Adventure Gamers Awards
Danger on Deception Island is the ninth in the venerable Nancy Drew adventure series. It begins as Nancy sets out for a much-deserved vacation on a small island in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, nothing is ever that simple in Nancy's world, and instead of rest and relaxation, she soon finds herself immersed in a brand new case to solve. Nancy is staying with one of George's old friends, Katie Firestone (for those not previously inclined to the Nancy Drew universe, George is one of Nancy's best friends and helpful hint-givers). Our heroine arrives on Katie's boat to find it vandalized, and upon questioning Katie, learns that there is a lot of bad blood going on around Snake Horse Harbor, and soon finds that all of the tension is due to the appearance of an orphaned orca. Katie has taken it upon herself to inform the authorities about it, which leads to fines for anyone coming within 300 feet of it. This does not sit well with the local fishermen as it forces them to take a longer, more fuel-consuming route to get out to sea.
Katie's boat being vandalized is just the first thing among a string of nasty 'accidents' occurring on the island. This initial mystery soon leads Nancy to uncover a much more sinister plot that involves sea monsters, smugglers, hidden valuables, and shanghaiing. You, as Nancy, must navigate the red herrings and decipher the clues to catch whoever is behind this multitude of crimes.
The interface of this game will be very familiar to those that have played titles in this series before. Nothing has changed from the tried and true point & click formula of the previous installments. The bottom of your screen is used to display inventory items and dialogue, while the top portion is the gameplay area. You navigate through a first-person viewpoint by placing your arrow-shaped cursor on the screen and finding a hotspot to click on, indicated by your arrow being highlighted with red. The interface is so streamlined and simple to use that anyone can hop into this game and feel right at home.
Nancy has two modes of transportation in this adventure, neither of which has been used in previous installments. Nancy gets to go from place to place in the harbor by bicycle--just be sure to wear your helmet! I ended up in the newspaper headlines more than once because of my neglect to make Nancy wear a helmet. In addition to the bicycle, you also navigate around the harbor in a kayak. However, as with the helmet, make sure you don't go kayaking without a life vest on!
You will need to solve a variety of puzzles in order to complete the game. In fact, that is one of the best things about this title--the sheer variety of puzzles. Everything from sliders and mazes, to quizzes and auditory puzzles are represented here. You don't get tired of the numerous puzzles because the next one is always very different from the last, and if you happen to get stuck at any given time, you can phone Bess and George or the Hardy Boys to get a hint. You also have your laptop with Internet access and your journal to help you along.
There has always been a certain amount of edutainment in the Nancy Drew series, and in some of the games, it felt too emphasized over the adventure aspect. However, Danger on Deception Island strikes a great balance between the two. In this outing, you must learn a lot about the different species of whale, as well as a little bit of Morse code. All of these learning detours are well integrated and can actually be entertaining.
Graphically, this is the best looking in the series. With Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, I thought Her Interactive had hit their peak as far as graphics go for a Nancy Drew game, but here they find a way to make them even slightly better. The lip-synching of the non-player characters has improved as well. With each installment, Her Interactive is slowly but surely making improvements. While not necessarily needed for the games, this goes to show how much they care about making the best product possible.
The atmosphere sound creates in a game is not overlooked here. You hear all the things you would expect to while on a harbor. The waves lapping on the shore, the boat creaking back and forth, birds, bells, and foghorns; all put to good atmospheric use.
One nice touch is the ability to do things that aren't necessary to complete the game. Certain activities are only there to add a little fun, and they serve their purpose well as a light diversion from all the puzzle solving. Only with Nancy Drew do I get to take a break to go whale watching, build a sand castle, or make a sandwich. Just be careful with that sandwich making or you will end up with food poisoning. I definitely do not recommend combining baking soda with jellyfish!
Aside from all of the praise that I am heaping on this game, there are a few, if slight drawbacks. The voice acting is still inconsistent, and for adult players the game will feel like it is holding your hand too much. But, all in all these complaints are minor and don't take much away from what is otherwise a very fun gaming experience.
I have to say that of the nine games released--and I have played all of them--this is definitely the best one. I can only hope that they keep up this standard of quality and maybe add in a few new elements for the next game, The Secret of Shadow Ranch.