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The Secret of Shadow Ranch - E3 2004 archived preview

Haunted mansions, dusty attics, dank basements, and mysterious caves are some of the images that are conjured when thinking about Nancy Drew – images that have thrilled young girls since the 1930s. The Nancy Drew series was originally conceived as a sister series to the popular Hardy Boys books. The character of Nancy Drew was made with the idea in mind to create someone who was an intelligent, courageous, and inspiring role model for young girls to look up to during the Great Depression; someone who uses her wits and talent to overcome one perilous situation after another. The spirit and message of Nancy Drew proved to be wildly infectious and her widespread popularity has lasted to this day and with three more games currently slated for production and a feature film being made, the long running franchise shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

When it comes to capturing the “spirit” of Nancy Drew, the games have always done an admirable job. In addition to retaining the books atmosphere of mystery and intrigue coupled with a sense of fun and adventure, they also follow the basic structure that the books laid out: an opening with a summary of the current situation, red herrings followed by cliffhangers followed by more red herrings and cliffhangers, a thrilling scene between Nancy and the “bad guy,” a tidy resolution at the end, and a preview of what is to come in the next adventure. This keeping up the nostalgia from the book series is continued and even furthered in the next game, The Secret of Shadow Ranch.

The plots for previous Nancy Drew games have always loosely based themselves on recent Nancy Drew novels, but this is the first time that Her Interactive has delved into the original source material. The Secret of Shadow Ranch is the 5th and best-selling book in the original series. The story involves Nancy becoming embroiled in a mystery while on vacation at the aforementioned Shadow Ranch. Many mishaps have been happening and the local townspeople believe that a phantom horse is the cause - a horse that legend says was cursed by its former owner, who was hanged at the ranch. Over the course of her investigation, Nancy learns that a treasure was hidden on the grounds of the ranch and that the apparitions of a phantom horse are somehow tied to it.

What sets this title apart from its predecessors is mostly the updates to the interface – something that I will very gladly welcome. While the interface before was serviceable and got the job done, the series needed some kind of change to keep it fresh and interesting. All the games are a fun diversion to play, but they were quickly becoming a monotonous experience in my eyes. So any new changes, be they cosmetic or substantial are a very good thing. Now with the brand new, more streamlined interface, the playing window has become much larger than it was previously (a very common complaint before now) and the inventory will now be accessed through an icon below the game window. When you click on the icon, a window will pop up and you can choose your item from it. There will also be multiple cursor icons, each used for a different action such as speaking or manipulating.

The game is said to feature more puzzles and have a greater emphasis on cutscene animations than in the past – including using interactive cutscenes where the player will need to act quickly in order to survive.

A few other new features have been added as well. Nancy now carries a To Do list that you will have to check off as you complete each task, a journal to keep track of clues and suspects, and a cell phone with built in internet browsing and e-mailing, in addition to its typical use of calling Nancy’s friends to gain hints.

As with the previous installments, there are also little mini adventures to be had within the main adventure. While at the ranch, Nancy will be able to participate in horseback riding and barrel-racing. These types of things aren’t generally necessary to complete the game, but they add to the “fun” factor.

This game seems to be setting itself up to be the most entertaining Nancy Drew adventure yet. The games were already solid to being with, but with the inclusion of a new interface and adapting the story from one of the best-loved books in the series, the only way to go is up.

The 11th game in the series, though Her Interactive was not showing it at E3, is due out later this year. The 12th game will be released as part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Nancy Drew character to take place next year, and will likely be an adaptation of the upcoming feature film, though we can't confirm that yet. Her Interactive has always shown fantastic support to the adventure community, though--including going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that we had a chance to see this game at E3--so we know they'll keep us updated. If you're a Nancy Drew loyalist, you have plenty to look forward to; if you haven't played a Nancy Drew adventure yet, you should definitely consider giving them a try with what looks like the strongest entry yet.

Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch, to be published by Atari in North America, will be released on August 30th of this year.


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