August 11, 2009

Review: Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy

game format: classic adventure

puzzles: inventory | complex clue based | skill | time

playtime: 24 hours without walkthrough | difficulty: challenging

publisher / developer: Her Interactive

links: Official site  |  Buy this game!  |  Strategy Guide

Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy
game brief: Unveil a Ghostly Legend and Find a Vanished Groom! Touted as the most romantic event to grace the ruined halls of Ireland's Castle Malloy, the Simmons-Mallory wedding was supposed to be a fairytale beginning, but now the groom is missing! Did a banshee crash the wedding or is this a case of cold feet? Can you, as Nancy Drew, unravel the knot of scattered clues and scary superstitions? (Official website)

review: In the 19th case of the super-successful series, eighteen year old amateur detective Nancy Drew flies to Ireland to be the maid of honour for old friend Kyler Mallory – and the bride’s rundown family castle Malloy provides the perfect setting for a haunting that just begs to be solved.

The game-play remains similar to the previous instalments of the series. In fact, one of the best things about the Her Interactive team is that they do not mess with tried-and-tested items – be it game-play, graphic styles or even the voice-overs – just for the heck of it. This discretion, so rarely displayed by developers of sequels, allows the player to immediately get immersed in the mystery at hand rather than struggle with token newness.

As usual, the player can play as a Junior Detective, in which case the hints are more abundant, the puzzles simpler and there is a task list, or as a Senior Detective, which is the expert version. Since I’ve never played any of the games in Junior mode, I’m not sure how much simpler it is, but given that Nancy has many young fans – I started on Nancy Drew in 6th grade – this option is always welcome.

The core story hinges on a mature love triangle involving the young protagonists: the bride Kyler, the missing groom Matt Simmons, and Matt’s best friend and Kyler’s ex-boyfriend Kit Foley. Kyler and Matt are in love but don’t seem very compatible – she is serious and quiet, choosing to spend her time reading in the library, and Matt, when he finally appears, is a goofy prankster who says things like “dibs on the potatoes” and “can’t talk, hungry”. Dude...! it, the handsome (despite a black eye!) and amiable real estate developer, steals the show with his unrequited love for Kyler, and the final scene where Kyler professes her love for Matt is truly tragic even within the constraints of a computer game.

The other important NPC is the castle’s cranky old butler, Donal Delany, who, as it turns out, is actually a softie at heart. The mystery is so tight that at various points all these characters appear to be credible suspects, including Matt himself, and the supernatural also remains a possibility for a while.

This game, like its predecessors, follows the tradition of not just entertainment but education, and does so with impeccable style. Ireland and its legends are tightly integrated into the storyline, graphics, characters, music and, of course, a number of the puzzles. There is a bit of everything – a castle, a bog, cliffs, cairns, leprechauns, screaming banshees, shamrocks, runes, bagpipes, sheep, and a good old inn where Nancy can mix drinks and play drums and video games – all of it leading to a revelation that is, contrary to the ancient references strewn throughout the game, super-duper technological!

The graphics remain top-of-the-line, and scenes such as the one with the screaming banshee at the nursery window, are stunning in execution, and effect. The music is traditional and expertly creates a mysterious ambiance without being morbid or depressing. I’m also very fond of the lip-syncing in the Nancy Drew series – perfectly in sync with the characters’ gestures, accents and personalities.

The game’s numerous puzzles - clue-based, skill-based and time-based - often require inputs from multiple sources before they can be understood, let alone solved. They are challenging and scientific, and involve detailed botanical texts, cryptic books, periodic tables, translations of ancient runes, and even launching a rocket! While none of the puzzles are random or unsolvable without walkthroughs, the sheer range may create one or two roadblocks for players who may not relish a particular type of game, say, throwing darts accurately or referring multiple books for not-so-obvious riddles. But the overall game is well worth the effort, and the conclusion is bittersweet and satisfying.

The Haunting of Castle Malloy lived well up to my expectations and is highly recommended both for the lovers of the series as well as gamers who want a tightly-woven story that delivers the entire gamut of human emotions while nonchalantly throwing complex puzzles that you will want to solve – just to know what happens next.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to watch the mini-gag-reel after the credits :)

The game also gives out 12 awards at the end - I only got Super Sleuth, Ace Flyer and Chemist Sorter – but, c’est la vie! You win some...

g@mrgrl rating: 5/5

This is an original review written by me. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without my written consent.