Her Interactive manages to keep themselves busy by churning out two adventure games a year. The surprising thing is that their recent Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull is a noticeable improvement over the last game, Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek. Released just four months after the last game, Legend of the Crystal Skull draws you in with its intriguing story, ambiance and puzzles.
This time the young detective is in New Orleans to check up on Henry Bolet, a young man who is a casual acquaintance of Nancy's boyfriend Ned. Henry's great uncle, Bruno Bolet recently died. He was the only relative Henry had left, so Ned felt that since Nancy was in New Orleans anyway with her friend Bess, she might as well swing by. Nancy does swing by and she is met with a man in a skeleton costume who then throws some powder at Nancy, causing her to pass out. When she comes to, the housekeeper, Renee Armande is looking over her and hands her a rather gross looking concoction. Henry doesn't want to call the police and of course Nancy refuses to leave unless she finds out what that skeleton man was doing in Henry's house in the first place. The mystery builds further when Nancy learns of a crystal skull Bruno had in his possession that is said to have powers to protect the owner from death.
What I liked about this Nancy Drew game was that the cast was relatively small, so it made things a little easier when you're not keeping track of a large number of people. Nancy was more or less confined to the mansion and the cemetery, which wasn't a large area, so even with some of the puzzles that required some backtracking it didn't seem to take as long as it normally might. You also have the opportunity to play as Nancy's friend, Bess Marvin. Since it starts raining heavily in New Orleans and Nancy can't get a cab, she enlists Bess to help her snoop around a few locations near the hotel.
A nice new feature was the ability to play in a windowed screen. Loading times between locations are fast and painless. Sometimes it was difficult to get the arrows to pop up on the mouse pointer to either rotate around the room or back up, but that was the only annoying feature that I came across. The magnifying glass turns red when there are points of interest and if you're stuck, Ned is always on call if you need a hint.
It was also a welcome change when the game focused on looking for clues and solving puzzles. There were no chores to be done and other types of busywork that served no real purpose. There were a few puzzles that didn't make much sense such as the Rube-Goldberg-like puzzle. It involved a lot of trial and error, but the outcome was rather creative. The wasp spraying puzzle wasn't very fun or creative, especially if you couldn't spray them in clusters so they'd keep waking up and the game would drag on. Otherwise, a majority of the puzzles involved quite a bit of reading and paying attention to certain charts and lists and finding out the connection between everything.
The graphics have improved quite a bit since the last game and it helped that the game was dark and creepy. When you wander into the cemetery, you'll zoom out to a third person overhead view and see Nancy and her shadow walk along the path. This was a nice touch considering you're always in a first person view. The characters were very well animated, although some looked more cartoonish than others.
There was very little music in the game but the parts where there actually was music was fitting. It would have been nice to have added some extra sinister themes because it was a darker game. The music could really intensify the experience especially if you're playing with the lights out at night. Nancy Drew games are targeted toward a younger audience so the story wouldn't be that scary anyway, but the experience could have been. The voice acting was excellent, much better than even some movie inspired games using the real actors. Despite how great the voice acting is, my beef is that you can't skip through dialogue.
Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull is definitely worth adding to the growing Nancy Drew catalogue. It's a decent game for adventure fans who just want a game to play. The story and game should appeal to the young teen crowd but if you're looking for something really deep, you're not going to find it here, especially when you beat it once, you have no desire to go through it again.
It must start to get difficult coming up with new ideas for this series since we're on game seventeen. However, at the end of the game you'll get a sneak peak at the next game in line and as long as Her Interactive continues in this direction, it should be interesting to see what they come up with next.