Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered

8.0 Overall Score

Written by on December 15, 2010 in

When I was a kid, I read the Hardy Boys books while my sister read Nancy Drew. They were written with a sense of mystery and intrigue that has proven timeless for young readers. So it’s hardly surprising that Nancy Drew’s been updated for the twenty first century. We’ve seen some updated books, a kid-friendly motion picture and of course, video games.

Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered, as the title implies, is a remastered version of a game originally released in 1998. In fact, Secrets Can Kill was the first game in a series of Nancy Drew mysteries developed by Her Interactive.

The story starts with Nancy visits her Aunt Eloise in Florida, where Nancy gets caught up in solving the murder of a high school student at Paseo Del Mar High where Aunt Eloise is the librarian. There are multiple suspects with differing motives and it’s up to Nancy to use her keen detective skills to find a killer that has eluded the police.

Mechanically, Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered is a point-and-click adventure game and employs many of the interface cliches typical of the genre. Looking for clues is no more difficult than running the mouse over the screen until the pointer turns into magnifying glass. Although the environments and character models are simple 3D renderings, the player does not navigate locations with the thumb sticks. As one would expect from an adventure game originally made in the late 90s, getting from one place to another is done by clicking on hot spots found on each screen. At the end of the day, it doesn’t detract from the whole experience, but does illustrate how the genre hasn’t evolved much.

Graphics are a 3D step up from the 2D original, but by today’s standards, the visuals are dated. Sound design is little more than generic music and flatly delivered voice overs. Although the presentation is nothing to brag about, it’s forgivable since it’s not the meat of the experience.

The core of the Nancy Drew mysteries is the investigation which consists of two main components. One of them is interrogation which is more or less a series of dialogue trees. It’s not complex. At the same time, it’s simplicity is part of the game’s charm. The vocabulary isn’t too advanced and the flow of the conversations move at a pace that’s easy to comprehend. If one thing can be said about the writers of Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered is that they know their audience. There are no attempts at being overly clever. No industry inside jokes. Not a single hint of sexuality or profanity. The script was a means to keep the player interested while moving the plot along.

The second part of the sleuthing is finding physical clues. Some are in the form of items that fit the use-itemX-on-objectY mechanic that’s been a staple of adventure games ever since players typed in commands in the genre’s text-based progenitors. Again, not too difficult to understand and works for the most part.

Another form of clue is the puzzle, which is a de facto genre requirement. From tile sliding puzzles to a multitude of cyphers that sometimes seem transparently easy, they seem to serve only as busy work. Considering the setting is somewhat based in reality, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the situations and puzzles are rather ridiculous. For example, since when do the police start sending very young civilians to do undercover work on a murder case? Why is the high school so barren? It’s also a wonder that no one has decyphered the hidden messages on the bulletin boards.

I can let many things slide for this game. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the puzzles were only smoke and mirrors to artificially fill out a simplistic game.

Reality check: this game isn’t made for gamers like me that tend to play more grown-up adventures like Heavy Rain or Syberia.  That admission didn’t come easy.

To remedy an experience that was tainted by my more adult prejudices, I decided to play it again with my niece.  For the past year, she’d been complaining that the games she has were too baby-ish for her now. She was ready to take on something a little more challenging than the Barbie dress up games she’d been fed since she was 5.  When she saw Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered sitting on my desk, she was intrigued.  She knew Hannah Montana and iCarly.  But she’s never even heard of Nancy Drew.  A shame.  This was a prefect opportunity to correct this apparent deficiency in her entertainment diet.  As we played, she was totally rapt in the story and ate up the puzzles like candy.

She didn’t care that the story and situations were contrived.  It didn’t even occur to her to scrutinize plot holes or question a scene’s believability.  She was interested.  That’s all that mattered. Puzzles disguised as clues offered just enough challenge to prevent boredom. I could see that she was thinking and recognizing the patterns in the puzzles all by herself.  The end result was enjoyment of the story and a sense of pride that she solved the murder at Paseo Del Mar High School.

In my niece, I witnessed that same sense of curiosity and intrigue that fascinated me and my sister so many years ago. I’m glad to see games like Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered expose youngsters to that feeling.  Despite my initial misgivings, I realize that Her Interactive is filling a much neglected gap between the kindergarten-friendly Freddi Fish and the more grown up The Longest Journey.

A copy of Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill Remastered was provided to The Married Gamers for the purpose of review.

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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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