Nancy Drew: Danger by Design
Review By: Jared Black
Developer: Her Interactive
Publisher: Her Interactive
Genre: Adventure
ESRB: Everyone
# Of Players: 1
Online Play: No
Accessories: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/Vista
1GHZ or greater Pentium 3 or equivalent class CPU
128 MB of RAM
650 MB or more 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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I’ll be honest with you; this game has been sitting on my shelf now for a long, long time. When it first hit my desk last year, I was quite frankly scared to play it. Scared it’d be a “kiddie” game for girls, and a chore to play through…especially given the setting in the high fashion world of Paris, France. So it sat and collected dust…month after month after month the white mask on the cover gazed at me with its accusing hollow eye sockets, speaking to me in whispers and deriding my lack of fashion sense.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when I discovered that…shock…these Nancy Drew titles actually aren’t half-bad. Sure, they’re primarily aimed at younger female gamers as they should be, and developed without a blockbuster budget to back them up, but usually they’re underpinned by a pretty good mystery to solve that can appeal to all ages. So I decided to make things right, and give Nancy Drew: Danger by Design the opportunity it deserved all along.

In this mystery, Nancy travels to Paris to enter the haute couture (exclusive, one-off type designs) fashion world. Her goal is to find out what’s gotten into Minette, one of Paris’ best designers. Minette has started exhibiting (more) bizarre behavior of late, taking to wearing a white mask to go with her already bizarre personality, and her investors are concerned. To scope out the scene Nancy signs on as an intern, working for Minette with right-hand assistant Heather. The characters are one of the things that really shine in this game, as the cast is colorful and clichéd (which works in this kind of game). This includes the enterprising Heather, the eccentric fashion designer Minette, German photographer Dieter, a snooty fashion journalist that isn't quite the man he thinks he is, and others. I can’t speak to the authenticity of the accents, but they certainly sound like you’d expect each character to expect (even Heather’s somewhat odd mix of American and French phrases) and the voice actors do a good job with their parts.

Nancy Drew: Danger by Design

Like other games in the series, gameplay is a mixture of interrogating suspects, finding and utilizing clues in the environment, and performing various tasks to advance the plot. This series has a somewhat mixed history in this regard, and the same is true here. Many tasks are mundane or repetitive, for example making different types of parfait to gain access to a uncropped photo. This boils down to opening a book, clicking the various ingredients laid out on a table in order, and then repeating over and over again without any real challenge as long as you can recognize something found in a photo. Other tasks fare better and actually are challenging to a degree, such as making the perfect tea based on an arcane collection of clues, or putting together a wacky ensemble based on a client’s tastes.

If you go back and play Danger by Design now, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that it looks very dated. This was one of the last Nancy Drew titles released before Her Interactive started making real improvements to the graphics and GUI, and it shows. It looks like a late-90s adventure game, which means it would’ve felt dated even when it was released in July 2006. There’s no native widescreen support, and the game automatically stretches to fill whatever you’re running, so you’ll see plenty of artifacts when running in a large widescreen resolution like 1680x1050. On the other hand, the artwork and locations are drawn well enough and scale well.

The biggest disappointment visually however is that the game doesn’t really take advantage of its setting. While you’ll travel around Paris via subway, you won’t visit some of Paris’ most famous landmarks even though you can see them on the map. No Louvre, no Eiffel Tower…just Pont Neuf (which itself is portrayed as a nearby park, not the famous bridge itself) and a few other locations I didn’t recognize. That’s not to say the locales don’t feel French (or foreign at least), but don't expect a virtual tour of the city out of this game.

Bottom Line:

Nancy Drew: Danger by Design is a notch below recent entries in the series, but still worth a look for fans just now discovering the franchise.

Pros:Cons:Final Score:
  • Another solid mystery backing up the adventure.
  • Entertaining cast of characters with solid voice acting.
  • The graphics weren’t even close to cutting edge in 2006, much less now.
  • Striking lack of landmarks to visit, given the French setting.

Posted: 2007-12-06 20:09:36 PST