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

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

Introduction

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

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

Story

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

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

Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jeff Akres
Everyone loves a man in uniform.

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

Puzzles

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

New Features

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

The 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