Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Laura MacDonald
Every time I hear the theme music start up for another new Nancy Drew title, I wonder if this one will entertain, or has the series worn out itís welcome on my PC?
As a fictional character, Nancy Drew has been winning over fans and readers since the 1930ís. This game series may not continue even remotely that long. Hopefully, way before then we will be able to play a holo deck version of Nancy Drew and other adventures.
But for a series comprised of eight games with a ninth due out soon, Her Interactive has done an amazing job of keeping the series going without becoming contrived or predictable. In fact each game has had its share of subtle innovation and advancement. Over time, Her Interactive has deftly honed their product. The overall good news is Yep, Nancy Drew still has the capacity to charm, and our fearless detective is still going strong. So what mystery has she gotten mixed up in this time?
In Haunted Carousel, Nancy finds herself embroiled in the mysterious events surrounding an amusement park. The park, owned by her new client, has seen more than its share of unexplained events. There is the theft of a valuable antique carved horse. Odd malfunctions of other equipment persist and a whole host of annoyances occur. Then at the heart of this tale, there is the mystery surrounding the vintage carousel. While ghostly music echoes through the park, it starts up for no apparent reason.
And as if that wasnít enough, the roller coaster shuts down one day, full of passengers. The powers that be react to this latest event by temporarily closing the park, and it will not be cleared to reopen until the cause of the calamities can be discovered. However that may be easier said than done. The park is supposedly haunted by the dark and moody spirit of the artisan who created the carousel and carved its amazing horses. So is the Carousel truly haunted? Or are the culprits of an earthly variety? These mysteries and more await Nancy and will require all of her skills and caution.
Graphics and ambient sounds
The graphics and ambient effects have always been a plus for these games. Even better, each successive game has edged the mark a little higher. Haunted Carousel has kept pace with higher graphics capabilities, improved the eye candy portion of the game, and managed to keep requisite hardware demands at a very accommodating level. This game loads and plays well on XP and W98.
I also noted subtle improvements in the characters, their movements, and their fit into the background environments. The pre-rendered look to the places and interactive areas was very easy on the eye. The close-up puzzle views have always been well executed, even going back to the very first game. Haunted Carousel is no exception.
The sound quality was another plus factor for the game. There were audio clues that added to the atmosphere and the game play. The music when the Carousel started up was old fashioned and spooky at times. These side sounds are woven into the game play subtly, and never overpower the gameplay or environment.
This game had more credible suspects and a greater variety of NPC types and voices. I liked the increased interaction very much. Nancy Drew games draw gamers from a wide age base and so they are not always the toughest games. But this one had a variety of suspicious characters, all with very good motives to cause minor trouble, and perhaps more sinister ills.
We have a mild mannered bookkeeper, Joy. But is she as mousy as she seems? Her life is tied to the park in a variety of ways, and she may indeed be secretly seeking revenge for real or imagined wrongs. Then there is the park designer. An engineer, she certainly possesses the means to create all sorts of havoc. We have a young art designer who certainly seems to be hiding quite a bit, and a security guard with a murky background. Who knows? It could even be Nancyís client herself.
All of the main characters were detailed, and I actually had more than one or two suspects in mind as I played through the game. The voice talent seemed a notch above some of the past games, although none of the games are really lacking in this area. I think that character development has improved in this newest game and is a big plus to the gameplay.
The plot thickens
I have some favorite games from the series. The Royal Treasure, Haunted Mansion and Ghost Dogs satisfied on many levels. But I think that Haunted Carousel creates the best whodunit plot of the series. There are plenty of red herrings and real plot mini-twists that bedevil you. Even fairly close to the end of the game, I had doubts about several of the suspects and had not really narrowed the field to just one person.
One minor grievance is that I think this game would have benefited from more attention to the background story. I would have liked a bit more story about the creator of the carousel and the history of the park. However I enjoyed the sleuthing in this game very much.
One thing that tickled me and provided great side fun was the incidents where Nancy could get 'fired'. I canít recall in past games instances where she could mess up and get canned. Killed maybe, but not fired. I have to admit I started looking for ways to mess up just to see how it would work out. It adds a great touch of humor to the game and is a more realistic plot device. If this was an experimental trial run for this plot device, itís a keeper for future games. Itís a whole adventure in itself.
