A Review of "Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island" (2003)

Matt Barton's picture

Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception IslandNancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island
Okay, let me start by saying the #1 reason I bought this game was that I found it for $4 in the bargain bin at Target. The developer, Her Interactive, makes no bones about the Nancy Drew series being anything but a kid's game: "For Mystery Fans 10 and up" reads the package. Everything about the game is tailored to fit your average 10-12 year old daughter, even the theme--"Baby whales, ooooh so cute!!!!!!" Being the macho man I am, I was a bit frightened to install this one. However, the game is a well-constructed, enjoyable graphical adventure that kept my "Sassy Detective" wife and I entertained for two evenings. Indeed, I'll be on the lookout for more bargain-priced Nancy Drew titles in the future.

Introducing this game will take a bit of work. For those out of the loop, Her Interactive has been making Nancy Drew-licensed GAGs now since 1998. Since then, they've been pumping out a new GAG once or twice a year, and are now up to release the fifteenth installment. I'd be surprised if anyone here hasn't ever heard of Nancy Drew, but I bet most are like me--I read the Hardy Boys books obsessively as an adolescent and never touched a Nancy Drew book. However, there were plenty of cross-overs between the Hardy boys and Nancy Drew (as there are in this game). If you need more info about Nancy Drew, check out this Wikipedia page.

Anyway, while the Nancy Drew games are marketed to female pre-teens, according to Her Interactive's Press Release, the series is nevertheless the #1 seller in US PC adventure games. After playing the ninth game, I can see why. The production values are high, the gameplay is solid, and the mysteries are fun to solve. Sure, there's a high kitsch factor here, but at least it's honest about it in a kind of Batman circa 1965 style. Kayaking with Nancy Drew: Even more fun than actual kayaking?Kayaking with Nancy Drew: Even more fun than actual kayaking?
The storyline goes something like this. Nancy has been working too hard lately, so her friends Bess and George (short for Georgina, apparently) set her up on a "vacation" with a marine biologist named Kate Firestone. Kate lives in a tiny coastal village named "Snake Horse Harbor." Recently, an orphaned killer whale has showed up in the harbor, and all the local fisherman are forced (on pain of a heavy fine for endangering the whale) to circumnavigate the harbor. Meanwhile, a bunch of stuff has come up stolen from the town, and Kate's boat has been vandalized. Kate wants to protect the whale at all costs, whereas the townsfolk want to pick it up and return it to its pod. Of course, as you expect, there is much more to this story, but you'll just have to play the game to discover it!

The production values of this game are far better than anyone paying $5 (or perhaps even $20) for a game has the right to expect. The graphics are clean and polished, with a mix between digital-photos and CGI. The game claims to be "3D," but it's not 3D in the sense of a FPS, but rather in the sense of games like Myst and Rhem. You play as Nancy in first-person, and click around the screen to zoom-in or pick up objects and move from scene to scene. This control scheme is very intuitive and should give no one, not even your 10-year old, any problems whatsoever. I was very pleasantly surprised by the music, which contains some very nice guitar and celtic sounds. It's very relaxing and adds considerable warmth to the game. Also top-notch is the voice acting--that is, if you don't mind hearing kids actually sounding intelligent. There are several characters Nancy must interact with, and, surprisingly, none are the cardboard cutouts I've come to expect in most GAGs. No one seems entirely innocent in this game--not even Nancy.

There are many puzzles in the game that Nancy must solve, and a few are quite complex (though there are two modes of gameplay--expert and beginner. The beginner mode offers players more hints and tips.) Most of them involve doing little tasks for the characters, such as passing the "seaman's quiz" for Otto so you can get a GPS (which you need for kayaking). Many of these tasks have a scavenger-hunt quality about them. One of the most creative was having to gather 14 or so clams. To accomplish this, you're given a bucket and a "clam tube" to pump the little buggers out of their holes. Nancy must also win all of the whale-related edutainment games at the local whale museum. Sound lame? It's not. The games are all fun to play. There are also some standard logic puzzles, one involving chess pieces, and the other involving cryptography, all of it with a nautical theme. Transcoders will find lots to keep them busy here! If the puzzles get too tough, Nancy can try using her cell phone to call the Hardy Boys or her cousins.
Nancy Drew: Ship Sails Clue: Hmmm...Better write these symbols down--or take a screenshot.Nancy Drew: Ship Sails Clue: Hmmm...Better write these symbols down--or take a screenshot.
In short, there is much to recommend Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island. Unless you're already something of a nautical buff, you'll learn a lot about sailing and whales. It's a very creative game, and I can't imagine a better title for your child to enjoy. This brings me to a point I wanted to raise earlier: This game tries to inculcate good values. For instance, if Nancy doesn't wear her helmet when biking, or her life preserver when kayaking--or tries to go beyond the danger buoys--guess what? She gets injured or lost and has to restore the game (there's a handy "Second Chance" button that returns her directly to the pre-disaster point). She won't talk on her cell phone unless she's in private--she doesn't want to be Rude.

Just for kicks, I went to the Her Interactive website and browsed the forums. They are literally crawling with young, "Sassy" detectives who apparently live there. 39,000 posts for Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island? Yeah, these are VERY popular games with the pre-teen set. Definitely good grist for an AA article here! Oh, and WHALES RULE!!!!!