Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull
Review By: Jared Black
Developer: Her Interactive
Publisher: Her Interactive
Genre: Adventure
ESRB: Everyone
# Of Players: 1
Online Play: No
Accessories: Windows XP/Vista
1 GHz or greater Pentium or equivalent class CPU
128 MB of RAM
1 GB or more of hard drive space
32 MB DirectX compatible video card
16 bit DirectX compatible sound card
24X CD-ROM drive, mouse, and speakers
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The sales juggernaut Nancy Drew franchise rolls on with installment #17, Legend of the Crystal Skull. Like the series of books it’s based on, the Nancy Drew series has never featured games at the very top of the adventure genre, but in general it offers up a solid mystery for a low price time and time again. More important to the series’ success, it caters primarily to the young female gamers largely ignored by most publishers, although virtually anyone can enjoy each mystery on some level.

This time out, Nancy Drew is vacationing in New Orleans with longtime-friend Bess. As a favor to boyfriend Ned, she visits Ned's friend Henry Bolet, the nephew of the recently deceased tycoon Bruno Bolet. Bruno’s death was a mysterious one, with his prized crystal skull also disappearing around the same time. Upon entering the house, Nancy comes face to face with a mysterious figure in a skull costume, which escapes by throwing powder in Nancy's face and knocking her unconscious. Thus begins Nancy’s latest mystery, as she tries to sort out the details surrounding Bruno’s death, locate the crystal skull, and find out the identity of her attacker.

The mystery is sufficient, although this installment seems to focus more heavily on puzzle solving than on weaving a good yarn or the mini-games often found in past installments. Once Nancy is inside the Bolet mansion, she spends most of her time solving simple puzzles to advance the plot, rather than interrogating suspects or deciphering complex clues. There's nothing really wrong with that at all, because it keeps the game moving along at a brisk pace, but the shift is noticeable. Central to advancing the plot is finding 25 glass eyes scattered throughout the mansion, which are located in a variety of interesting locations, often hidden behind the answer to a puzzle or revealed after completing a simple mini-game.

Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull

Since there are only two people in the mansion, Bruno’s nephew and the gardener, Nancy spends little time actually interrogating suspects. Perhaps because of this, Her Interactive wisely lets the player also play as Nancy’s friend Bess. Bess is waiting for Nancy back at their hotel, and a reluctant sleuth who just so happens to be in the right place at the wrong time. As a result, Nancy drafts her into investigating several locations and suspects across the street from the hotel. The player switches between the two friends with a simple cell phone call, which is a good way to let the player control the flow of the game a bit. While the player still carries out the same basic tasks as either Bess or Nancy, the different personalities the two girls have makes for an interesting dynamic usually not found in the series.

Although most of the puzzles and clues to decipher are relatively simple, there are a few that are inventive and among the best in the series to date. These include a series of clues based on guest's names (with the names often being hilarious puns) in a logbook, and a Rube Goldberg device that involves placing objects in just the right sequence to set off a chain of events that ultimately distracts a store owner (again with hilarious results).

This game also returns the auto-scrolling feature found in some previous installments, where the player can scroll around a room by moving the mouse pointer to the edge of the screen. This makes navigation easier, although its use is limited to only a few rooms due to the rather limited locations in the game itself. Outside of that, the only real change to gameplay is that this game can now be played in a windowed mode, which is a nice feature to have considering the series isn’t graphic intensive by any means and most modern PCs can easily multitask with it running.

Speaking of the graphics, they continue to be incrementally improved with each new installment. This mystery is the sharpest looking one yet, with native widescreen support, cleaner and more detailed graphics, and solid cutscenes. Perhaps the biggest change though is that characters now have a bit more life to them, reacting in a somewhat realistic manner (ex: the store owner shifts his eyes at an uncomfortable question) and just having more animation in general. We even get to see a silhouette of Nancy herself. That being said, the series is still far from graphic intensive, so most existing fans of the series should be able to run this game easily as well.

Bottom Line:

It’s apparent from this game that Her Interactive realizes that it can’t rest on its laurels forever, and continues to make minor and necessary refinements to a very successful formula. As a result Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull is one of the best games in the series yet.

Pros:Cons:Final Score:
  • The New Orleans setting allows for some unique environments, and a creepier atmosphere (but not too scary for younger gamers) than you’d normally find in a game like this.
  • Priced right at $19.99.
  • Incremental improvements to the GUI and graphics give the game a more modern feel.
  • Focuses a bit too much on puzzles, at the expense of interrogation and a deeper mystery to solve.
  • Long-time fans will find several puzzles that are eerily familiar.

Posted: 2007-12-11 17:24:19 PST