I loved Nancy Drew as a little girl. She was sassy, smart, highly motivated with a dreamy boyfriend, a sweet car and two awesome best friends - truthfully, my polar opposite in just about every way possible. I'd go to the library and borrow all the Nancy Drew books and read them as fast as possible and my mother cringed and bought me stronger glasses.
Unfortunately, I grew up. My tastes refined (Archie comics!) and a few hundred boxes of Nancy Drew books remained untouched for nearly fifteen years.
And then came this.
Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, on Wii. Thank you, Her Interactive, for bestowing upon us such delightful titles.
Having worked in a video game store for several years in the past, I've seen book-based video games come and go. I've seen the other Nancy Drew games. I've cringed and felt old and wondered why on Earth they would put poor little Nancy through more misery.
Misery being the key word here, friends. Misery.
The game starts off with Nancy being called to solve a mystery at a lodge in the middle of nowhere, snow-filled, frozen Alberta, Canada. Nancy was asked to get to the bottom of all the accidents that seem to be happening at the lodge, the most recent of which being a huge explosion on the grounds. A scary sounding wolf has been lurking around too, leading others to think there could be a curse on the lodge. Though she's young, she comes with good recommendations and is ready to work tirelessly to find the evil behind it all by going undercover and working as the newest maid.
Bad stereotypes aside, I can deal with the grossly over-inflated plot lines. It's cute to pretend that my government would allow a probable sixteen-year-old to probe an evident terrorist threat. I've had worse plots at the movie theatre these days.
The problem is that this PC-port suffered badly in the transition from computer to console. It might as well not be on the Wii at all, except for some hastily tacked-on (and unskippable) mini games. It's a point-and-click sleuthing game which, theoretically, would be easy to do on a Wiimote. In short: It is not.
You control Nancy by moving your cursor around the screen until a directional arrow appears. The difficulty there is that they don't appear for long. Wiimotes are twitchy, and unless you stand two feet from the sensor bar (not recommended with a tv larger than 12 inches), you don't get a good grip on the whole thing.
It's also frustrating to see what you can and cannot pick up in a room. In my mind, if you're investigating something, investigate it. Let me pick up objects and decide for myself if it's relevant. I'm allowed to snoop in their rooms, open their books and magazines, but can't open their cupboard doors. It becomes a maddening series of "Oh maybe this! Damn. Oh maybe this!" where you feel like a fly bumping continuously at a glass window trying in vain to escape.
Other than being a fly on the wall, Nancy has maid duties and a clock to do them by. You have to make beds, cook, clean rooms, look for avalanches, check the ice on the pond and play with the caretaker's snotty kid.
The cleaning and making of beds is achieved through the magic of point-click, but the cooking is where they attempted to make paying for a Wii title really worth it.
My first job was to cook steak. I had to gather the ingredients and tools from around the kitchen before beginning. Okay, seems fair enough, really. Except you aren't allowed to zoom in, at all, and they don't tell you what your cursor is hovering over. It's another series of frantic clicking over the entire background, trying to distinguish the different between butter and a "ceramic pan" on a back shelf. Despite what I said earlier, my eyes are fine. Seriously.
When it comes to cooking itself, the controls are about as realistic as the motorcycle games at ye olde arcade. In one recipe (quesdillas), I had to grate cheese with enough force to crank-start a mach seven jet. I'm not even sure if that's possible, but if so, the find people at Her Interactive have found a way.
I'm not saying that Wii technology is or should be perfect, but when there are titles as impressive as Cooking Mama Cook Off and accurate as Dead Space Extraction, you'd hope that the developer would take the time to make the step up to a third-gen console worth it.
That goes graphically as well. The Wii is not yet known for its graphic heavy titles, though there are a few exceptions. In truth, the game is right up there with your average Wii title. It's a bit blurry, a big pixelated and the animated cutscenes leave a lot to be desired. But hey, if I wanted a movie, I'd play Metal Gear Solid 4. For a children's sleuthing game, the colors are bright, the lodge looks cozy and the snow is pretty. Improvements to quality are always welcome, but until then, I'll live. There is also a seemingly perpetual loading bar on the bottom right of the screen, no matter what Nancy is doing. It struck me as odd, considering the poor nature of the graphics, that it would need such continual loading time.
For sound, you could easily put on a good album to listen to alongside. All the cutscenes have captions and there isn't much in terms of sound effects. The voice acting is pretty good, with the two exceptions being the little bratty kid (what the hell is up with that?) and the voice of one of the guests, the stereotypical Canadian. I'm from redneck country, and even I don't know anybody who says 'eh' that much.
Otherwise, there are a few inclusions to the game that are both frustrating and neat.
Because it's Canada and we Canadians live in igloos with polar bears, Nancy can only go outside between certain temperatures and for varying lengths of time depending on that temperature. If the thermometer on the wall near the door says "dangerous", she can't go outside at all. It adds a certain amount of realism to the game that reminds me, ever so vaguely, of any Harvest Moon or the Sims title.
If you do find yourself stuck inside, and desperately feel the need to be outside, simply go up to Nancy's room and play with the clock. You now control time. Pat yourself on the back.
Some of the puzzles are pretty interesting as well, including a minesweeper-style game where Nancy must check the quality of the ice and place pylons on the dangerous areas. There are also a lot of puzzles, and a good variety of them, which makes the game less repetitive and boring.
All in all, this game isn't misery. I'll admit that. For a Saturday morning with the kids, or for a young teen to play on their on, it's a decent title. The gameplay isn't terribly challenging, but the mystery portion can sometimes be a brain scratcher. Go ahead and pick it up for your favourite niece, daughter or cousin and see if you don't find yourself playing it, just for a little bit.