’s hard to believe that the novel is the debut of author N.K. Jemisin, who shows a mastery of characterization, world-building, and stunning prose usually only visible in later-life works. I slipped into the city of Sky like a warm bath and was enthralled the entire time the book was in my hands.

I particularly loved the main character, Yeine. She’s a driven young woman who is strong, but not because she’s perfect. She suffers from the stress of being thrown into a strange, dangerous situation; the self-doubt that comes from not being completely sure of one’s identity; and the pangs of loneliness that come from being far from home. In other words, she’s emotionally vulnerable, and I loved her for it. Because that emotional vulnerability didn’t keep her from doing what she needed to do. And though it made her human, it didn’t make her weak.

I highly recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to anyone who enjoys fantasy. It has elements of both high/traditional- and urban- fantasy, so everyone has something they can enjoy. The best part? Despite its epic feel, it’s only a trilogy. And the whole trilogy is out right now for your binge-reading pleasure!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms