Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull
Released late last year, Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull is number 17 in this sleuthing series for players aged 10 and above. It's first person perspective with a familiar point and click interface, if you've played any of the other games in the series then you'll be right at home here. If you haven't, the game offers a tutorial to take you through the basics and set you on the road to solving the mystery. There is also the usual Senior and Junior Detective modes with more help available for the latter to cater for a range of players.
On this occasion Nancy doesn't work undercover, or even set out to solve a mystery, although it's not long before she trips over one. Along with Bess she sets off for New Orleans 'for a long weekend of fabulous music, sightseeing and food'. The catch is, Ned has asked her to pop in and visit his friend Henry Bolet. Henry's great uncle has recently died so he might be in need of a little company. Well it just so happens he already has 'company' when Nancy arrives. She walks though the door and surprises an intruder disguised in a skeleton costume. She's knocked out with a smoke bomb, and then (with a little help from you) she takes it from there and vows to discover what's happening.
It's a good challenge involving, of course, an elusive crystal skull. A large part of the game is concerned with searching for a collection of glass eyes that provide a vital clue. Only a few eyes are there for the taking, finding the rest depends upon gleaning clues from various documents and completing puzzles and games. There is a fair amount of reading to do and playing with words (or should that be names?) and their sounds is important in one multi-layered challenge. This one was a bit too long and repetitive but the pay-off for your patience is a good dose of satisfaction.
Other challenges involve 'reading' symbols, judging angles, moving shapes and counters on a board, and there is one quick reflex shooting game thrown in for good measure — either that or specifically to annoy many players. It's a good length game so the list of challenges is a long one. Some of them are quite novel, others we've seen before, but they are mostly an entertaining bunch.
Another one worth mentioning is the Rube Goldberg-type challenge which is fun but it took me a while to 'twig', and there are a couple of music puzzles too and very wisely the developers have identified the notes in text, so there's no problem if you lack musical aptitude or knowledge. This acknowledgement of the musically inept goes hand in hand with the care taken to include deaf and hard of hearing players as every word and important sound appear in text.
So, along with the exploration there's plenty of variety in the puzzles — something for everyone, although I suspect that some players at the younger end of the targeted age group might need help occasionally. Even on Junior Mode where a few of the manipulative puzzles are less complicated, and where there is a check list to follow, plus tips from Ned if you telephone him, the game still holds some tricky challenges. A couple stumped me for a while. Especially on Junior mode, maybe Nancy could have remarked on the objective of a couple of the puzzles to point players in the right direction. Also, as I've said before in previous reviews of this Nancy Drew series, an easier way to identify inventory objects would be a big improvement as it can get annoying searching for particular objects in your inventory. Text tags on mouse-over would do the trick here, saving a bit of frustration.
Like in a previous adventure, The Creature of Kapu Cave, when the Hardy Boys joined in the fun, in The Crystal Skull Nancy once again shares some of the work-load. This time Bess takes a couple of turns at detecting and it works in a similar fashion. Simply telephone Bess in her nearby hotel and the action jumps over to her as she reluctantly joins in with a bit of snooping and trickery.
Remember it's a first person perspective game, so you don't see Nancy or Bess, but there are a number of characters to meet that you do see — and they look good. In fact the character modeling is several steps up from in previous games with the characters moving around in the gameworld instead of staying put and simply gesticulating. Their expressions match their mood and the lip-syncing is very convincing. Overall the graphics are of the usual high standard without having totally free movement. There are occasions when you can turn 360 degrees but a lot of the movement is of the step variety that works just fine. There is lots of detail in the dimness of the Bolet mansion where most of the indoor action takes place, and it's a fascinating place to explore with all the puzzles and conundrums presenting themselves — including a secret room. There are shelves of trophies and books and all sorts of contraptions to discover. Maybe more rooms of the mansion could have been accessible, I wanted more, but there are the gardens and the cemetery to compensate.
As we've come to expect in the Nancy Drew games, all the voice work in The Crystal Skull is extremely good, as are the sound effects. It rains a lot so outside there is the continual patter of falling rain, intermittent cracks of thunder, with Nancy's footsteps barely audible above the din. Inside no footsteps, but the doors click and clunk open and closed, papers rustle and the various items and contraptions make appropriate sounds. It's not at a constant level, but bluesy music plays in the background, sometimes upbeat, sometimes eerie. There are options to adjust the levels for all the sounds individually — voice, music and sound effects — as well as the option to play full screen or in a window. There's even a full screen option for wide screen monitors which I can't comment on as I don't have one, and unlimited, as far as I could tell, save game slots.
All in all Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull is a 'busy' game and a lot of fun to play. Put on your thinking cap for this one as it's weighted more towards puzzling than story. And the very good news is that Nancy isn't heavily occupied with doing chores such as cooking or cleaning or whatever this time. What a pleasant surprise! Solving this mystery demands taking careful note of everything you find (I had several pages of jottings by the end) and working out where the information can be put to good use. It's a worthy challenge for Ms Drew and well worth a look for Nancy Drew fans.
Copyright © Rosemary Young, 2008.
All rights reserved.
Win XP/Vista, 1 GHz or greater P3 or equivalent, 128 MB RAM, 1 GB Hard Drive Space, 32MB DirectX compatible video card, 16 bit DirectX compatible sound card, 24x CD-ROM Drive, Mouse and Speakers.