Channeling Nancy Drew
As sales of game software and hardware continue to outstrip Hollywood box-office receipts, non-traditional gamers are hunting around for a good place to get their feet wet. Unfortunately, game stores and gaming magazines can be overwhelming to newcomers. When confronted with blood-drenched new releases such as State of Emergency II, Dead or Alive 4, and Battlefield II: Special Forces, less-experienced gamers might give up on the medium before they’ve even had a chance to start.
|Clues and riddles rule the Nancy Drew games.|
Distinctions between game genres are crucial — especially for beginners. First-person shooters and twitch-based games stress eye-hand coordination and reaction speed, but the puzzles and storylines found in these games are not very challenging. Unless you have another motive for playing one of these games (e.g., playing with friends or family), reflex-based games are not a good way of entering the world of gaming.
In marked contrast to the bombastic violence found in most combat titles, the adventure genre is cerebral and contemplative. If first-person shooters are the equivalent of Bad Boys II and Alien vs. Predator, adventure games are Match Point and The Constant Gardener.
The best adventure games are single-player titles that emphasize mood and narrative complexity. Rather than creating a highly customized avatar with unique abilities, players assume the role of a pre-written protagonist situated within the center of the narrative. Confronted with some sort of obstacle (“Who kidnapped our hostess?” or “How do I escape from this strange prison?”), players propel the story by solving puzzles and speaking with other game characters.
Although all video games have a learning curve, anyone who has used a word processor or surfed the web can master adventure games. Players usually move through the game with a point-and-click interface, and they are able to reflect on their decisions without the pressure of noisy game timers.
Despite the potential appeal to newcomers, the adventure game genre has fallen on hard times in recent years. Just as action blockbusters dominate the multiplex, graphics-heavy shooters and cash-cow multiplayer games claim most of the ink in gaming magazines. Nevertheless, there are enough loyal fans of the adventure genre to ensure the release of several well-designed titles each year.
An excellent place to start is the collection of Nancy Drew games published by Her Interactive. Nancy Drew: The Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon (2005) is the 13th title in the series, and aficionados view it as one of the company’s best releases to date. Stepping into the shoes of the world-famous amateur detective on a train heading to Copper Canyon, players solve a mystery linking the disappearance of a wealthy socialite to the baffling death of a gold prospector’s wife.
Armed only with a cell phone, a pencil, and a notepad, players move the story forward by exploring every nook and cranny of the locomotive. Other characters offer advice and clues along the way. Players also encounter an array of visual puzzles, pattern-recognition challenges, memory games, ciphers, and elliptical riddles. In one memorable sequence, players go undercover at a greasy spoon, serving hamburgers to key suspects while eavesdropping on their conversations.
While some adults might find it strange to role-play a teenage girl, overwhelmingly positive customer reviews on Amazon.com demonstrate that the Nancy Drew games transcend age and gender. My girlfriend (a seasoned gamer) recommends that newcomers start out at the “junior detective” level of difficulty.
Those who are unable to get excited about the Nancy Drew franchise might want to investigate other high-caliber adventure games released during the past year. And Then There Were None (Dreamcatcher Interactive, 2005), an accessible adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, requires players to figure out who is killing off the guests at a posh dinner party. Nibiru: Age of Secrets (Dreamcatcher Interactive, 2005) taps into the spirit of the Indiana Jones franchise, plunging a European archaeologist into the hidden mysteries of Mayan civilization. Still Life (2005) tells the story of Victoria McPherson, an FBI agent who must stop a serial killer’s reign of terror.
These games are most likely to be enjoyed by mystery buffs, fans of logic puzzles, and people who love matching wits with police procedurals and Hitchcock thrillers. They also have much to offer couples and families who want to replace a night of aimless channel surfing with a more collaborative and interactive form of entertainment. •