If there’s one thing you can count on nowadays, it’s Her Interactive releasing two Nancy Drew games a year, proving their reliability and giving ND fans a “sure thing” and something to look forward to each year. The seventeenth in the series, Legend of the Crystal Skull has Nancy flying off to New Orleans for some of that Creole magic the town is known for. And, as an added bonus, Bess is along for the ride. This will be the first ND game in which Bess is present in-person instead of just available via phone.
It won’t be all fun and games. Nancy has promised Ned that she will check in on a certain Henry Bolet when she arrives. Henry’s Great-Uncle has just passed away and he’s at his Uncle’s estate for a couple of weeks to tie up loose ends. It’s not as if Ned is really friends with Henry (not many people are), but Ned has some compassion for him, and that’s all Nancy needs to know.
So, upon arrival in New Orleans, Nancy immediately heads over to the estate to get this favor out of the way so she can get down to having fun. A knock on the door, to no answer, and Nancy steps inside only to be accosted by a skeleton dressed in a fancy suit. He throws some kind of powder in her face and she’s knocked out. Seriously, if things like this happened to me everywhere I went, I’d never leave the house again.
Nancy’s determination to find the identity of the skeleton man and a never-ending rainstorm keeps her at the estate and leads to some fascinating revelations about Henry’s uncle and his connections to a mysterious artifact. And, off we go…
As with all the Nancy Drew PC games, Legend of the Crystal Skull is a 1st person adventure coming complete on two CDs. Oddly enough, while the CDs are listed as Install/Play CDs, I was able to play the game on my laptop without the use of a Play CD. I assumed you would need one, but upon switching over to another game, I realized that I did not have the CD in and was able to play the game just fine. As with “The White Wolf of Icicle Creek”, the game installs a launch program called “Nancy Drew Central”. This allows you to launch any of the ND games you currently have installed from one screen. It also links you up to HerInteractive for support or to purchase other games. It’s not my favorite feature. While the concept is good, I personally like to make my own choices as to what I’m linked to. Moving on.
The game begins in Nancy’s bedroom at home. You have the option to look back at old cases for a trip down memory lane, read about the mechanics of the game, learn about the current case or click on the plane ticket to start the game immediately. Once you click on the plane ticket, you will be given the choice of playing as a Junior or Senior Detective. The Junior mode will be slightly easier, offering more hints and also giving you a checklist that will help decide a direction when unsure of what to do next.
The interface is your basic ND point-and-click with directional arrows to lead the way. The classic magnifying glass to examine and the hand to pick-up/interact are also included. You will get to interact with the environment playing as Nancy and alternatively as Bess. Switching back and forth is accomplished by using the cell phone to call one another.
At the bottom of the game screen is where you’ll find Nancy’s inventory (represented by a backpack), her journal, cell phone and task list. Although, if you’re playing in Senior mode, there won’t be anything available on the checklist. You can load, save or quit the game or change the game’s settings from this location as well. Options for settings include voice, effects and music volume, turning on/off closed-captioning, changing the color of the bottom border and adjusting your screen size. As simply as placing an “X” in a box, you can adjust the screen size for CRT or LCD monitors or run the game in a smaller window.
The game is graphically pleasing and it is obvious HerInteractive takes strides to improve with each game while still keeping the flavor of the original games. For example, the characters’ faces get more detailed with each game and in this game, the bodies are much more natural looking than in previous games. But, as with the very first ND game, the characters maintain their positions in their environments throughout the game. Henry Bolet is seated at a desk through the entire game while another character (Renee) maintains her station out on the back porch. Even if a character is missing from a scene, they will re-appear later in the same exact spot. While it would be nice to see some movement, this seems to be a ND style that has prevailed throughout the series.
The 2D backgrounds are crisp, clear and shrouded in darkness for the most part. When you begin the game, a message pops up suggesting that you play with all the lights out to maximize your experience. Nancy spends most of her time exploring the secrets hidden within the estate, the surrounding garden and the cemetery for which Bruno Bolet (the great-uncle) was a caretaker. A nice touch on the graphical side is seeing the silhouette of Nancy and her shadow as she walks through the cemetery. Bess’ exploration is limited to a local café and an eclectic little shop. As stated before, it is a rainstorm that keeps Nancy from traveling back to her hotel. And, rain is what you’ll see and hear throughout the game. In fact, you may get a little sick of all the rain. While it does help convey a specific mood, you’ll be begging for a bit of sunshine (and silence) a few hours into gameplay.
In addition to the CONSTANT sound of rainfall, there are other ambient sounds that add to the gaming experience. This is another element that HerInteractive really takes the time to get right. Different doors each have their own distinct sound. Turning pages of a book have that slide & flip sound. Footsteps sound differently on each type of walking surface. The sounds of the local bug population add their own voices to the outdoor chorus. Good job done here.
While you do get a chance to talk to other characters, it’s pretty limited. More time is spent on puzzles than anything else. I actually had considerable fun with the puzzles this time around and there were a lot of them. Most of the puzzles involve deciphering cryptic messages and codes. One that I think was most enjoyable was reading a cryptic clue and trying to find a person’s name out of a huge list that best fit that clue. Once you found one name, you had to go and visit their grave/crypt and get another clue. One particularly frustrating puzzle involved a game similar to skeeball. Guess my aim stinks so this one took me quite a while.
Only one puzzle seemed a little like a menial chore only because you had to do it multiple times and it got harder and faster with each subsequent visit. But, the tasks in Crystal Skull are nothing compared with previous titles like White Wolf where you had to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day at a specific time. Thanks Goodness!!! You’re also not bound by a clock in this game so you’re not as restricted. You can die in this game, but the 2nd chance option (or 3rd or 4th etc) is available.
On a side note, there was a particular scavenger hunt in the game where you have to locate mushrooms. Ok, all I’m saying is that the mushroom skeeved me out. While we still haven’t gotten back to the original snooping and obsessive questions of the original Nancy Drew, this latest installment had enough puzzles of variety to make the game fun and thoroughly interesting. The story was good and made sense. Overall, Crystal Skill is a solid Nancy Drew game. Even if you’re not a Nancy Drew fan, the puzzles are fun and make this a title worth exploring.