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.

Andy Jason.PNG

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

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

Please Don’t Touch Anything: The Game with the Big Red Button

Please Don’t Touch Anything is a tiny game that looks really boring at first. The entire thing takes place in one room — really just a desk in a room — so there’s just one screen. You can’t move or look around, just stare at this bland, industrial-looking desk and wall with a screen on it. The only exciting thing is this big red button.

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Screenshot from the Please Don’t Touch Anything Steam store page.

An irresistible big red button. A button you just have to press, even though the game tells you not to. Even though the very title of the game tells you not to. But that’s all you can do.

Then the whole game opens up as a beautiful little gem of a mystery puzzler.

I love games where the whole game is pretty much just figuring out what the game is. No tutorials, no guidance, just a whole lot of trial and error. Please Don’t Touch Anything is a great example of this format. And it lends itself well to playing in short chunks, rather than long sessions, because there are a bunch of different endings that happen when you go through that trial and error process. I’ve “beat” the game quite a few times now, and each time took me a maximum of 15 minutes.

I hesitate to say anything else about the game, because the joy of it lies in the unfolding, but if your curiosity is roused, here’s the Steam page. I’d recommend it to puzzle fans, especially those who are looking for something to play in those odd pockets of time where you want to play a game, but don’t have much time to devote to the session.

Please Don’t Touch Anything: The Game with the Big Red Button

Secret of the Scarlet Hand: A Nancy Drew Review #6

Introduction

I remember hating Secret of the Scarlet Hand when I was younger, though I can’t remember why. I was dreading its approach in the queue, but was pleasantly surprised with my actual experience. I suppose the deeply historical subject matter was just a little too dry for my taste back in the day.

 

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promotional art from HerInteractive.com

Story

After the harrowing experience of seeing her friend kidnapped in The Final Scene, Nancy craves a summer of normalcy. Using her dad’s contacts, she snags a summer internship at the Beech Hill Museum in Washington, D.C. to help them prepare for their special exhibition on the Maya.

As the museum is preparing for opening night, one of its prize pieces — an incredibly rare and valuable jade carving — is stolen. The thief left behind a cryptic note consisting of ancient glyphs and a ghoulish red hand-print. In order to avoid scandal, the museum’s Board of Directors asks Nancy to work on the case.

All in all, the story of Scarlet Hand is great fun and fairly believable. Nancy is the type of character who would excel at curatorial work, and solving a modern mystery with historical implications winds up being much more entertaining than it sounds. In fact, I think I learned more about the Maya from playing Scarlet Hand than I ever did in school — and had a great time doing it. I know that it wouldn’t be a game if there weren’t a mystery involved, but it seems a shame that Nancy doesn’t get to have a normal internship with the museum. Everything about the position seems right for her.

 

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Characters

Scarlet Hand has a great cast of characters. There are the four main suspects that drive the interaction in the game, but there are also a number of other characters to speak to as well. The scope of the mystery has Nancy speaking with museum curators, post-modern artists, wealthy philanthropists, and even smugglers. Unlike many of the other games, the phone is not just for calling Bess and George. In fact, I barely called Bess and George during this one.

 

Joanna
Beech Hill’s curator, Joanna Riggs, is passionate about her job and enthusiastic about the upcoming Maya exhibit. However, her excitement comes with a fair amount of stress, which she occasionally unleashes on Nancy. As someone who has done event planning, I understand.

 

Henrik
Henrik van der Hune is the resident expert on Maya glyphs and dropped everything to come work on translating Beech Hill’s newly acquired monolith. I really liked Henrik because he’s obviously super intelligent and it would have been easy for the game designers to paint him as an aloof or holier-than-thou scholar. Goodness knows a lot of people who are the top of their field appear that way in media. But Henrik never gets impatient with Nancy’s questions and encourages her to learn as much as she can about the Maya culture he cares so much about. His lovely voice doesn’t hurt his charm either.

 

Alejandro

The anticipated success of Beech Hill’s monolith unveiling means that Mexico has a vested interest in what’s going on. Alejandro del Rio is an ambassador to the Mexican Consulate and has a hand in making sure everything Beech Hill does with Mexican artifacts is on the up-and-up. He’s mistrustful of American museums due to the long history of shady dealings in Mexican antiquities and feels that his country has been robbed of important aspects of its heritage. His passion is infectious, but sometimes becomes overwhelming and — under the circumstances — suspicious.

 

Sinclair
The art dealer, Taylor Sinclair, is my least favorite character in the game. He just feels too broadly drawn, too reliant on art dealer stereotypes. He sees art and artifacts only in terms of their monetary value, not their beauty or cultural significance. I’m so tired of seeing this stereotype and never any art dealers that are genuinely excited by art. His ugly tie did nothing to endear him to me either.

Scarlet Hand does a great job of keeping suspicion spread across the characters without pointing the finger towards any one in particular. But it also felt perfectly natural when the perpetrator was revealed.

 

Puzzles

Scarlet Hand”s puzzle elements are restricted to Beech Hill, mostly in the form of mini-games. The museum features a temple full of games that guests can play through in order to see more artifacts and exhibits. It’s a cool idea, but I didn’t enjoy it. I prefer puzzles that involve logic or object manipulation, but Scarlet Hand’s puzzles are mostly data entry. You go around and explore the museum for answers to trivia games. The nice thing about the data-entry style is that I never got absurdly stuck on a puzzle, because I knew I’d be able to find the answer somewhere.

 

New Features

Nancy got a laptop! It’s not that big of a deal, because it’s basically only used to read a couple of floppy disks (how cute) hidden around the game, but still. It’s a move to get Nancy up with the times. And it’s a feature that will stick around and be expanded upon later in the series.

Nancy Laptop
image from luxembourgish.wordpress.com

 

Technical Difficulties

As with the rest of the ND games thus far, I had some difficulty installing the game. I claim no technical knowledge of why it happens, but these older games have a hard time running on new computers. Fortunately, as with the others, it was an easy fix. I just typed “pathing error on Nancy Drew game” into Google, and it took me to a page on HerInteractive.com with instructions on how to fix the problem. Easy-peasy.

Once installed, I had only one other major issue with the game: it just stopped running. This only happened once and honestly, wouldn’t have been a very big deal if I hadn’t been stupid. You see, I had played for about three hours without saving. Like a dummy. So I lost all that I’d done. Like a dummy. Fortunately, I really like taking good notes. I replayed the first chunk of the game at warp speed.
There were a number of minor issues, mostly with the syncing of audio and visual elements of the game. More often than not, speaking to other characters would knock the video behind the audio, leading to some awkward moments of silence while the character finished displaying what they had to say. It didn’t affect gameplay and I was mostly able to ignore it, but it did get jarring at times, particularly if a character gestured while they spoke. 

Final Thoughts

Scarlet Hand was a lot of fun to replay. Though it’s not as strong or iconic as some of the other games in the series, it’s solid. If you’ve never played it or haven’t played it in a while, it’s definitely worth a shot, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the series.

Secret of the Scarlet Hand: A Nancy Drew Review #6