Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel

The past and future blur together when you, as Nancy Drew, investigate the strange events surrounding the Captain's Cove Amusement Park

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Genre: Mystery Adventure
Release Date: August 2003
Platform: PC

Note: Originally published 2 September 2003

Teen sleuth Nancy Drew is leaping into her eighth interactive adventure, courtesy of the talented team at Her Interactive. This time around Nancy is trying to get to the bottom of some odd goings-on at an amusement park at the Jersey shore.

I will start by saying that all of the traditional virtues of the series are evident, as usual:

  • The graphics are crisp, clean, colorful and appealing
  • The atmosphere is spot-on vintage Nancy Drew. As I’ve said many times, this is no small accomplishment considering the expectations and baggage that come with such a well-worn franchise.
  • The story is engaging and entertaining
  • The game includes educational elements

I’ll go further in saying that this is the tightest game so far in the series, and it benefits from refinements made to an already solid formula.

One very much appeciated refinement is that the menu screens have at last been streamlined! I’ve been complaining about this since the series started, and I’m happy to report that it takes significantly less clicking to load and save games.

Also, this game completely dispenses with the time element that most of the Nancy Drew games have used. Some players may disagree with me, but I always found fiddling around with that darned alarm clock irritating.

All of the action of the game takes place in and around the amusement park. The map feature makes getting around a snap. More than in any game in the series, I felt like I was spending my time solving puzzles and problems and moving the story forward instead of just traipsing around.

The voice acting in the series continues to get better. It’s solid throughout the game.

The characters in the game also have very solid and compelling backstories and personal agendas. It’s some of the best writing and character development the series has seen as well.

The puzzles, once again, are very organic indeed. Since The Secret of the Scarlet Hand, the sixth game in the series, I have found this to be an admirable quality. Example: using an actual lathe to fashion a replacement part for a carousel band organ just made a ton of sense.

Nancy’s computer also provides a lot of help. There’s a fantastic “Things to Do” feature that always keeps you on track of what you have left to accomplish. She also receives useful clues through email. I wish EVERY adventure game had this feature!

The tightness of the game’s construction, plot and location mean that the game is pretty short. This is not a complaint. Nancy Drew books aren’t long, and it wouldn’t make sense for the games to be epics, either. Modesty becomes Nancy Drew. Indeed, the compactness of the game even adds a welcome sense of urgency and immediacy. You really feel like you’re Nancy, rolling up your sleeves and getting to the bottom of things without any nonsense.

At this point in the series, the games are so refined that I have to really reach for things to criticize, but I do have just a couple of quibbles:

  • In previous games, calling Nancy’s friends for help was optional. In this game, there’s an important puzzle that can only be solved by enlisting your girlfriends’ help. Since I had rarely used this feature in earlier games, it didn’t occur to me to use it in this one. Perhaps younger players more used to chatting with Bess and George won’t have this problem.
  • I look forward to the day when the characters aren’t bolted to the floor. The only person that ever seems to get to move is the villain.
  • Despite my admiration for the organic puzzles, I would like to see more “puzzle” puzzles as well. Things like tricky Chinese boxes, ludicrously complicated locks, and fiendishly constructed traps are totally appropriate in the context of a Nancy Drew story. They also tend to work exceedingly well in the graphic format used in these games. I’d love to see more of them.

 

As usual, I’m looking forward to the next troublesome situation Nancy gets herself into. I’m also looking forward to whatever bigger and better projects Her Interactive has planned next.

Final Grade: A

System Requirements:

    Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
    PC CD-ROM
    200Mhz Pentium
    16MB RAM
    160 MB hard drive space
    16-bit color graphics video card
    16-bit Window-compatible stereo sound card
    8X CD ROM
    Mouse
    Speakers

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