The Haunted Carousel is the eighth installment in Her Interactive’s long-running (and showing no signs of stopping) Nancy Drew series. This new mystery adventure begins when you, as Nancy, are hired by a seaside amusement park to investigate the theft of an antique carousel horse. However, upon arrival you learn that not only is there a thief on the loose, but that the carousel is haunted as well. Is there really something supernatural going on, or is it just an elaborate scheme to drum up business? There are liberal doses of red herrings and motives that Nancy must sift through in order to solve the mystery.
The storyline this time around is not executed as well as it is inGhost Dogs of Moon Lake or Danger on Deception Island, nor are the characters quite as interesting, thus making for a less involving gameplay experience. Those games did a better job at creating tension and a sense of urgency in the storyline whereas Haunted Carousel feels a bit more laid back with less danger present.
However, the story is not the only critical element in a good adventure game -- puzzles also play a strong part. The puzzles of the Nancy Drew games have always been on the simple side, but here they are at their easiest. An experienced gamer may want to pass this one up as you will probably be able to finish it extremely quickly, but for novice gamers and kids this would be a great game for them to start out with.
Many of the game's puzzles and interactions are firmly grounded in the real world, which isn’t always a good thing. There are fewer opportunities for Nancy to die as in previous games, but instead plenty of opportunities for her to be fired for the slightest misstep in the park. As always though, there is the handy "Second Chance" feature that allows you to continue your game immediately before you made the game-ending mistake. In addition to the typical inventory-based puzzles, there are also several arcade games that you will have to play, but fortunately these are more fun than tiresome and don’t take away from the gameplay experience. There are also a few timed sequences where you are likely to get killed or fired the first time around, but once again the handy Second Chance option prevents this from becoming a serious setback.
The interface of the game is exactly the same as in the previous installments; no surprises here. The series continues to use a simple point & click interface. 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 point of view by placing your arrow-shaped cursor on the screen and finding a hotspot to click on. Hotspots are signified by your cursor turning red. If this were someone’s first adventure game, they would be able to figure out how to play it with little to no trouble whatsoever.
The designers have added a couple of new elements to this installment. Here Nancy leaves her notebook behind to become much more technologically inclined. She is truly a 21st century girl now, with her new cell phone and laptop computer at her disposal. The laptop is used to keep track of the important points in the case as well as receive e-mail from Nancy’s friends. I must say, the cell phone is an especially welcome addition. Nancy now has the ability to call her friends to get hints or information pertinent to your investigation from any location, which saves a lot of backtracking to get to and from a phone.
The graphics in the game are presented as 2D pre-rendered backgrounds and the characters are displayed over them as 3D models. The pre-rendered backgrounds are well done; nothing flashy, but they are on par with what has been presented in the series up until this point. The 3D rendered characters you interact with have made slight improvements with each installment, but nothing groundbreaking. They still work well enough within the framework of the game and while not perfect, they get the job done. I only hope that in the future, the 3D models are given a greater range of motion instead of just staying in the same area of the game world throughout your adventure.
Voice acting overall is fairly well done, however, there are instances when the voices -- especially Nancy’s -- can sound fake or manufactured. Sound effects, as with every other game in the series, are handled well and music is used sparingly. Nancy’s main musical theme is a catchy tune that will be running through your head long after the game has ended.
The main fear I have that keeps constantly resurfacing itself as this series goes on is that these games may become monotonous. While sticking to the "tried and true" seems to be the motto here, I can’t help but want them to take more risks with the formula. I feel that Her Interactive has relied a little too much on the same old, same old. It gets the job done, but does not create a lasting impression. Hopefully in the future, they will take some bigger leaps with these games, either with the technology or the story. For example, how about having Bess, George, and Ned be actual characters you can interact with in person, instead of just over the phone? Or maybe even make them playable characters that help Nancy out on her investigations? Those are only a few suggestions to demonstrate how new elements can be added to this series to keep it fresh and exciting.
I feel that the main issue people will have when deciding whether or not to pick up the game is the playtime. The game box touts 20+ hours of gameplay; for their target audience of preteen girls, I am sure this is true, but experienced gamers will finish it in significantly less time. Aside from that though, this game was still very enjoyable to play and I look forward to what improvements they may make to this series in the future.