Leave it to the Books…Please
When I was a young girl, I was what you could call a bookworm; I loved reading. Among my favorites were the Goosebumps series, the Babysitter’s club, and of course, Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was always a particular favorite, not necessarily because of the memorable characters, but because the mysteries were always so suspenseful and had an outlandish Scooby-Doo-like plot twist near the end. However, I never got into the Nancy Drew games, despite my zeal for their written inspiration. I felt like the video game would not mirror the novels’ mystique and appeal.
And now, after playing Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society, I can definitely say I was right; there is definitely a lot lost in the book-to-game translation. One thing that is still intact, however, from the book series is the solid story. Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society begins with Nancy receiving an invitation to join the prestigious and mysterious Clue Bender Society, which her father believes is a secret society that has helped shaped the course of history. Nancy accepts the invitation and takes a ferry to a mysterious mansion, where she will have to take part in a competition to prove herself as a top-notch sleuth. However, once she arrives, the competition turns serious, as one of the society’s most precious artifacts goes missing, and Nancy ends up having to solve a real mystery.
In true Nancy Drew fashion, the story is pretty hokey and has some pretty severe plot holes and outrageous twists. But as I alluded to before, this is part of the whole charm of the Nancy Drew series, so it’s something fans will surely recognize and appreciate. And if you’re not a seasoned fan, well it might leave you scratching your head.
But story aside, I have to say this title doesn’t have much else going for it. Chief among my complaints is the gameplay. Essentially, the gameplay is a connect-the-dots adventure, and I mean that in the most literal way. In effect, what you have to do is follow a trail of white circles and wait for an X button icon to pop up, which means you’ve found something and can continue following the dots. Once you finish finding all the necessary clues, you’ll be treated to a fairly generic mini-game, which generally consists of solving a very simple puzzle. These generally consist of matching tiles or dropping balls into color-coordinated pots; they are very standard puzzle fare that won’t really surprise or impress most gamers.
After you go through each paint-by-numbers level, you will be treated to a dialogue scene, which will consist of pictures of the characters’ faces and some scrolling text at the bottom. Normally, I would be somewhat upset by the lack of animated cutscenes, but the scrolling dialogue is reminiscent of reading the Nancy Drew novels, so it is permissible in this case.
As far as the length of the game is concerned, this title is relatively short. However, this probably has something to do with the fact that it’s aimed at the younger sect. However, if these gamers were looking for anything beyond the story mode, there really isn’t much here. There is a mini-game free-play mode, but the mini-games crop up enough in regular play that this just seems repetitive. I really wish there could have been more in terms of story extras or even a clue bending multiplayer mode, but alas, no luck there.
But what is not permissible, is the way this game looks. Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society has to be one of the worst looking titles available for the DS. Characters are represented by misshapen polygons that only barely resemble their respective characters. Lines and textures are also very frequently misshapen and seem jagged.
The only part of this game’s look that is not absolutely abysmal is the still frames of characters during the dialogue scenes. The still faces have a comic-book look to them and have a fair amount of detail. However, these scenes are unanimated, and once you get back into the playable portions of the game, the contrast between the visuals is quite clear.
Sound in this title is also pretty bad. Level music is extremely annoying and generally consists of looping single-note compositions that are best turned down. The sound scheme also consists of a few standard sound effects that are mostly unobtrusive. One thing that is noticeably absent is any kind of voiceover, but given the titles literary roots, I am also able to forgive this shortcoming rather easily. However, nothing really saves this title from playing better as a muted affair.
Control is one thing that does work well. During most of the game, you will be exploring your surroundings, and you’ll be walking around with the control pad and examining things with the face buttons. When you trigger a mini-game, you’ll generally have to switch to stylus control, which will result in what I like to call “the dreaded button stylus shuffle.” However, the game at least gives you some time to do the shuffle, and most times, you’ll know when the control shift is coming, so I won’t knock it too terribly for incorporating shuffle elements, especially since they are only relegated to mini-game play.
Overall, as a former fan of the Nancy Drew franchise, I really wanted to like this title. However, I found myself extremely bored by the oversimplified gameplay and poor technical aspects. And the fact that the game did not offer any gameplay past the initial story mode, really compounded my frustration with this title. I did like reliving parts of my childhood through the whimsical and fun storyline, but I just can’t say that was enough to make me like this game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 1.5 Graphics
One of the worst-looking DS titles I’ve ever seen. Characters are represented by pointed, deformed polygons, and environments are blurry and nondescript. 3.5 Control
Pretty standard controls work well enough and use the face buttons for walking around and the touch screen for special clue-bending mini-games. 1.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The level music is repetitive and annoying, and there is no voice over. 2.0
There is nothing beyond the initial story mode except mini-games. But since there’s only a few, and they weren’t exactly memorable to begin with, there’s just no reason to pick this one up again after the first play through.
2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.