I said it on Twitter a few days ago, that this week I was going to name-drop or speak of HeR Interactive‘s Nancy Drew series quite a bit, because it’s the only thing I’ve been playing lately. I wrote last week’s article on how some Nancy Drew games surprised me with their fantastic handling of horror material and someone dropped a lovely comment and said I should have waited until playing Nancy Drew: The Ghost at Thornton Hall, the scariest game in the series apparently.
The truth is I’d have loved doing just that but monetary restrictions prohibited that. In other words, too broke to buy that game. So, instead I decided to go back to the first games in the series, as I began with The White Wolf at Icicle Creek, the 16th entry in the Nancy Drew series, and which, as I’ve mentioned several times now, I had seen on the YouTube channel Game Grumps.
Around Christmas I bought most of the Nancy Drew games in a bundle, missing only a fair few, and with Wikipedia offering a handy list of earlier entries in the series, I tracked down the earliest possible title—that I owned—and picked it up from there. That title is the remastered version of Nancy Drew: Secrets can Kill.
Since then, I’ve gone through quite a few titles back to back. These are the games I’ve played so far:
- Secrets can Kill
- The Secret of the Scarlet Hand
- Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake
- The Haunted Carousel
- Danger on Deception Island
- The Secret of Shadow Ranch
I think that’s an impressive amount of games to finish in a week or so. I am, at this moment, playing through the next one in the series, The Curse of Blackmoor Manor, and thoroughly enjoying its complex puzzles and creepy child designs—seriously, that kid is evil, she looks demonic.
Nancy Drew: Secrets can Kill is perhaps the most straightforward of all games, with a clear case and goal, no side-tracking investigations or treasure hunts that somehow play into the plot. Ok, it does have some weirdness on the victim’s messages referring to their murderer. You could assume the character merely knew of the dangers but when you hear and read his messages he’s extremely cocky and confident, which clashes with those references.
But the coolest thing about it is that you can finish the game very swiftly if you pay attention to the clues and they’re all around you, with only a few needing some triggered sequences to obtain them. You find them as coded messages on the many school announcement boards, and by combining them and thoroughly annoying and antagonising the other students, you push forward.
Also, the solution to the final puzzle and which saves Nancy’s life is completely bonkers. I can appreciate that.
Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Scarlet Hand does something I adore in Adventure games, the mixing of real historical and cultural sources with the story they’re trying to tell, in this case it being ancient Maya culture and society. They had me at Mayan.
The Secret of the Scarlet Hand has some issues, such as its astonishingly dumb villain. But overall, it’s pretty strong, with some really cool puzzles based on the exhibits in the museum where it all takes place. It also introduces a character I have now seen many references to, the latest of which was in Tomb of the Lost Queen.
Also, in this title I proved that my Gamer Memory is still flawless. Several moments ask you to use the Maya numerical system, which is something I learned a couple of years ago while playing the Tex Murphy series. One of the titles has puzzles on Mayan numerals.
As for The Haunted Carousel, it’s the emotional story of Joy, her mother and her father and how you help her connect with her past by solving the riddles her father left with Miles the Magnificent Memory Machine! It’s phenomenal stuff.
When it comes to Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch, it’s the constant repetition that kills the game for me. Every time you want to leave, you must pick up the saddle and put it on the horse and put it away when you’re done. But before that, it’s the picking of ripe fruit and veggies and eggs. They’re chores and they drain the life and fun out of the game for me.
I have no problem with doing each once, but it’s the kind of minutiae the game should gloss over afterwards, just assuming you’re doing them. Especially in a game where you’re traveling between locations as often as you do in this one. It just kills the momentum when you’re excited about that new puzzle you can solve, leave the stables and suddenly you get a cutscene giving you a game over for forgetting to put the saddle away. In the face of the adventure, it should not matter as much.
The second thing that killed Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch for me was Tex. I so wanted to reach in, beat the ever-loving crap out of him and tell him some choice words, before or after the beating. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to kill him. Game over by anal cowboy is one step too far for me.
Took this Nancy Drew game to show me what I won’t tolerate from NPCs. Never have I loudly cursed at the screen when a character even took an impolite tone with me, but Tex made me reach that level.
But it’s not all been bad, not every NPC is an insufferable cowboy, and as I’ve said, I’ve come to love this series, and at the end of each day in the past few weeks I can’t wait to jump back into the latest mystery and see what will tax my brain.
I love how this series makes me pay attention to everything characters say. In the Nancy Drew series, you can’t assume that the character will make detailed notes of what people tell her or the things she sees. Hell, in many instances your puzzle is a scribble on a piece of paper, a crucial clue that will lead you closer to the underlying mystery, and there is no interface to translate it.
You need to keep notes, write things down in pen and paper. It’s something I did once in the past but as games began taking care of these things for you, to make things easier, I never did again. Until now. I have entire sheets of paper (folded in half to make little notebooks) with notes on every title. From the meaning of the different God symbols for Maya numerology and the order in which some exhibit audio files should play to the meaning of runic alphabets.
After a while it becomes just another natural part of the gaming experience and the Nancy Drew series trains you to easily and quickly identify things that might become clues somewhere down the line. In the earliest of gamers, Secrets can Kill and The Secret of the Scarlet Hand, Nancy made no notes of phone numbers given to her and so I wrote them down. Moving forward and even if that changed and Nancy did me the favour of inputting the numbers into her mobile phone, I still wrote the numbers down, trained to pick up clues and make careful notes.
One thing people find out about me very soon, when they meet me, is that I have perhaps boundless curiosity. I like asking questions, and I like discovering and learning new things (not everything mind you, there are topics which bore me to tears and I have no desire for). As I mentioned, the Nancy Drew games often mix world history and folklore with their games, becoming the basis for not only their stories but also their puzzles, a trait they share with the Gabriel Knight series, which has always been one of my favourites.
And so, the Nancy Drew games have given me so many new things to learn and given me many opportunities to use the “world knowledge” I’ve acquired over the years for puzzle solving. The Maya numerals are an example, but there are more, the simplest being Roman numerals and measurements equivalences (pints to cups, tablespoons to teaspoons). With HeR Interactive using facts for these elements and not making them up, you have the rare opportunity of using real life knowledge to solve complex video game riddles.
And that is extremely cool.
I have many games to play still and perhaps next week I’ll do a round of reviews on the games I’ve played so far, firing off on the pros and cons of each title in rapid fashion.
Tomorrow evening I will be broadcasting my playthrough of Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock on the Lawful Geek channel. It’s been a while since I’ve playing anything on Twitch, been too busy and tired, but I can’t think of anything better for a Friday than a relaxing point & click adventure game.
Also, I may get in touch with HeR Interactive and probe their minds in an interview!