Reviews: Nancy Drew: Trail of the Twister
Go undercover with a storm-chasing team that's been suffering mysterious mishaps during a prestigious competition to discover a reliable way to predict tornado touchdowns
Developer: Her Interactive
Publisher: Her Interactive
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Platform: PC (reviewed), MacIntosh
Note: Originally published 19 July 2010
After twenty-two globe-trotting adventures, I can imagine that Nancy Drew must have a hard time keeping track of them all. Sharp-witted though she is, she’s been through quite a lot over the years, and I’m sure they all begin to blur together at some point. One car chase is just like the other, one ransom note the same as the last one, and so on. And that’s how I’m feeling about the series. As endearing as it is, and as much as we have come to love its charmingly formulaic format, its latest entry is virtually indistinguishable from some of its predecessors, failing to display anything new or even top previous mysteries in any way. I’m not even sure this game has any right to proclaim itself “a mystery adventure” on the box, seeing as it feels neither like a mystery nor an adventure. Granted, we should be thankful that Her Interactive produces two of these games a year, an output to be proud of, and we have come to know that the summer title is usually shorter and less satisfying than the fall title, but still. . . .
The premise sounds enticing, if much like half of the other entries in the series: Mysterious accidents. Possible foul play. Money at stake. The only difference is that Nancy is – allegedly – battling weather as a foe, chasing tornadoes in Oklahoma. Sounds cool, right? Except you don’t really get to do that. Not that I know how such an activity could be accomplished in an adventure game, but as far as I’m concerned, the whole tornado gimmick is supposed to be a big selling point for this game, and it doesn’t really deliver. Sure, there are a few times where we get short cinematics where the clouds grow dark, the winds pick up, and a twister tears across the sky. It’s visually interesting, and yes, it is something different, but it’s just not that exciting. I didn’t feel the danger or fear that I should have.
If anything, I felt bored. Nancy is hired by her wealthy uncle to figure out who is sabotaging the a college storm tracking team, but she gets to do very little investigating. Every day she gets a briefing from one of the team members on what her chores are for the day, and when she finishes those, someone else generally has other things for her to do. She’s basically a servant for the duration of the “mystery,” and it starts to become something of a running joke. A character asks her to fix something, like a television or a car engine, and one dialogue option is for her to lament, “But I don’t know how to fix that!” Indeed, Nancy plays repairwoman or gofer for 95% of the game, and it’s just not fun. Sure, she’s supposed to be clever and handy and resourceful, but she’s been hired as a detective. All of her tasks involve her solving complex puzzles in order to fix something, and there comes a point when our disbelief simply cannot be suspended anymore.
Nevertheless, the game does display its usual strong points. The characters’ movements are lifelike; the voice acting is superb; the dialogue is witty; the music is appropriate; the graphics are nice. But it all seems to be in vain, for there is no real storyline to move anything along. We don’t get to learn a lot about the suspects or snoop through their things; most of the investigative work comes from overheard conversations, and thus the conclusion is very unsatisfying because we don’t feel like we’ve been a part of the mystery at all.
What I would like to see more of in the series is actual detective work, in the spirit of the original book series. I want to see her scour a room for clues; keep a file on her suspects and motives and evidence; spy on people; wear disguises; etc. If I’m going to step into Nancy Drew’s shoes, I want to feel like a detective and have the opportunity to sort through the clues and try to figure out whodunit. I don’t want to pretend to be a maid and then have the mystery sorted out for me. That’s not fun for anyone.
Speaking of fun and of not being able to distinguish one game from another, I would like to quote a passage from Ray Ivey’s 2004 review of the tenth game, The Secret of Shadow Ranch (which seems very similar to Twister):
All computer and video game designers should work with the following two placards hanging visibly in their workplaces:
GAMES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FUN
IS THE PART I’M WORKING ON NOW MAKING THE GAME MORE OR LESS FUN?
I regret to say that with its latest effort, Her Interactive practically erased six years of work. What is also odd is that this is obviously not the first time that excessive chores have plagued one of their games. I’m struggling to figure out why feedback doesn’t seem to be implemented, and how beta testers approved of this game as it is. Ray said it best: Games are supposed to be fun. Trail of the Twister is not.
Final Grade: C+
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Operating System: Windows® XP/Vista/7
1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU
256 MB of RAM
1 GB or more of hard drive space
32 MB DirectX 9.0 compatible video card
16 bit DirectX compatible sound card
24X CD-ROM drive, mouse, and speakers
Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard or higher
512 MB RAM
At least 1.1 GB of hard drive space
Intel GMA 950, ATI X1600, NVIDIA 7300 graphics card or better
Keyboard and mouse