Case after case, Nancy Drew seems suspended in a perpetual state of youthful detective exuberance, but her adventures continue to gradually mature with each installment. Never one to take a real break from the action, the teenage sleuth is always poised to dive headlong into the next mystery that presents itself. While Nancy’s 20th PC adventure takes her to the warm and sunny shores of the Bahamas, don’t expect her to trade in her detective cap for a bikini and a bottle of sunscreen anytime soon.
It’d be crazy to pass up an invitation to accompany friends on a free tropical vacation. In Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, the smart and sassy private eye joins her pals for a nice getaway trip to the Bahamas in hopes of catching a few rays and a nice break. Of course, even the best laid out plans can go haywire. An abundance of sun, sand, and seas is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face, except when they wind up being taken hostage. As anyone familiar with her previous mystery solving outings might have already guessed, it doesn’t take long for Nancy’s well-intentioned attempt at a vacation to turn into a hunt for missing friends, hidden clues, and sunken treasure.
Winding up on the beachside resort expecting to have a good time, Nancy is greeted by her frantic gal friend (oddly named George) who brings bad tidings. It turns out their good friend Bess has been kidnapped and the resort’s owners have also disappeared. Even worse, a ransom note turns up demanding Nancy solve the island’s mystery and recover the long lost treasures of El Toro in exchange for Bess’ safe return. Playing as Nancy (and George, on occasion), you’ll explore the large island and the waters beyond to piece together clues to the whereabouts of the hidden treasure in hopes of saving your friend. Rather than take the momentary opportunity to cut loose, raid the resort’s pantry for some liquid fun, and engage in some island partying shenanigans, Nancy walks the straight and narrow path to her case. Then again, there’s nothing straight or narrow about this mystery.
As with past Nancy Drew games, exploration and solving miscellaneous puzzles plays a major part of your task in Ransom of the Seven Ships. Your time is often divided evenly between the two, but the setting’s tropical location offers many opportunities to engage in quite a few different activities. From chatting with the few remaining inhabitants and running miscellaneous errands in exchange for key items to tinkering with mechanical gadgets and trying to outsmart mischievous monkeys, there’s plenty to do on the island. Early puzzles are intuitive and simply designed, while others – like being forced to play timed Sudoku in order to unlock an underwater chest while your air slowly leaks out and sharks swim nearby – are far more demanding.
Clues and important items lie scattered in plain sight as well as not-so-obvious areas. The familiar strategy of grabbing anything that’s not bolted down and attempting to use it elsewhere works a portion of the time. However, you’ll have to pay close attention to the nature of certain items and how they relate to the obstacles you’ll encounter. More complicated challenges have you comparing arcane symbols to decoding an ancient tome, and following vague direction to navigate natural landmarks for the proper spot to dig in. There’s even a reflex-based puzzle that pits you against a monkey with some killer aim.
Hints on where to go and what to do are hidden throughout the game, but they can be easily missed, making your task far more difficult than it needs to be at times. The normal difficulty becomes quite tough as it progresses. To ease newer players into the game, a junior setting scales back the challenge of some puzzles, lets you feed the resident parrot to get clues on where to go next, and gives you access to a handy checklist to track what tasks are left to be accomplished.
Though much of the first-person adventure has you moving from location-to-location and scouring each scene for point-and-click hotspots with the mouse, regular changes in perspective let you momentarily change things up with mini-game like sections. These include tracking wind direction to sail around the region to access new areas, diving beneath the waves with a metal detector to uncover sunken booty, and scooting between key portions of the island in a golf cart, and scaling a sheer cliff to reach dank caves. The great variety found in the game’s puzzles and exploratory elements help temper the uglier moments found in Ransom of the Seven Ships.
Signs of progress are evident – this is the first adventure where you actually get to see Nancy’s pals in person – even if the game’s presentation still isn’t as good as it could be. While it’s nice that everything is scaled down to run smoothly on lower-powered systems, the casual nature of the game and its all-ages audience shouldn’t be an excuse to skimp on the extra finishing touches. Mediocre voice work and intermittently shoddy graphics are among the chief complaints. Some areas of the scenery are quite pretty to look at, until you transition into another area or a different perspective that’s simply awful looking. Everything is 2D and the character animations are surprisingly stiff. The dialogue itself is reasonable, though Nancy sounds slightly off and awkward more often than not. Ultimately, it’s not enough to kill the fun, and anyone who’s played through the past games will likely find a measure of improvement in the presentation.
For everything that’s different about Ransom of the Seven Ships, there’s plenty about the game that’s very much the same as the 19 that came before it. These elements basically cancel each other out, making for an experience that’s relatively fun if not particularly memorable. Serious Nancy Drew followers won’t be disappointed by her latest mystery adventure. Her Interactive is definitely on the right track, but there’s still further to go to make this series shine to all but the most devout players.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
Scenery alternates between pretty and pretty rough around the edges. 3.5 Control
Point-and-click mouse controls are fine, though mini-game controls are occasionally spotty. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Nancy’s voice work doesn’t quite fit the part in this episode. 3.7 Play Value
Challenging puzzles and constantly changing gameplay keeps this adventure interesting over the long haul. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.