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.

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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

Doki Doki Literature Club: A Cautious Recommendation

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I really want to write about Doki Doki Literature Club — it had quite an effect on me and I want to recommend it to others — but I just don’t know how to go about this.

Let’s start with the basics. What is Doki Doki Literature Club? It’s a visual novel/dating sim in which you play as a high school boy who needs to join an after-school club and winds up in the school’s Literature Club, along with four cute single girls. But I can’t say any more than that. Here’s the trailer if you want a little more:

Doki Doki Literature Club is one of those things whose beauty lies in the unfolding. The less you know going in, the better. So don’t look anything up. Step on in without a map.

But do be cautious: The game contains multiple content warnings for a reason. The developers are not messing around when they say the game is not for children and contains disturbing content. There is content that is horrific on a level that got past the hard shell of cynicism and expectation that I bring to gaming. If you don’t want things messing with your head, you should skip this one. Also, be particularly careful if you have depression or anxiety. This game creates a bad headspace that can take some time to recover from.

But, if you’re feeling strong and willing, definitely give Doki Doki a go. It’s free on Steam and takes about 3 hours. Go play, then come back and let me know what you thought.

Doki Doki Literature Club: A Cautious Recommendation

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

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

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Promotional image from HerInteractive.com

Story

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

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

Gameplay & Atmosphere

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

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promotional wallpaper from HerInteractive.com

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

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image from HerInteractive.com

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

Characters

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

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

Dexter Egan

Dexter1
image from ardnek-nancydrewgames.blogspot.com

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

Jacques Brunais

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image from adventurelantern.com

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

Lisa Ostrum

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image from nancydrewpcreview.blogspot.com

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

Professor Beatrice Hotchkiss

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image from thenancydrew.wikia.com

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

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

Recommendation

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

 

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

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

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

Story

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

Characters

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

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

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

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

Abby

Gameplay

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

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

Recommendation

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

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

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