Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion

Developer/Publisher:  Her Interactive
Year Released:  2000

Review by Rosemary Young (November, 2000)
The timing of the release of this latest Nancy Drew mystery game from Her Interactive is perfect. It makes its appearance just as the festive season approaches when we are all super-organised and shopping around for that special something to buy for young computer users. Many parents and grandparents will be relieved to know that older kids need not graduate from painting and counting games to full-on madness and mayhem. The alternative is a game like Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion which is every bit as gripping only it relies on the player's powers of deduction and problem solving skills rather than their hand-eye coordination.

The Mansion
In this story Nancy is helping a family friend, Rose Green, to renovate a sumptuous, old Victorian Mansion in San Francisco, which is destined to be opened as a bed and breakfast guesthouse. Of course, hanging curtains and scraping walls are not the only things vying for Nancy's attention, as there's more to this mansion than meets the eye. It has some ghostly residents, perhaps, who are quite vocal after dark and may have caused the series of mishaps that have dogged the renovations. Or maybe the answer is more down to earth for no one is above suspicion. Not Abby, Rose's friend and business partner who speaks with those who have moved beyond; or Charlie, the handyman who mysteriously appeared on the doorstep to offer a helping hand, or Louis the resident 'expert' in antiquities who can't seem to trace any information on the background of the mansion. Even Rose herself has a possible motive for sharp detectives to uncover!

In this first person perspective adventure game the player once again has the opportunity to assume the character of Nancy Drew and sort out the mystery. This means a good deal of snooping around and interrogation to uncover the secrets of the small band of helpers. Poking into every nook and cranny is also crucial to dig up useful information in books and in documents that reveal the history of the mansion and introduce the long-ago occupants. There is so much to discover including secret rooms, locked trapdoors and grates that are stuck fast. And the ornate decoration that fills every room is not only deserving of admiration but it might also be more than it seems. As well as inviting this type of meticulous detective work the game offers a small collection of familiar abstract puzzles such as a tangram teaser, a maze, a sliding tile and a flipping tile puzzle. With Nancy's knack for uncovering mysteries this is surely one renovation job that isn't too much of a chore

Playing the game
Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion has two difficulty levels making it a great starter game for young players who will feel quite at home with the familiar maze and other abstract puzzles. The difficulty levels relate to the unique hint system that is seamlessly slipped into the game almost to the point of invisibility. Here I'm talking about the opportunity that Nancy has to ring her friends, discuss the 'case' and ask for their advice. If the player selects the Junior Detective option at the start of the game then the hints from Bess and George will be more generous than those available to a Senior Detective.

For anyone who has played the previous games the familiar theme music is back and the point and click interface supports 360 degree panning. The primary cursor is still a magnifying glass that flashes red when active and takes care of both actions and movement. I know, I've said it before, but I still think that a more versatile cursor would be more precise. It is sometimes disconcerting when you select an object to inspect but instead of inspecting it you pass right by because the glowing cursor indicated movement rather than action. In one particular location I had this problem in reverse when attempting to navigate through a doorway. Because of the proximity of an action hot spot, instead of walking through the doorway I literally kept closing the door.

Amazing graphics
The wayward cursor, however, doesn't spoil the game, it's just a mild irritation and only then occasionally. As we have come to expect from the people at Her Interactive, the graphics are truly amazing, so rich and detailed and more than capable of showing off the plush Victorian decor. The house is absolutely fascinating to explore, especially with all the hidden secrets that reward the diligent detective. Ok so I didn't get my wish for the Nancy Drew series to adopt a new, more versatile cursor but I did have one very important wish come true. Nancy Drew now has captions throughout, even significant sounds are captioned. This means that it is perfectly playable by hard of hearing players or anyone else who relies on text translations.

Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion is the third title in this highly acclaimed Nancy Drew computer game series. The first one, Secrets Can Kill, was a very good introduction; the second, Stay Tuned for Danger, was considerably improved and much more intricate, and this latest effort, Message in a Haunted Mansion, continues the fine tradition. Although this series is aimed towards pre-teen and teenage girls it is nevertheless eminently playable by anyone in this age group who enjoys a good mystery. The complexity of the story and puzzles is just about right to challenge young players and carry them along on a mysterious adventure. The Nancy Drew games have also gathered a collection of 'older' fans who just can't resist their charms so this is surely a game that all the family can get together and play. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2000. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME or Windows 2000 166 MHz Pentium Processor (200 MHz recommended) 16 MB of RAM, 16-bit color graphics video card 16-bit windows-compatible stereo sound card, 8x CD-ROM Drive, Mouse and Speakers.