Nancy Drew: Danger By Design is the fourteenth game in the Nancy Drew series. Whew! That is a lot of adventures! We all know that Nancy seems to have a flair for finding mysteries and solving tough cases. It's a talent we have enjoyed sharing with her over the last few years, but with her newest game, it seems Nancy might be getting a little tired.
Not Nancy herself, as she is eternally young and spunky, but sadly the series is starting to feel rote. There are a number of times in Danger by Design when puzzles or situations appear to just be reconfigurations of puzzles and situations from other Nancy Drew games. And while consistency and familiarity is part of the series' appeal, too much of anything can begin to wear out its welcome. Case in point: in almost every Nancy Drew game I have played, there has been some sort of slider puzzle that has to be solved in order to open a special box, and this game is no different. Meanwhile, the last big event in each game has always been timed, so there was no surprise when it happened again in Danger by Design. And this being Nancy Drew, you just know you are going to have to use the telephone. Whether to call for help from her pals Bess and George, or to check out leads, it doesn't matter -- Nancy Drew, like most teenage girls, just loves to be on the phone.
This doesn't mean that Danger by Design is a bad game. I still really enjoyed all the things in this game that have made this series so much fun in the past. I like that there are several eccentric and flighty characters to interact with, and the voice work for these characters is done to a high degree of quality. I like that the games use primarily ambient sounds rather than an annoying looped soundtrack. But even these things could not eliminate the been-here-done-that feeling in this game. Sadly, Detectives, there is not much new here. In Secret of the Old Clock Nancy got to fly around town in a new cool roadster. I liked that addition. It took a bit to get your head around how to drive it, but once you figured it out you were on your way, hair metaphorically steaming in the wind. There is nothing new in Danger by Design.
But what is the game all about, you ask? It seems that a renowned fashion designer, Minette, has taken to wearing a mask at all times while acting increasingly unstable, and her backers are starting to get concerned that she will not be ready for her next show. Nancy is asked to go to Paris to see if she can find out what is behind Minette's strange behaviour, and whether she will be on time with her new designs. But this being a Nancy Drew game, nothing is as simple as it appears. It doesn't take long for Nancy to find out that the old Moulin (windmill) that is Minette's workshop used to belong to a woman who was accused of helping the Germans when they occupied France during the Second World War. Rumour has it that she might have hidden treasure in the Moulin, but Nancy will have to do a lot more exploring and learn a lot more history before she can prove that rumour right or wrong.
The story also has a not-so-subtle underlying sub-text. You see, Minette designs clothes for plus-sized women. One of her models seems to be bizarrely addicted to making cookies (that is all we see her do, morning, noon, and night), and she even professes to being a perfect size 12. Still another character makes a few overt jabs at the evils of plastic surgery. What do all these things have in common? You guessed it. I am not sure they shouldn't have called this game "Nancy Drew: Girlfriend, Love the Size You Are!" I am all for positive messages, but I felt a lot of influence the game was trying to exercise came across as ham-handed.
But if the moral of the story is handled rather awkwardly, the same can't be said about about its educational component. As with previous Nancy Drew games, there is a well-developed plot for Nancy to uncover. Danger by Design provides the player with a great deal of historical information regarding the occupation of France during World War II. For some Junior Detectives, this may be all new. Luckily, most of the words and terms used (collaborator, resistance) are explained during the game. Although it's obviously a little bit of a history lesson, it is dispersed throughout the game in an unassuming way. There is certainly nothing wrong with having fun and learning a little at the same time.
Along the way, there are plenty of different types of puzzles Nancy encounters to please most Senior and Junior Detectives, depending on one's standard choice of difficulty settings. Some puzzles are very simple, while others will require copious note taking. Designing puzzles to suit the personal tastes of a large audience is an almost impossible task, as some players loathe easy puzzles while others feel the same way about difficult ones. Fortunately, Danger by Design should have enough variety to please most everyone. I was a little concerned that younger players may experience some trouble with the code puzzles, many of which require the use of Roman Numerals that they might not be familiar with. Parents, you may need to help your Junior Detective at these parts. However, one thing that will stymie both Junior and Senior Detectives is the water maze. Expect to spend a great deal of time mapping it out. Sure, you may just get lucky, but the maze is quite extensive, and since it requires Nancy to be underwater, it is timed. Save before beginning this section; bring your patience cap, paper and a good pen. While not a difficult puzzle overall, persistence and fortitude will be needed to complete it.Continued on the next page...