Nancy Drew: Danger by Design
When I click on the Nancy Drew icon to start yet another Nancy Drew mystery I feel a bit like Pavlov's dog these days. That familiar Nancy Drew theme rings out and I smile on cue. The music ought to be familiar by now as Nancy Drew: Danger by Design is the 14th game in the Nancy Drew series. There's a lot more that's familiar in this game too, maybe a bit too much of some bits and not enough of others, but it all adds up to another mostly enjoyable adventure.
Once again Ms Drew is on a case, and she's off to Paris this time. She's been asked by Amy Grunhild to join the team at Minette's House of Design as an assistant. Well that's the 'official' reason for taking up the position, the real reason is to keep an eye on Minette herself as she's been acting strangely lately: sacking staff willy nilly, throwing temper tantrums, not to mention wearing a white face mask all day long. She's woefully behind in her work and Nancy is charged with investigating the matter. Will Minette's Spring Collection be ready on time, and what about her couture projects?
Minette's House of Design is located in an old moulin (windmill) in the Montmartre district of Paris, and it's not long before Nancy is digging into the past of the previous owner and uncovering a trail of romance and intrigue involving the French Resistance and rumours of missing treasure.
Solving mysteries, of course, means a lot of diligent detective work and puzzling, and Nancy Drew: Danger by Design serves up a good supply of challenges. Along with chasing up and following a trail of clues in books and other documents, there are several puzzles of the abstract variety (turning dials, moving counters), several that work on a process of elimination, plus a couple of codes to break which sneak in some lessons in deciphering.
So far so good, but there are other challenges that might cause frustration because there is every chance of multiple failures. Working blind in a darkroom, for instance, can lead to accidents — reload and try again. There is also a timed maze of underwater tunnels where running out of air means more reloading and repeating. Careful mapping is a good idea here. Other possible stumbling blocks are the timed matching puzzle and the stylised fighting sequence at the end which requires quick reflexes. Catching cockroaches also requires some quick movement, but there is plenty of time to take care of that chore.
And speaking of chores, there are three of the food preparation variety which is a bit too much of the same for one game, although following the instructions for making tea was an entertaining challenge just the same. I had some fun with this one.
In this game Nancy gets from place to place using the Paris Metro system. Luckily she gets a free pass because she will have to manage her money supply. There are a few things to buy in the game, and visiting the catacombs costs as well, so an empty purse won't be helpful. This never happened to me but there is a way to top up Nancy's money supply by completing a particular activity, which can be repeated as often as necessary. This activity is a bit of fun for younger players who might not be so adept at managing money, although a bit more variety in the activity wouldn't have gone astray.
Nancy Drew: Danger by Design has the usual Junior and Senior mode to adjust the difficulty for different age groups. In Junior mode a couple of the puzzles are simplified and there are more hints available via telephone as Nancy can again call her friends for help. There are ample save games, though they aren't limitless, and there is also the very handy 'Second Chance' option which takes you back to the brink of your mistake if you fail in some action. This means if you haven't saved recently you don't have to repeat huge sections of play if Nancy loses her job or her life. Very useful on this adventure as Nancy is likely to have a few failures along the way.
As usual the graphics are very good, not flashy full 3D, but they are colourful and detailed and work extremely well. The characters are an interesting bunch and the excellent dialogue and voice acting carry them off effectively. As with all Nancy Drew games, all the dialogue is subtitled and even important background noises are put into words so that when the phone rings players are alerted in the dialogue box. Great for deaf players, especially as one of Nancy's duties is answering the phone.
The mellow background music is easy on the ear and repeats throughout the game. It's livened up by intermittent ambient sounds in each location. In the office the keyboard clatters, in the park birds chirp and coo, and water drips in the catacombs.
The game engine is the same one used in other Nancy Drew games so fans of this series will be right at home with the point and click interface, and newcomers will be experts in a jiffy as Nancy Drew: Danger by Design has the usual tutorial covering the basics of the interface. Here the inventory is the one thing that could do with some tweaking or streamlining so that it doesn't require opening and closing to get items and put them away again. Usually this doesn't worry me but on this occasion there are quite a few documents to collect. With no name tag for items in the open inventory, finding the correct document can mean a lot of inventory opening and closing in search of the right one. Adding name tags to inventory items would also help here.
Although there are lots of things to do, Nancy Drew: Danger by Design does err on the side of situational challenges: making tea, catching cockroaches, cooking cakes, etc. More challenges relating to the story rather than the situation would have added balance and worked better. More opportunities for Nancy to put her detecting skills to the test, more clues to find to develop the plot. This could have added complexity to the story and kept it in focus. In this way Nancy could have learned more so that the denouement needn't have answered so many questions.
Despite these quibbles there's nevertheless a lot of good puzzling in this game. There's a lot of tricky challenges for armchair detectives to sink their teeth into, although younger players might need a bit of help occasionally, especially with the deciphering. There's some educational content too, with a bit of background on the French Resistance and it meshes right in with the game. Oh yes, and there's an underlying message as well, as Minette designs clothes for larger women — well size 12 and up.
Though it's not the best of the Nancy Drew titles, there's a lot to like here for Nancy Drew fans. Nancy will surely entertain on this adventure and keep her fans coming back for more.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2006.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98 / Me / 2000 / XP, 1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent, 128 MB RAM, 650 MB Hard Drive Space, 32MB DirectX compatible video card, 16 bit DirectX compatible sound card, 24x CD-ROM Drive, Mouse and Speakers.