Tall Tales and Hidden Secrets
Unraveling complex detective mysteries and placing yourself in imminently dangerous situations to help the helpless is not the kind of pursuit you’d expect to occupy the time of a common teenager. When it comes to Nancy Drew, however, the allure of shopping at the mall, hanging out with friends, getting into trouble, and other age-appropriate activities lose their luster next to the thrill of the hunt for clues and criminals.
In Nancy Drew: The Deadly Secret of Olde World Park, the young super sleuth’s first adventure on the DS, you’ll follow the sassy heroine through a winding mystery which, though unfortunately short-lived, is bound to draw you into its depths. It’s time to put your detective caps on.
The town of River Heights is about to celebrate the grand opening of its first theme park: Olde World Park, a ritzy vacation spot which highlights the achievements of the Romans, Aztecs, Egyptians, and some of history’s other grandest ancient civilizations. As the opening celebration approaches, news gets out that the park’s founder, billionaire industrialist Thaddeus Belmont, has gone missing for days. Rumors abound that Belmont came into his fortune through uncouth means, and he’s supposedly going broke to boot. As Nancy Drew, players arrive at the park to help a friend who will not be able to participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony if her missing fancy dress can’t be recovered. From there, the action switches gears to a surprisingly satisfying first-rate detective escapade, as she dives head-first into the search for the missing park owner and stumbles onto an even bigger puzzle to solve.
Though the game’s graphics, audio, and controls are all reasonably well implemented (we’ll get to that later), the true shining light of Olde World Park is its strong storyline. There’s really no animations, cut-scenes, or fancy trappings when it comes to the storytelling. Instead, the tale is told through a series of text bubbles and stylish cartoon stills on the top screen. Perhaps in-part to keep up with the shortened attention span of its slightly younger tween target audience, Olde World Park delivers the goods in punchy, short interactions with lots of scene jumps and transitions. It doesn’t take long for things to get interesting as the plot quickly begins to unfold. This moves the game along at a fast clip.
As you travel to and from various locations on your sleuthing quest, the game switches back and forth from 2D story scenes to 3D interactive adventure areas. Each stop essentially consists of a handful of rooms to explore with different objects to interact with and people to interview. The 3D environments themselves are excellent, but the animated characters are a bit pixilated and their motions are stiff. Otherwise, the game looks good. Using the d-pad and the DS face buttons, players control Drew though each room to search for clues. The term “search” is used loosely, since exploration is far too rudimentary. There’s often little question of what needs to be done and where you need to go next. Any objects that can be interacted with are clearly marked in each room, as are any possible entries or exits. The lack of ability to run, and occasional hit-detection issues when transitioning from room to room, can also be frustrating. The basic nature of the adventuring portion of the game doesn’t really hurt the overall gameplay. Instead, it makes the game seem almost like an interactive short-novel, which is furthered along by extremely linear play progression.
The developers did a solid job with the touch controls, as they frequently come into play during mini-games that crop up. Most of the mini-games occur when interviewing characters to obtain information about clues. When speaking with someone, players can ask them about items in their inventory by tapping the desired object. Individuals will divulge information willingly on some subjects, but refuse to talk about others unless they’re properly coerced. This is done by successfully completing one of about six different conversation mini-games. The games themselves are simple, ranging from timed picture puzzles, to finding the right path on a grid, and even a peg-board dropping game. Though they don’t seem to really fit with what’s happening in the conversation or plot, they’re fun regardless. Other one-off mini-games such as defusing bombs, picking locks, and sneaking around in the shadows, actually do match-up with the plot.
As a whole, Olde World Park is a strong mystery adventure title. It lacks pizzazz in some areas, yet makes up for it in others. The game’s major emphasis on telling a complete and engaging story saves what might have otherwise been a let down in terms of actual gameplay. The interactive elements are simple and, though they might not cut it with gaming veterans, should be just fine for most players looking for a good storytelling experience.