Reviewed: October 18, 2007
Released: October 8, 2007
This seventeenth installment of Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew adventure game series has Nancy and her friend Bess taking a trip to New Orleans for a vacation that quickly becomes yet another mystery for the two girls to solve together.
Like the previous Nancy Drew games, Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull offers players a lot of puzzles and suspicious characters. Plus, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday in its month of release, it mostly takes place in a dark and creepy manor.
In this latest Nancy Drew adventure, Nancy and her friend Bess travel to New Orleans and inadvertently find themselves playing detective at solving the mystery involving the death of the eccentric Bruno Bolet, who apparently owned a crystal skull rumored to make its owner immortal. Right at the start of the game, Nancy and Bess are separated, with Nancy stranded in the old Bolet mansion with no electricity, while Bess is left to her own devices at their hotel in town. Fortunately, however, the two girls are only a phone call away from each other, which is useful because you will have to play as both characters in order to gather all the clues needed to solve the case.
Crystal Skull basically follows the formula of its predecessors and uses the improved user interface from White Wolf. The game immediately offers a short tutorial for new players, which can be easily skipped by starting a new game or loading a game in progress – and starting a new game dives straight into the action with a spooky opening cinematic that sets the stage for the rest of the game.
In terms of navigation, it’s mostly the same point-and-click interface Nancy Drew players are used to, but a limited form of 360-degree rotation is available in a couple areas of Crystal Skull. The extra viewing angles allow for a more complete view of the environment, but the change in movement controls is also a bit confusing, since rotation isn’t available throughout most of the game. Other than that, though, getting around and picking up items is the same, simple, mouse-based process as in the previous few Nancy Drew games.
As you’d probably expect from an adventure game, Crystal Skull is full of puzzles, many of which are available to the player right at the beginning of the game, even before the clues for solving that puzzle have been presented. Because of this, it’s easy to get stuck in Crystal Skull in the early stages, since many of the openly available puzzles look deceptively solvable at early ages of the game, when, in fact, the pieces of knowledge needed to complete them don’t become available to the player until later in the game.
The puzzles themselves are a bit more challenging than the ones I’ve seen in previous Nancy Drew installments. Some of the puzzles are enjoyable because they can be handily solved using a bit of logic and very little legwork – like the marble and wood block puzzle – though there is also one potentially fun puzzle that ends up being less pleasant because it requires a lot of wasted time traveling between the puzzle and the source of the puzzle’s answers.
In any case, Nancy Drew players who hated the monotonous cooking games or the timed puzzles will be happy to hear that there are none of those in this game. There is, however, one skeeball game that does not rely much on critical thinking skills, but must be completed in order to finish Crystal Skull.
Once you hit the middle of the game, though, and the clues are actually given to you, the game proceeds relatively smoothly. It’s mostly just the first half that can be a little frustrating.
The graphics in Crystal Skull are, as with the previous Nancy Drew games, reasonably well done. Though the backdrops are still static renders as before, they are highly detailed and beautifully set up the creepy atmosphere of the New Orleans mansion. The character renders and animations are certainly improved from past Nancy Drew titles, and the Bink video cutscenes melt almost seamlessly into actual game-play.
Sometimes the game environment can be a little dark for discovering necessary clues – I had to turn up my monitor brightness several notches to find some of the necessary hot spots – but at the same time, a creepy manor wouldn’t be nearly as creepy if there wasn’t some level of darkness involved. The rain and well-timed lightning are also nice touches.
As with previous titles in the Nancy Drew series, the 100% voiced-over dialogue adds color to the characters and, like the overall attitude of the games, doesn’t take itself too seriously. There isn’t too much in the way of a musical soundtrack, and the sound effects aren’t anything fancy, but they still manage to add to the spooky atmosphere of the game. If you’ve played previous games in this series, you basically know what to expect.
Crystal Skull retails for $19.99 and is definitely a step up from the previous three games in the series in terms of ambiance, challenge level, and reduced number of repetitive tasks. It might also be a little longer and have a more engaging storyline. In other words, if you enjoyed the past few titles, you will probably enjoy this one, too; and, if you didn’t enjoy the past few titles as much as you would have liked, you might enjoy this one a little more.
Though it has its frustrating moments, Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull is generally an enjoyable adventure game, as well as a more satisfying title than the three games before it. (And, besides, it gives you the opportunity to build a Rube Goldberg machine and try some virtual Creole cuisine.) If you’re a gamer who has enjoyed the other games in the series, you will probably like this one too.