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.

THC Cell Phone.PNG

 

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

 

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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

The Final Scene: A Nancy Drew Review #5

I completely forgot about The Final Scene when I was thinking about starting this review project and it surprised me when it came up in the queue.  The only reason I could think of for my memory lapse was the fact that The Final Scene happened to follow Treasure in the Royal Tower, so it gets overshadowed, despite its solid gameplay and story.

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Promotional art from HerInteractive.com

The Backstory

Nancy travels to St. Louis to accompany her friend from high school, Maya Nguyen, on a journalism assignment for her university paper. Maya has been asked to interview Brady Armstrong about his role in the film Vanishing Destiny, the last event to take place at the historic Royal Palladium theater before it is scheduled to be torn down. When Maya enters a room alone, she is kidnapped from right beneath Nancy’s nose! Maya’s kidnapper is holding her somewhere in the building in an attempt to keep the building from being destroyed and it’s up to Nancy to find her before it’s too late.

 

Atmosphere and Gameplay

The Royal Palladium Theater is a beautiful building filled with hidden passageways, secret rooms, and the secrets to magicians’ tricks. I thoroughly enjoyed my time running around the area, snooping for the next hidden thing. The space is small enough to avoid having to travel between areas, but large enough to feel like a full-fledged experience, creating an overall fantastic space for exploration and play. The game’s music also continues to be top-notch, building on Treasure in the Royal Tower‘s introduction of excellent audio elements to the series. It’s hard to find background music that is exciting enough to be worth listening to without being distracting, but Her Interactive has nailed it two games in a row.

But it’s not all fun and games while exploring the theater. The impending demolition creates a time crunch that is all too obvious while playing the game. Rather than seeing the in-game time on Nancy’s pocket-watch like all the preceding titles, you see what day it is. This serves as a constant reminder that you don’t have the time you need to solve the case. Pair that with the reminders from other characters that time is running low, and you’ve created an adrenaline-soaked rush to save your friend.

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At least, that’s the idea. The game won’t move forward until you’ve done everything you need to do in order to get to the next point in the story, so if you get stuck, you’re stuck. Then the time limit begins to feel arbitrary. There’s no true rush because you know that the time a “day” takes is not based off of any real measure of time. Instead, it’s a measure of actions.

I have no idea how the developers could have gone about this another way to ramp up the tension. My initial thought was to let me fail if I didn’t do everything I needed to and make me suffer the consequences, but I squashed that almost immediately. The Nancy Drew games aren’t geared toward an audience that would appreciate getting to the end of the game only to find out they got the “bad ending.” I enjoy games like that, but I also realize that I would be in the teeniest of minorities in the Nancy Drew fan club.

Characters

Maya

Maya Nguyen: Nancy’s high school friend and main contact in St. Louis. Maya is working as a reporter for her campus paper and invites Nancy along to her interview with Brady Armstrong, star of the recent film Vanishing Destiny. Her kidnapping sets off the events of the game, and her absence means we don’t learn much about her as a character.

Brady

Brady Armstrong: Brady is a “wholesomely smoldering” actor with a large fan base. Series veterans will see echoes of Rick Arlen from Stay Tuned for Danger in his character model and mannerisms, but Brady feels much more realistic and likable.

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Simone Mueller: Simone eats, lives, and breathes her job as Brady’s manager, and views Maya’s kidnapping as a great opportunity to get her client into the public eye. Simone is always on the phone and her interpersonal skills are practically non-existent, but that doesn’t bother her. She’s a powerful woman and she knows it. Despite her abrasiveness, I really liked her character design.

 Joseph Hughes

Joseph Hughes: Joseph has been the caretaker of the Royal Palladium for as long as anyone can remember, but he doesn’t seem terribly upset about its destruction. He is always there to offer Nancy a helping hand in finding Maya, and seems to be the only one to share Nancy’s concern for Maya’s well-being. He is instantly likeable and quickly became my go-to person when I would get a little stuck.

 Falcone

Nicholas Falcone: Falcone is the leader of H.A.D. I.T. — Humans Against the Destruction of Illustrious Theaters — the organization that is desperately protesting against the Royal Palladium’s upcoming demise. His revolutionary streak can be a little overdone, but overall the game does a good job of balancing his hopefulness and desperation.

What Makes This One Special

So far, Nancy has had a personal connection to each of her cases — usually because her host/hostess is a friend of the family — but this is by far the most personal case she has been involved in. Her friend is kidnapped practically in front of her and she feels that she’s the only one who can do something about it. This personal aspect, paired with the time limit of the theater’s destruction, makes for an intense and emotional storyline.

Because of this, Nancy is downright sassy in this game. Or she can be, if you go with the right dialog options. Even my husband noticed her new-found spunk and commented on it while I played. I loved this. It went against the wholesome, unassuming but brilliant heroine that I had always pictured in the Nancy Drew books, but it felt right. She’s a driven young woman who’s been having to make her way in a traditionally male world of investigation. Of course she’s got a core of slow-burning rage that pops out every once in a while! And if having a friend kidnapped and then no one believe that it’s a big deal doesn’t set off that dormant volcano of delicious rage-lava, I don’t know what would!

Conclusion

Though I didn’t love The Final Scene quite as much as Treasure in the Royal Tower, it’s certainly not a title to be sneezed at. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed that I didn’t remember this one right away, because I loved playing through it. If you have the game and haven’t picked it up in a while, go ahead and give it another whirl. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Final Scene: A Nancy Drew Review #5