There was a wide mix of puzzles in this game. For the most part, they were challenging, but true to the spirit and format of the game. Many of the puzzles were 'hands on' and logically integrated to the game design and flow. This doesn't translate to easy, and you had to think in practical terms how to get past some of them. With the exception of the Barnacle Blaster, I enjoyed them. The other arcade puzzles were somewhat reminiscent of the interactive games in Final Scene. They were not truly arcade games, but instead were puzzles to figure out. There were some locked doors, but since this was an amusement park and not a 'Haunted Mansion', they were practical challenges. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix in Haunted Carousel.
I do have to comment on the Barnacle Blaster, the one true arcade type puzzle in the game. I went "Uh Oh!" as soon as I laid eyes on it. I am sure that the people who love this type of in-game challenge will all surface as soon as this review gets published. But on a personal note, they make me crazy. Itís pure twitch stuff. I play shooters, and I have never felt as coordination encumbered as when trying to beat an arcade duck shoot, asteroids or pong game. I dearly wish there had been a work-around for this puzzle.
That being whined about, the one saving grace for this gamer was that you could save after beating either or both levels. And I made absolutely sure that I saved after each level. I can swear that even the thought of having to do any part of that again leaves me exhausted. I am not sure what the feedback has been on this particular challenge, but I am hoping that this type of puzzle will not pop up in the next Nancy Drew title.
How are they doing?
This makes my 9th journey with Nancy and friends. It was fun; it charmed, and was just classic Nancy Drew. Like any forward thinking developer, Her Interactive has introduced some changes, a little tweaking here and there. One of the nicest surprises was when I suddenly realized that there were now an expanded number of save slots. I am not sure if they were unlimited... I only used 12. But having more than the traditional 8 was a great improvement for the gameplay.
I also liked the reappearance of the map navigational feature that they used in Ghost Dogs for the lake excursions. In HC to get from location to location, you just walk until the map auto loads. I can tolerate aimless running back and forth in a good game, but I was happy to see this aspect of gaming eliminated.
My only regret about this feature is that I didnít get to see as much of the environments as I would have liked. I know it sounds weird... first I praise the map movement feature and then say I wished there was more roaming. What I missed was not so much the roaming in between areas, but the walking around within the areas themselves. I liked walking through the paths around the house in Ghost Dog. I enjoyed strolling through the theatre in Final Scene, and looking at the pictures and reading a bit of the theatres history.
In Haunted Carousel, I felt much more constrained and almost as if I were back in a slide show mode at times. I would like to have seen a little more of the park itself, and then have the map feature available to avoid old ground. It would have been nice to see more of the Haunted House rides and the hotel. Making the map interface an optional feature, rather than an auto load, could have eliminated this sense of being overly contained. Of course this would also create a need to build additional areas for minor strolling in future games, so it may not be feasible. This game did fall on the shorter side of game length in contrast to prior titles, and it may have been the reduction in environmental space that contributed to this.
There were also some new tools of the trade to use in this game. Where in the past Nancy had her telephone, in this game we also have our trusted laptop. It was cute checking your email and 'Sassy Detective' tips of the day. There was also a clever puzzle that involved Nancyís all-time buds, George and Bess. I wonít say more and give away the puzzle, but your friends are more active than in the past. Of course we have Frank and Joe Hardy making an encore appearance for help over the phone. Another nice change was that when you ran across new numbers, they auto loaded into Nancyís phone. I didnít miss having to re-enter those numbers every time.
So how did they do? In short, they did well. There were a few items that I thought could have been left out or improved, but nothing that gave me real pause. The graphics, characters, gameplay, innovations and ambiance all added up to a captivating time with my favorite girl sleuth.
© 2003 Laura MacDonald
Developed (2003) and published by Her Interactive. Distributed by Infogrames.
Rated: E for Everyone
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium 200 MHz Processor; Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 16 MB RAM; 8X CD-ROM Drive; 16 Bit Color Graphics Video Card; 16 Bit Windows-Compatible Stereo Sound Card and Speakers; 160 MB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse
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