Once again that intrepid teenager, Nancy Drew, has found herself embroiled in an extraordinary adventure. Our clever Nancy seems to collect mysteries like others collect postcards, and this is a good thing for amateur and professional sleuths alike. Since there isn’t a great series of Scooby-Doo games currently on the market, Nancy Drew is just going to have to be the sole purveyor of bizarre events, shady characters, and double crosses that we turn to. Luckily, she is quite a go-to girl and rarely fails to find something out of the ordinary going on around her. This is exactly the case in Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower (NDTRT), the fourth game in the Nancy Drew series.
This time out, Nancy has managed to sniff out a mystery that could involve Marie Antoinette. For those unfamiliar with Marie Antoinette, she was the Queen who helped spark the French Revolution by quipping that starving peasants could satisfy their hunger by eating cake. It seems that Wickford Castle, the chalet Nancy is vacationing at, has a tower that was once frequented by the late Queen. The castle is owned by Nancy’s good friend, Christy Lane, and has recently had a break-in. The bandit broke into the library and left it in a shambles, but it appears that this was a thrifty thief as nothing was taken. Which leads Nancy, and therefore us, to wonder what the would-be robber was looking for? Luckily for us, there are a number of suspicious guests and employees for her to apply her myriad of clue seeking prowesses on.
The real criminal in this game, however, is the limited space that is afforded for game play. You could argue that the area used to showcase the action is the portal to the world of the game; effective use of the desktop to lay out the story and game tools increases the ease with which the player interacts with the game, and can create an authentic and immersive feeling. But it appears NDTRT doesn’t put much weight in this kind of thinking as it uses approximately a quarter of the screen for actually playing the game. An area reserved only for dialogue trees (wasted space in my opinion, since it's only occupied when you're speaking to another character) and an inventory take up the rest of the desktop. The dialogue certainly could have appeared in a pop-up window when it was needed. Because of this small playing space, the sleuthing can be just as big of a mystery as the one you are trying to solve in the game. The cursor sometimes doesn’t change shape to indicate directions until you have almost positioned if off the graphics. This, coupled with some dark and rather drab graphics, makes it plenty frustrating to tell where you are, or where you should be going next. Though the box boasts of 360-degree panoramas, they must have been in another edition of the Nancy Drew saga, because I was only able to move in the four cardinal directions the vast majority of time.
With all that in-depth analysis aside, let’s get down to business, and the real business of this game is detective work--which, in a word, can be summed up as fun. But fun is really too banal, isn’t it? Let's put it this way: I have played a number of other detective games and rarely have had all the pieces fit so faultlessly together or made such logical sense. Nancy’s world is not a Myst world; things are not run by steam that makes funny noises when things go down the wrong tube, and there are't numerous gadgets that need to be endlessly adjusted. Nancy is a real honest-to-goodness sleuth in the proud tradition of Columbo. She interacts with characters, she gathers information and needed inventory, she snoops around places she shouldn’t be and she never has to use inventory items in reality-altering ways. The most notorious example of this, for me, was in Gabriel Knight 3 where a player needs to have a cat rub against a piece of tape so that it can be used as a moustache to mislead another character. There is thankfully none of that here; keys open doors, oil cans oil gears, all does as it was design to do. Every step Nancy takes builds on what she has learned and it all rolls out in a very logical way. This allows a player to advance without a lot of the frustrations found in other games and really helps to get the gumshoe juices flowing. This helps to provide the game a nice equilibrium to gameplay, which benefits those looking for a challenging, but enjoyable gaming experience.
What else makes me a Nancy Drew believer? Try the voice work. Though I must admit Nancy sounded older to me than what I expected, after the initial shock wore off I really appreciated the fact that she wasn’t a teenage drama queen. The tone and emotion in delivery almost always bespoke a character who was composed and unruffled by the weird events unravelling around her. The more esoteric characters where given to more panache in their delivery; Professor Hodgkiss, for instance, sounds just like what I imagine Aunt Pitty Patty from Gone with the Wind would have if she hadn’t been southern, all excitable quivers and bursts of quirky humour. Jacques, the ski instructor, is appropriately French sounding, accent and all.
In many games, the puzzles start out easy and gain in difficulty as the player advances through the game. This is not the case in NDTRT, which never panders to the player by handing out clues too easily. Exploring your environment and interacting with the game’s characters is a must, or you won’t get far. This also adds a level of depth that other games are lacking. I love Myst and many of its successors, but there is no denying the value that additional character interaction can add to a game. It increases insight, helps to develop story and plot, and ultimately it’s just more entertaining to mingle with other characters in a game.
The game, in Senior Detective mode, will take the average player about 20 hours. This is what the box guarantees and this is exactly how long it took me to navigate my way through all the puzzles and mysteries in the game. For the current price of the game, approximately $9.95 to $14.95, that’s a good value.
I must admit this is my first Nancy Drew game. I have been accused of being slightly off-centre because of my love for Myst and many of its so-called "clones" and NDTRT did not sound like it had a lot in common with these games. For the past few years though, I had consistently read positive reviews for the series, and I began to wonder if I was missing out on something. It’s not that other critics would be embellishing their reviews, its just that these are supposed to be kids’ games – right?
Yes they are, but their appeal, as I have learned, extends well past the boundaries of youth. I am glad I decided to take a chance on something I originally viewed as being only for youths and teens, as the mysteries of Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower turned out to be a real grown-up treat.