[21 August 2007]
The most famous fictional detective, behind Sherlock Holmes, is an eternally teenaged girl named Nancy Drew. If you haven’t read a Nancy Drew book, the constant references to her in pop culture make it difficult to not know her. From those references, it can be deduced that she is a teen girl who is quite adept in solving cases that baffle private investigators and local law enforcement.
The books have been going on since the 1930s and may find new audiences with the recent release of a Nancy Drew film as well as a series of point-and-click video games from Her Interactive. Using the Stephen Colbert method of movie reviewing, the Nancy Drew movie was not so good. Thankfully, the game Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, which has no relation to the movie, is much better.
In the video game universe, Nancy has solved 15 mysteries and her fame is spreading. Her latest case takes her to a lodge in the Canadian Rockies. The owner, Chantal Monique, found out about Miss Drew through word of mouth and hired Nancy to uncover the truth about food poisonings and slashed tires that are causing the lodge to lose business. The case seems simple enough, but gets more and more complicated as the water recedes and the cookie cutter iceberg characters are exposed. The interweaving of characters naturally makes everyone a suspect. For example, Yanni Volkstaia is an Eastern European world class biathlete. The biathlon is the Winter Olympic sport where the participants ski to shooting ranges. Yanni is driven, competitive, and ashamed of what he has done in the past to win, though he does not regret the often dirty methods he used to win medals. Bill Kessler is another character, whose grandmother may or may not have fallen into Home Shopping Network debt and sold the lodge to Chantal’s father. His family ties do not make him a suspect, but an angry note found in his room raises some questions. Ollie Randall is the lodge caretaker, who holds a grudge against everyone. Nancy’s constant suspicion of these characters could be viewed as an externalized form of a deeper fear she has of being hurt through misplaced trust, though in this case, it probably isn’t.
The most interesting character is the titular White Wolf, named Isis like the Bob Dylan song. Wolves are wild animals. According to Guadalupe Comillo, an activist character, they can not be truly domesticated so it is dangerous to treat a wolf like a dog. Isis was unintentionally raised by a human and trusts too much. This trait makes Isis is the exact opposite of Nancy. While interrogating the suspects, Nancy notices conflicting attitudes towards Isis amongst the characters surrounding her. Those in power are all about killing it to solve their problems. Others would rather let it be a wild animal, while Guadalupe wants to relocate it. In a way, this is a microcosm of the current atmosphere of American politics. Again, however, this is probably unintentional.
Are you ready to…cook?
Solving a mystery is fun, but doing chores is not. Nancy takes the now vacant maid position as a cover, which means that she is stuck cleaning rooms every morning, cooking three times a day, and shoveling (a variant of minesweeper). It is a convenient and clever cover, as it allows Nancy to get close to the suspects. In getting close the guests become more relaxed around her and she ends up befriending some of them, which makes the discovery of the culprit sting much worse than it would if she was just your stock police detective character. Though the chores are a ploy to get players more involved in the game and to make the situation more believable, cleaning rooms and cooking becomes boring and repetitive. The chores are counterproductive because I wanted to solve a mystery, and didn’t want to make omelets and salads, especially when there is no easy way to erase mistakes. This could have been the developers’ way of showing respect for the maids and janitors who keep our buildings clean while being treated as if they did not even exist.
Veronica Mars was a great show that was often compared to Ms. Drew, because they are both teenage girls with FBI-level sleuthing skills. Just as Nancy Drew influenced Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars is now influencing Nancy Drew. The video game version of Nancy Drew has the sass, mean streak, and attitude that were lacking in earlier generations. The way she interacts with the characters and the dialogue has also been Veronica Marsed. Current events are played to humorous effect, such as a bit involving Yanni, Pluto, and a smartass college student.
The big draw for this game is Nancy Drew and the familiarity that the Nancy Drew brand brings. The Nancy Drew separates this from other point-and-click mystery games because the central character is so famous and developed. There is already a built-in consumer base thanks to the books, and the games may add new readers to the franchise or vice versa. People may also see the movie and then start reading the books, which is part of what happened with the He who must not be mentioned in this review phenomenon. Nancy Drew is a money tree and the more branches of product that grow from her trunk, the more money that can be shaken from them. This isn’t a bad thing, because the books can easily be made into adventure/mystery games.
Players also need not worry about the fact that they are jumping into the series at the 16th installment. It’s the same way an episodic drama can be watched at any point in a season, without the viewer feeling lost—you start out at the beginning of each game clueless, and end up cracking a case. There is a lot of satisfaction in solving the mystery because the characters get fleshed out, even if they are a bit stereotypical.
Playing this game reminded me of older PC games such as Myst and The 7th guest. There is a bit of nostalgia, but it also makes the gaming style feel dated, even though the graphics aren’t bad. Luckily, the game is tagged with the second most famous fictional detective in English language history.
The target audience is tweens who will grow up watching CSI and adults who grew up reading Nancy Drew. Still, fun can be had for anyone who enjoys solving puzzles and other people’s problems.