Curse of Blackmoor Manor: A Nancy Drew Review #11

Introduction

Ah, Curse of Blackmoor Manor. This was the first game I remember both my mom and I playing, swapping puzzle tips. It holds a lot of fond memories for me.

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Story

Linda, the daughter of Nancy’s next-door neighbor, recently moved to London and married Hugh Penvellyn, a successful ambassador. The couple recently moved into the Penvellyn Estate, Blackmoor Manor. Soon after moving to the beautiful and historically rich manor, Linda was taken by a strange illness. Nancy has been sent by her neighbor to investigate and help in whatever way she can.

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Characters

Mrs. Petrov and Hugh Penvellyn, both of whom asked Nancy to come and help out with Linda, are unseen characters. Linda’s mom is at home in the States, while Hugh is off being an ambassador.

Linda (Petrov) Penvellyn is the most mysterious character in the game and the impetus for the entire story. Shortly after moving into Blackmoor Manor, she became ill with symptoms she doesn’t like to discuss. She refuses to be seen, and the few conversations she’s willing to have take place behind a thick bed curtain. She’s convinced she’s not ill, but cursed. Could she really be transforming into the legendary Beast of Blackmoor?

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Jane Penvellyn is Hugh’s daughter from his previous marriage. She’s bright and loves to play games when she’s not in her studies, but her loneliness is obvious. Being schooled at the manor keeps her separated from her peers, her father is often out of the country, her mother lives in Paris, and Linda is completely occupied with her illness. The only real interaction she has with anyone besides Nancy is with Ethel, her tutor.

Screenshot 2016-04-07 19.04.09Ethel Bossiny tutors Jane, as the Bossinys have tutored the Penvellyns for centuries. She’s not particularly talkative, since most of her time at the manor is spent in lessons with Jane, then she leaves. But she does show up occasionally, and always in places you wouldn’t expect. Pair that with her odd lesson focuses, and you’ve got quite the suspicious character.

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Mrs. Drake is Hugh’s aunt, who has been living in the manor for years. She doesn’t believe in the dark tales surrounding the manor, and thinks you would do well to ignore such nonsense, thank you very much. She is slightly worried about Linda, but thinks she’s just being overdramatic, so her sympathy is limited. Instead, most of her warmth is reserved for her large collection of exotic plants.

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Nigel Mookerjee is a writer who’s determined to spread the as-yet untold story of the Penvellyn family. Mrs. Drake has allowed him full reign of the library for his research, but he seems much more interested in rumor and scandal than true family history. He is particularly interested in the Penvellyn family treasure and may just be clever enough to sicken Linda in order to chase the family off the property.

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LouLou is a parrot that has been in the Penvellyn family for a long time. She’s old and clever, and is a great resource for hints and information about the castle and its secrets. Plus she’s really cute.

Gameplay

CoBM continues the strong gameplay mechanics of Secret of Shadow Ranch, which is definitely a plus. Nancy still has her semi-smart phone, her notebook with tasks and observations, and a subdivided inventory screen. All the features continue to “just work” without getting in the way of the game.

The atmospheric manor makes a great backdrop for a game, and it’s a grand time exploring all its various nooks and crannies. I became occasionally frustrated by the amount of running back and forth required to do a lot of the puzzles, but since everything takes place within the manor, it never took very long.

Going purely on gut feelings and no real facts at all, CoBM is the longest game of the series so far. Towards the end of the game, I was certainly ready for it to be over so I could move on, as the manor was becoming all-too familiar.

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What Makes This One Special

No new features are present in CoBM, but that’s ok. Secret of Shadow Ranch revolutionized the way the series is presented, and having two games to settle into those features works well.

Recommendation

Definitely give Curse of Blackmoor Manor a spin if you haven’t already. It’s a great game with excellent puzzles, and only mildly frustrating travel mechanics (I’m still not quite over Danger on Deception Island yet). It’s perfect for those who are familiar with the point-and-click mystery genre, but also a great hook for those who haven’t yet played them.

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

Curse of Blackmoor Manor: A Nancy Drew Review #11

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

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

Purrfect Date

A dear friend of mine was over one day last month and showed me this trailer on Steam:

We had a laugh about it and moved on to other things. But I couldn’t stop humming the song. Then we started drinking. Then I really couldn’t stop humming the song, so we watched the trailer again. Then another trailer. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, Purrfect Date was in my Steam library.

Obviously, I bought this game on a lark and while in an impaired state. It was a joke more than it was any real desire to play a cat dating sim. But when we put it on and started playing (reading?), we were both hooked.

As it turns out, Purrfect Date tells a good story. It’s charming and lovable on the surface (cute animation! cats!) but hides a mystery you can sink your teeth into.

Purrfect Date_New Unlocks
I promise there’s a good story behind all this cuteness.

Aesthetics

The first thing players will notice about the game is its distinct look. It’s bright and colorful, like many other dating sims, but the art style used is unique. Everything feels distinctive and the characters, both human and cat, all have their own visual personality. Unlike many other dating sims, what’s on the screen doesn’t feel clipped from an anime or manga. And while I like the anime look (I thought Doki Doki Literature Club’s girls were adorable), it was nice to break out of that feel.

Purrfect Dates_Meet the Cats
McMurphy’s my favorite.

Gameplay

Purrfect Date’s structure is also different from many other visual novels I’ve played. Rather than starting a story immediately as a predetermined character, players first choose a character. While the difference is mostly in the character’s portrait rather than any major personality traits that affect the game’s story, it was still nice to have a choice.

Throughout the game, players also choose how to divvy up their time. At any time, the player can choose to spend energy and either:

  1. Rest – restore energy
  2. Date – interact with and get closer to a cat of their choosing
  3. Research – do their job as a scientific intern
  4. Recon – complete a mission to discover more information on the main goal

 

Purrfect Date_Time Management.jpg
It’s a simple life on Cat Island.

This time system was interesting, but also felt very strange. There are only so many “slots” available in each category, and once those slots are used, that category is done. While it all worked out overall, I was very confused by the system at first and felt that I was going to miss most of the game. My worry about the system tainted the first chunk of gameplay. 

I was also slightly disappointed in the dating aspect of this dating sim. There are multiple cats your character can choose to spend time with, but once you hang out with one, your other options disappear. Again, this all works out in the long run, so it’s not really much to worry about, but it’s not really possible to hang out with all the cats and learn their personality types before choosing which to attach the character to. I wanted to play matchmaker and pair off my character with a cat that suited them, but I wound up having to go with my gut and chill with the cat that I clicked on first. This makes the experience feel like it’s on rails, rather than largely choice-based.

Purrfect Date_Cat Choice
Since I chose to meet with Snooty Booty first, McMurphy is now lost to me.

Final Thoughts

If you think you may like Purrfect Date, I would go ahead and give it a shot (here’s the Steam store link). I know it can seem kind of strange to want to play a dating sim where you’re dating cats, but it’s really not that weird in the game and I never felt uncomfortable, despite being a bit worried that I would.

People who enjoy simple dating sims will probably like this one, as there’s not a lot of game mechanic “meat” behind it. However, if you like having a lot of freedom to muck about and change your mind, you probably won’t like that this one is pretty linear. I had a great time and will probably wind up returning to this one to get the Steam achievements I missed on my first go-round.

Purrfect Date