Reviewed: July 21, 2009
Released: July 14, 2009
Suitably themed for a midsummer game release, Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships takes place on a cluster of island in the Bahamas, where the teenage detective is tasked with the daunting quest of rescuing her friend Bess from mysterious kidnappers. In return for Bess’ release, the kidnappers are demanding that you, as Nancy Drew, solve an ancient puzzle and deliver to them the 300-year-old treasure of El Toro’s lost fleet.
Family-friendly, educational, and easy to learn to play, Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series has shown itself to be fun for adventure game aficionados, as well as relatively painless for more casual gamers to get into and enjoy. Seven Ships plays very similarly to the previous Nancy Drew games, using a simple and straightforward point-and-click interface that should be intuitive enough for anyone who uses a modern computer; for adventure game veterans, it’ll be second nature. Navigation, picking up or examining items of interest, and interacting with characters and the environment are all easily accomplished with the mouse. Just in case, though, the usual optional in-game tutorial is included to help new players get acquainted with the system.
Seven Ships, as with the other games in the series, plays like a classic mystery adventure. Nancy Drew flies to the Bahamas expecting to enjoy a summer vacation with her two friends Bess and George, but Nancy has no such luck. George—appearing in person for the first time in the series—breaks the news to Nancy that Bess has been kidnapped for ransom, and the kidnappers have left a note requiring that Nancy deliver El Toro’s lost treasure in trade for Bess’ safe return. Naturally, especially as Nancy and George are essentially marooned on an island with no contact with the proper authorities, the two girls are forced to obey the kidnappers and get working on solving the puzzles leading to the location of the ancient cache.
As in her previous adventures, Nancy gets to work investigating the mystery by chatting people up, exploring, and solving various puzzles. Because the game isn’t completely linear, it’s possible to occasionally lose track of what to do next, but luckily, the smart-aleck parrot at the resort lodge will give you hints if you feed her guavas. There is actually very little interrogation to be done, since there are only two other humans Nancy can talk to on the isolated tropical island, but the generous array of diverse puzzles—some of which are pretty challenging, especially the timed ones—will keep you plenty busy.
To get to the treasure, Nancy and George will have to solve a little bit of everything: logic puzzles, sound-based games, jigsaws, slider puzzles, ciphers, mini-games played with the island’s resident trained monkeys, and many others. In terms of variety, challenge level, and fun, Seven Ships may well beat previous Nancy Drew titles with its wide assortment of puzzles.
There are, however, a number of more challenging puzzles that are occasionally made even more difficult with the pressures of time limits—mostly because Nancy has to complete a number of these while underwater, and she’ll quickly run out of air if you spend too much time thinking. It can become frustrating to complete brainteasers under that kind of duress, and—I’ll be honest—I died a lot from drowning in this game. It’s definitely fortunate that the game gives you as many second chances as you’d like following a fatal failure. I can almost guarantee that you’ll have to try many of these puzzles a few times before you can solve them quickly enough.
To even get to these puzzles, however, Nancy will have to do a lot of going back and forth among the handful of locations throughout the game, usually in a golf cart or sailboat. This would be fine in of itself, except that, for whatever reason, she doesn’t carry a map, and there’s no handy mini map function. Surely enough, by the end of the game, you’ll be so familiar with the island and its surrounding waters because of the repetitive travel that you won’t need a map, but at the beginning stages of the game, it’s terribly easy to waste a lot of time being lost. It’s true that you can call George on the walkie-talkie to switch to her temporarily and access the map in the resort lobby, but that’s an unnecessary hassle that could’ve easily been avoided in this case. Aside from that, though, Seven Ships is a solid adventure game with a healthy selection of puzzles, some leeway for non-linearity, and compelling enough mystery plot.
Seven Ships still sticks with the same style of partially animated static environments, rendered attractively in 3D, and it’s continued the trend of gradual improvement that we’ve been seeing in the Nancy Drew series to date. The tropical environment is presented in bright colors and a soft, sunny glow; the waves glisten and roll; and the palm fronds sway in the breeze. The characters, too, are animated a bit more naturally, and, in their debut appearance in the game series, Bess and George both look notably accurate to their book descriptions.
The game’s soundtrack, too, is pleasantly tropical and reminiscent of certain riffs from Pirates of the Caribbean and The Sims. As appropriate for a mystery game taking place in the Bahamas, it includes both cheery and ominous motifs, as well as a plaintive Latin guitar theme for El Toro and his lost treasure. The voice acting is high quality, too, the only strange aspect being that Nancy never sounds all that upset over one of her closest friends being kidnapped for ransom. It makes sense that she’s an unflappable sort of character, but this may be going slightly too far for believability. Nevertheless, sound-wise, Seven Ships is one of the best in the Nancy Drew series so far.
Retailing for $19.99—the download and the box copy are the same price—Seven Ships goes for the same price as the other games in the series and, in my opinion, one of the more enjoyable Nancy Drew titles. The overall play time might be padded with the time required for travel, as well as for the mini-games you’ll have to play with the monkeys over and over again to win certain necessary items, but for the number of unique puzzles and the level of challenge, it’s still not a bad deal.
Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships is probably one of the best Nancy Drew game installments that I’ve played to date, given its higher challenge level and large variety of puzzles. The game does have its frustrating moments, but overall, it’s a satisfying title. The improved graphics and decent soundtrack don’t hurt, either. If you’ve enjoyed the series thus far, you’d almost certainly like this one, too; and if you like adventure games, Seven Ships is worth a try.