Warnings at Waverly Academy is the 21st installment in the Nancy Drew mystery games collection. It continues along with the adventures of everyone's favorite young sleuth, Miss Drew, who uses her wits and detective skills to figure out mysteries and save the day for everyone involved.
This particular mystery has her taking on an alter ego and infiltrating an exclusive all girls' boarding school. As the new girl, she has to figure out how to convince everyone to talk to her so she can gather the information she needs to solve the mystery of the 'Black Cat'; a person threatening other girls who are in the running to be named valedictorian. The girls who have been threatened twice have been the victims of bad pranks, one of them sending a girl to the hospital.
When the game starts, you are treated to a view of Nancy's desk, which has not only the case file but a book on 'detective techniques' which gives you the instructions on how to navigate through the game. While the interface will be familiar to many who've played point and click mystery games before, the lack of instructions in the instruction manual itself is a little frustrating. It prevents the player from being able to read while installing the game and simply jump into the story as soon as the game is ready to go. Instead, you need to go through their tutorial before you can begin play. Granted, it's short, but the necessity is a little annoying. In game controls can be a little cumbersome at times as well, relying on the arrow system to move around; move the cursor until an arrow appears, letting you know what direction you can move around in. These arrows are statically placed. Move forward one too many times and you might end up having to play 'find the arrow' until you can turn around and reach the portion of the room you need.
Once in the actual school, you begin your investigation, starting off with speaking to your roommate. It doesn't take long before another problem with the game surfaces, namely that you are unable to skip dialogue in any fashion. The game is set up so that you have dialogue boxes pop up when speaking to the other characters. This is so you can select Nancy's responses to what they have to say. However, while you are able to read what the character has to say and can even pick Nancy's response fairly quickly in most cases, you cannot stop them from talking. At all. Ever. You. Must. Wait. For. Every. Word. To. Finish. Coming. From. Their. Mouths. It slows gameplay down as you have to go through the tedium of listening to every word the characters have to say.
On the plus side, the voice acting is well done (with the exception of Nancy herself) and nicely acted. While listening, I could completely believe that I was talking to a group of self absorbed, insecure teenage high school females. Facial expressions were more detailed than I would have expected to see, with nice details such as their eye movements helping to convey emotion. Body language even changed in most cases. While the movements were a little wooden, it was still nice to see the effort put in to help bring the characters more to life.
Background details where very nicely done with beautiful background settings in some cases. Going into the individual girl's rooms was a treat; I enjoyed seeing the different decorations and knick knacks that helped define each girl and her personality. Attention was paid to the rest of the school as well, with many paintings on the walls and decorations to give the school a realistic feel. Details such as a lap blanket on one of the chairs was a nice touch. The music for the game was repetitive but of good quality; there wasn't anything particularly special about it.
The traditional aspects of a mystery game are all there, however. Puzzles to solve and dialogue sequences to go through in order to open up the right conversations with the right people to continue forward. While it was fairly normal for the type of game, I couldn't help but groan a little each time I was asked to do another girls' assignment for her in order to win her help. And of course, like any good mystery game, there are the occasional items to be found that defy logic or rational thought (she hid that key to her trunk where?) and the only way to find them are to scroll the mouse over the screen until the icon appears showing that there is a point of interest.
There are a few mini games put in that just on their own might have been interesting diversions. However, in order to complete several sections of the game, you have to beat one of the other girls at them. It can be frustrating and time consuming if you happen to not do so well. Granted, after a few times of loosing she takes pity on you, but to have to go through several times of loosing is tedious and annoying.
New in game features such as Nancy's cell phone were an interesting addition. You occasionally receive text messages with gossip and can change the settings on the phone such as color, alarm tone and background picture. The picture option was interesting until it was incorporated into a few assignments that can be cumbersome to complete; trying to take the 'perfect' picture is not always easy.
Other features, such as the demerits and credits seemed a bit forced on the player. Nancy can earn credits for successfully completing tasks and demerits for doing, or failing to do, certain things at school. She is assigned a daily task of helping out at the snack bar, which is a mini game that has to be completed every day or else she earns a demerit. Earning enough demerits can mean that you loose the game. However the enforcer of the demerit system, Paige, is omniscient. For a girl who spends all of her time unavailable in her room, she sure is incredibly capable of catching you doing things in other sections of the school. I don't understand how she's capable of 'seeing' you break into a room on the first floor when she's in her room on the second; especially when she conveniently doesn't notice when you break into the room right next to hers. While it's obvious they tried to put in a system for loosing the game, it's a bit clunky.
The story is fairly easy to follow and the puzzles can all be solved given enough time. You even receive help with finding the clues to complete them; it's practically impossible to miss the details you need to figure out most puzzles. There aren't any true thrills or scares here; it's a pretty straight forward mystery game that anyone can play. However, despite the 'E' for Everyone rating, I wouldn't recommend the game for anyone past the age of 15. High school drama can only go so far for interesting diversions. And a plot twist in the middle of the game left me turning away from the computer so I could reboot my brain; non-logical reasoning and a ham fisted insertion of another character left some brain cells crying out for help. In all, this game is one for the younger and loyal crowd of Nancy Drew followers; all others can take a pass.