Nancy Drew is back for the 14th game in a series by HerInteractive. I remember when I purchased my first Nancy Drew game. There was a bit of a lull in between new releases of adventure games. I scoured the shelves at the local game store hoping against hope that there was some gem hidden in there that I hadn’t played. I needed to feed my game fix and feed it fast. Hmmm…there in the discount section was the first game in the Nancy Drew series. Ages 10 and up? Darn. This game is for kids, I thought. Well, what the heck. I’m desperate. I’m sure I’ll just breeze right though it, but that’s better than nothing at all. Besides, I read all the books when I was a child. Maybe it will be a cute diversion until something else comes out.
I was quite surprised by the game. It had quite a fun story and amazingly, I didn’t breeze right through it. And, I can’t even count how many times I died before I could get my butt in gear and move a little faster. Learning later on that I wasn’t the only adult playing this game was an even bigger surprise. There’s a humongous number of adults playing the series and loving it! Ahh…who knew! I now own the full collection. And, while I still maintain a public premise that I’m saving them for when my nieces are old enough to enjoy them….it’s all a lie. I’m a full-fledged Nancy Drew junkie just waiting for my twice yearly fix. (That’s right --- I preorder them too!)
This time around, Nancy is off to Paris. She will be interning for an American fashion designer named Minette. Nancy has been hired by Amy Grunhild (Minette’s biggest financial backer) to secretly find out what’s going on with Minette. It seems Minette has been pretty much freaking out lately. She has temper tantrums, fires people left and right, and wearing a weird face mask every day. Ms. Gunhild is very worried about her investment. So, there is a definite difference to this installment already. Usually the other person is aware that Nancy is going to investigate.
The game starts out with a full tutorial. This is also a new feature to the game and very nicely done. We get to see Nancy’s headquarters; umm…actually….her bedroom. Her desk is the center of operations. You can click on a scrapbook and see a synopsis complete with pictures of all the previous 13 games. The case file provides Nancy will all the details she needs about this newest case. There is also a book entitled “How to be a detective”. This is where the tutorial is located. Clicking on a topic such as What’s New, Inventory and Tools, Camera etc… will provide you with instructions on how to use each feature in the game. You will even get to try features out so you can get used to the controls. If this is your first Nancy Drew game, be sure to check this out. For those of you who have played before, you have the option to skip the tutorial and click on a plane ticket. This will start the game.
Nancy arrives at Minette’s and is greeted by Heather (Minette’s assistant) and a high piercing scream from Minette. You will get a sense of what a nut job Minette is. Heather explains that Minette is under a lot of pressure due to the fact that she’s severely behind schedule. Minette is also getting death threats from a mysterious stranger. Who could hate Minette that much? Could it be a competitor? You will get a To-Do list from Heather with the major responsibility being to do whatever Minette wants. Great….lord only knows what that’s going to be. You’ll obtain a metro pass that will take you anywhere in Paris for free. Meeting Minette is person is not exactly fun either. She’s not very personable and she has that stupid mask on. You’ll immediately get your first puzzle to complete. Then, it will be off on the metro system to get that To-Do list done.
It is not clear at first what exactly is going on. Bits and pieces will lead you to information on a certain Noisette Tornade. Noisette worked as spy during World War II. The interesting part was that she worked for both sides. There were rumors that she stole precious art and stowed it away. This caused her country of France to hold her in moral disregard. It seems no one has ever found this supposed artwork. The connection to Minette becomes clearer when you learn that the building Minette’s studio is in was owned previously by Noisette Tornade. Nancy will end up splitting her investigation in two pieces. She will need to uncover what’s going wrong with Minette. Don’t forget the hidden artwork. Nancy is always intrigued by that kind of mystery.
Danger by Design comes in a DVD case with 2 CD’s. They load up with absolutely no problems. No technical problems were encountered either. Danger by Design is a first-person mostly point and click adventure. There is a certain puzzle in the game that requires the use of your keyboard. Upon starting the game, you will get to choose your detective level. Junior level is easier and allows Nancy to call her friends for hints. You’ll get more hints with this level. Nancy’s personal To-Do list is also a feature of the Junior level. Senior level (which I chose) ups the difficulty of the puzzles, provides fewer hints and has no To-Do list. The game offers 35 games slots. The main menu allows you to adjust the volume of the voices, music or special effects. You also may turn off the text.
Getting around is quite simple. There are large yellow directional arrows to indicate where to go. In some locations you can turn in a 360° fashion. For this installment, a map of the metro system has been incorporated. Whenever you leave a location, you will go directly to the metro system and the map will pop up. Accessible locations are clearly shown and clicking on one of them will transport you to the next location. Most gamers would agree that a map is indeed preferable to endless walking. At the bottom of the game screen you can access the main menu, inventory, Nancy’s notebook, and a change purse that contains Nancy’s money. All options can be accessed by left clicking on the desired one. The standard cursors have not changed. Nancy has a magnifying glass that will turn red when she can examine something. A hand icon will glow red when you can interact with or pick up an item. Speaking to a character is denoted by a speech bubble over the character.
