Nancy Drew - Secret of the Old Clock

A fiery explosion at the Lilac Inn leaves its owner, Emily Crandall, on the edge of sanity and propels you, as Nancy Drew, headlong into adventure.

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Genre: Mystery Adventure
Release Date: July 2005
Platform: PC 

Note: Originally published 27 July 2005

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Set the Wayback Machine for 1930, Sherman! We’re time-traveling to the era of the Great Depression and Prohibition, where Nancy Drew is only just about to make her start as a detective – for now, she’s just your average ‘30s teenager out to help a friend of a friend who is struggling with the great task of up-keeping her newly inherited Lilac Inn. Right from the get-go, strange thefts and accidents plague the lovely inhabitance. These things would normally scare away a young girl, but not our Nancy! She’s determined to stay and help figure out what’s behind these ‘hinky’ events, which are based on the first four books of the Nancy Drew Mysteries series, though primarily on the very first (aptly enough), “The Secret of the Old Clock.”

LIKE ROBINSON CRUSOE – JUST KEEN

One of the first things I noticed in the game were the character sprites. They appear rather blurry, and it wasn’t just my monitor because everything else looks gorgeous. The animated cutscenes are stunning, and the 1930’s-like memorabilia and photos are nice, too – so why the characters appear fuzzy isn’t quite clear (no pun intended). The interface is simple to use – inventory, notebook (doubling as a task list for Junior Detectives), and a purse.

Because it’s 1930, Her Interactive has done away with all of those modern (in)conveniences we have today. That’s right, no cell phone in this era – just an old landline with strange-looking phone numbers. There are hobo symbols, old shops, authentic slang, even attire appropriate for this time period; it is clear that a lot of research was put into this game, which is not unusual for a Nancy Drew title. There are also black-and-white photos of the stores in Titusville, which are fun to look at.

The music varies from swing to spooky, all very well-done (as usual). The voice acting is nothing spectacular this time around, but the characters aren’t all that fascinating.

THE GREAT DEPRESSION … OF CHORES

Once again, Her Interactive has managed to throw in an awfully painful amount of chores into this game. They wouldn’t be half as bad, however, had they also not thrown in two nightmares: money and a car. You start off with a fair amount of cash, but by playing games and buying things in town, that money quickly diminishes. And in order to earn more, you have to deliver telegrams. Delivering telegrams requires that you drive around in your expensive blue roadster and avoid a ton of potholes, ditches, and even a car accident so as not to ruin your tire, AND keep your eye on the gas gauge, which runs rather quickly.

Let me explain why I found this so frustrating: I had spent a lot of money trying to solve a puzzle (of which I will inform you later), so I had very little left to spend. I went around delivering telegrams, but the fact that some locations were of a great distance from Tubby’s Telegrams, some of the deliveries put a strain on my gas. I then had to drive to Zippy’s Gas, get twenty-five cents-worth of gas (I couldn’t get fifty cents-worth because I need money to pay for this or that), and then go somewhere and get a chore to do … it was ridiculous. The chores and the telegrams put an enormous strain on both gas and money, which were both hard to get. I think even an experienced Nancy Drew fan of ten or twelve would have a difficult time with this part of the game, and I know I did.

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU’RE HAVING … FUN?

Her Interactive has drifted back to its old ways of puzzles and riddles that don’t really fit into the storyline. Chores, of course, are never fun. But a lot of the other puzzles are rather … wimpy. Most of them, even on Senior Detective level, are just too easy (example: Dominoes). Others are pointless (example: An ESP game a lá “Clue Chronicles”). Others just involve the old “puzzle-in-a-secret-panel” trick. It’s not much of a trick anymore, it’s just getting old. The practicality of an old geezer making silly strategy games and riddles and hiding them in clocks or old notebooks is disappointing. After all, haven’t we seen this stuff before? Go back to some of the older titles – “Secret of the Scarlet Hand” or “The Haunted Carousel;” the puzzles in those games really relate to the story, no matter how numbingly simple some of them are. Either it’s time to bring back the Master Detective level, or we just need some harder puzzles. And surely Her Interactive must realize by now that no ten-year-old is going to be able to complete these games without the help of a walkthrough or a parent or older friend.

I don’t want to be hard on these games – they’re fun, they’re educational, they’re relaxing; but it’s time we see something new. It’s time for more of a challenge, instead of just a rainy-day activity. Maybe this is how most people like their Nancy Drew games, but I’m starting to feel like we need more.

The most frustrating puzzle in this game is a mini-golf course (yes, the one that eats up your budget). It’s a very, very tricky course that requires exact precision when aiming your putts – and that’s very hard to do. Look, I’m 14; I think my eyesight and hand-eye coordination is more than what some people can say, so I dread to think what kind of trouble they’re going to run into here. But, handicaps or no handicaps, this is just plain hard – too hard. Sometimes there isn’t enough room to get the putter back to the distance of your liking. Sometimes there are cheap ‘shortcuts’ through the course that no one would really think about. Sometimes you want to start over because you know you’re not getting the exact par you need to win the game and win your next clue, but you have to see the game through to the end. I became extremely frustrated with this mini-golf game (especially on one particular hole, #5), and eventually the game felt my pain and gave me a perfect score despite the fact that I didn’t earn it one bit.

NOT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS

Here’s the deal: I praise Her Interactive for being one of the very, very few companies to publish two games per year. I think that’s amazing, and we should all appreciate that very much. But I noticed that this game, like other summer Nancy Drew releases, was somewhat on the short side. I can excuse this because, as we know, there is a Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys game in the works for the fall and I’m sure that project probably requires much more attention, but I thought a lot about this and decided that perhaps it makes more sense for the longer game to be released in the summer. After all, the majority of the people who play these games are home from school during the summer, often looking for something to do. Why not give them something that will use up a lot of their free time, instead of a game that will only last a day or two?

All in all, this is just another sub-par entry in the series; it’s not the “bees knees,” and it’s not “all wet,” but it’s “keen;” good enough to keep you busy for a short period of time, and I’m sure some gamers will find something positive to say about some of the things I found negative. Case closed.

Final Grade: B/B+ (As an Adventure Game) / A- (As a Nancy Drew Game)

System Requirements:

  • 400Mhz Pentium
  • 64MB RAM
  • 300 MB Hard Drive space
  • 16-bit color graphics video card with at least 16MB of VRAM
  • 16-bit Window-compatible stereo sound card
  • 12X CD ROM
  • Mouse and Speakers
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