Facially, all the character renderings are done well and are consistent with the Nancy Drew style. You could see more of the bodies on a couple of characters. Heather looked a tad unnatural; not necessarily in the way she moved; but in the way they looked. It reminded me of watching an animated clay figure that has rounded edges that are perfectly smooth. When you move the talk cursor over any character, they are brought to life immediately and they are ready to talk. Heather is always at her desk and will spin around to talk to you. I must say I made her spin a dozen times “just because”. There are a few characters to interact with. Minette is the obvious wacko. Heather is her saintly assistant. One prominent character is Dieter von Schwesterkrank. He is a photographer who used to date Minette until she suddenly dumped him. His grandfather used to date Noisette Tornade. What’s his real relationship to Minette? Was it all just a farce? Does he know about the hidden artwork? You’ll meet Jean Michel Traquenard. He writes fashion articles for all the major magazines. He’s quite full of himself and not easy to please. You’ll pretty much need to kiss up to him for the sake of Minette. JJ Ling is a plus size model and is graciously allowing Nancy to stay at her apartment. JJ is nice enough to Nancy, but she doesn’t have the best reputation in the fashion business. She can be difficult to work with. There are a few vendors in the park that you’ll do a lot of business with. Other interaction is done with characters by phone.
Almost all the voices are great. Nancy (Lani Minella) is the voice we’ve come to know as Nancy. Quality is always top-notch. Another voice for Nancy would be just unthinkable. Minette and Heather were also done well. The German accents were a little questionable. Having worked 8 years of my life at a German company with a German boss & German co-workers; the accents just weren’t completely believable to me. Mind you, they weren’t horrible or anything. They just were a bit cliché. Dieter was ½ and ½. At times, he sounded just like one of my co-workers. At other times, it sounded over the top. The French accents, on the whole, seemed much better. Although someone who is French may disagree. Who knows?
The background graphics are crisp and clear and fully representative of the Nancy Drew style. As expected, they are rich in color and fun to look at. There are six locations in the game: Minette’s studio, JJ Ling’s apartment, Dieter von Schwesterkranks, Café Kiki, Square Du vert Galant (park) and underground catacombs. Secret passages lurk everywhere. It’s just a matter of finding them. It would have been nice to have Nancy do some sight seeing. Of particular note is a small piece of animation in the game where Nancy walks through a tunnel with a flashlight. It may seem like a small thing, but it was really done wonderfully. It manages to make you feel as if you were walking that tunnel yourself.
There is not a lot of music in the game. Ambient sounds are more prominent and truly hit the mark. When you’re in the park, you can hear the immediate sounds like pigeons and other wildlife normally found here. But, in the distance you’ll also hear the faint sounds of the city like police sirens. At the metro station, you hear the sound of people walking, metro trains, doors opening etc.. An inordinate amount of time was spent on small details. If you work on the computer, you will hear the sound of a double click when Nancy opens a program. Spinning Heather around in her chair to talk will produce the accurate sounds of an office chair on a hardwood floor. This is only just a sampling of all the different sounds. All in all, they were just plain excellent.
Nancy’s investigation in this game primarily involves puzzles. Previous games had a more even mix of dialog investigation and puzzles. It’s important to know that there are four puzzles that are timed and will involve the “2nd Chance” option. That’s right…..four of them! In addition, there are 2 other timed puzzles but at least you don’t die on those. So, that’s 6 timed puzzles in one game. Tired of having all the time in the world to figure out a puzzle? Well, this is the game for you. Trust me, it was frustrating. There is an underwater maze that Nancy has to swim through. The timed portion involves the amount of air Nancy has left in her lungs. If you hate mazes on solid ground, you’re going to hate the swimming puzzle. And, I’m not sure if this was a glitch, or if I’m just deficient on the brain cells. But, when you get through swimming to your destination, you’ll have a cryptic message to figure out. Now, you may remember reading something about it in one of your books. So, naturally you’ll want to read that book again to refresh your memory. Well, you can’t. You can’t access any inventory items. And, the major clue you need isn’t in this location. So, you’ll have to swim through that damn maze again to find your answer. Then, swim back. Arrghhh! I ended up saving my game after I made the first swim. Then, loading a previous save to get may answer.
There is a timed bomb puzzle that involves switching fuses around in order to comply with specific criteria. This puzzle is best worked out on paper and takes quite a while to figure out. So, be prepared to get blown up quite a few times. There are the customary Nancy Drew puzzles where you’ll have to make cookies and parfaits. There’s a cockroach catching puzzle that will require some speedy clicking. A lot of puzzles involve cryptic messages and codes that needed to be deciphered. Luckily, you’ll have a decoding machine to help with a couple of them. The rest will rely on your own brain power, a pen and paper. Overall, the difficulty level and amount of puzzles has been stepped up. So, be prepared. This isn’t the same old Nancy Drew game.
The only downside to increasing the number of puzzles is that the story lacked a little in its development. In previous games, Nancy was a lot nosier which led to a lot more questions. This helped to draw you into the story and start identifying obvious suspects in your mind. Nancy did ask some questions in this game, but they just weren’t as in-depth as what we’re used to. It could also be the fact that Nancy is investigating in secret (meaning no one in Paris knows she’s a detective) so while the story is interesting, it just has you feeling slightly disconnected.
Danger by Design is still a blast to play. While there seemed to be too many timed puzzles, it sure did up the difficulty level from what we’re used to. And, if you prefer more puzzles to dialog, then this will be right up your alley. There were also a lot of new features introduced to this newest installment. If you’re a fan of the series, then you be happy to add this one to your collection. And, you get to look forward to the 15th game in the series being released this year.
Final Grade: 84/100