Nancy Drew: The Creature of Kapu Cave review
Oh, that Nancy. She just gets all the best jobs. They may be unpaid, like in The Creature of Kapu Cave, but at least they're in cool places. She gets around more than most airline pilots. Her last mystery was set in Paris, and this time out she gets to hang out in Hawaii.
In her fifteenth PC adventure, Nancy finds work as the harried intern of a rather squirrelly entomologist on the big island. Research, as we know, is one of Nancy's intrinsic gifts. She gathers information, conducts immersive interviews, and questions findings -- she was born to be a researcher, or maybe a college professor, if she ever grows up. Dr. Quigley Kim, the bug researcher Nancy is working with, thinks she may have made the kind of breakthrough that gets you on the cover of Time magazine. However, before Quigley can find fame and fortune, Nancy needs to figure out what caterpillars have to do with the diminishing pineapple crops, whether the Hilihili Research Centre is run by an evil svengali trying to grow a new type of plant, and finally, how Frank and Joe Hardy's employer fits into the whole picture. And if that is not enough, a mythical Hawaiian creature, Kane 'Okala, has improbably come to life, and may be wreaking a new brand of eco-terrorism on the island. Before she is through, Nancy is going to suss out a thief, do some spelunking, use her phone a lot, and learn more then she ever wanted to know about bugs.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to say that the sound design for this game is head and shoulders above average. As usual, Her Interactive has pretty much dropped a musical soundtrack for a slate of ambient sounds. This is unobtrusive and works subtly on your senses, lulling you into the game world. The sound of the ocean, wind chimes, the lapping of water... I just wanted to go down to the beach and spend the game there. Unfortunately, Nancy did let me know I was doing too much doddering, and not enough time sleuthing. How can one so young be such a workhorse?
One of the best new additions to the new game is the inclusion of Frank and Joe Hardy. My husband, who normally has no interest in these games but still owns every book in the Hardy Boys series from his youth, was suddenly intrigued. I must say, I have given the Nancy Drew games to many boys to play in the past and never once has anyone complained about playing a girl. But including the Hardy Boys will surely increase the appeal of these games to boys, not to mention female tweens and youths who might be growing too old for Nancy.
The Hardy Boys first made an appearance in last year's Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, but mostly as passive observers. Here their involvement is much more significant, and throughout the game, players get to control Nancy, Frank, and Joe. At various times, one character has to do specific actions or supply needed information for the others to proceed, and this is a definite step in the right direction. Jumping between players provides a bit of variety and adds a needed spice I thought was missing in the last title, Danger by Design. Most of the time, I found the game provided enough information to puzzle out when you should be playing as Nancy or one of the boys, but if you do hit what appears to be a dead end or are not sure what to do next, use your handy phone and perform a body switch.
One thing this series never does is create boring characters. This game is no different. Quigley is more comfortable dangling from a tree than working with our heroine. When she does talk, she splashes out whatever comes into her mind until someone cuts her off. On the opposite end is Malachi Craven, the brilliant, narcissistic, and demanding head of the Hilihili Research Centre. Stroke his ego and he will give you just about anything you ask for -- well, after you do a few chores for him. Finally, you have Big Mike and his daughter Pua. Mike might be doing a little illegal moonlighting when he is not running his excursion centre, while Pua is a surf champion being considered for a sponsorship deal, unless she is riding a wave of lies. No, there is never a dull moment around Nancy's people.
Voice work again is done to an exacting standard. This series has never failed to deliver in this area and Creature of Kapu Cave is no exception. Especially well done are the voices of Frank and Joe Hardy. The actors sound absolutely age-appropriate and deliver the dialogue they were given flawlessly. The voice work done for Quigley sounds appropriately off-kilter, but also right for her age. Dr. Craven's voice, meanwhile, usually drips with condescension, except when he was blowing his own horn. Finally, Big Mike has an aspect of shadiness to his voice that kept me guessing about his motives. Of course, it always helps when you have the good dialogue these games generally provide. Dialogue trees update as needed, so that information gathering is painless and multiple responses make allowances for different gamers' personalities.
As far as gameplay is concerned, get ready for make-work projects, because this game is full of them. I spent a lot of time trolling the beach looking for shells to make necklaces. Now, I was quite happy on the beach, but I wasn't so happy about having to constantly run down there, find a small number of shells, run back to the necklace table, make the necklace and then trade it for coins. Repeat this with a fishing portion of the game. First off, it seems like I never found the type of shells I needed to bring in the big bucks. So instead of being able to make only one or two necklaces to buy the gear I needed, I had to run down to the beach four or five times to get the shells to make one of the cheap necklaces. This got old fast. It also made me wonder why you can't backtrack faster. Nowhere in this game can you quickly traverse environments you've already visited. It would have been nice on all those trips to see Quigley in the jungle if I could have moved along the trail a little faster with a zip mode or map feature. Nancy does possess a GPS map, but this only helps her move from one location to another, not to move through a single environment quicker.
Fortunately, what you lack in speed you make up in ease of simple point-and-click navigation. One of the best things about these games is that you can only move in 3 or 4 directions at any given time. Some might say this is not a positive in a game, but I have been hopelessly mired in other adventures that have allowed too much flexibility in movement. Being able to move from node to node lets the teen sleuths focus on what's important without struggling to find their way.
Most puzzles can be figured out without much difficulty by paying attention to your environment and applying a little bit of elbow grease. One particular boulder puzzle towards the end, relating to the "Kapu" (forbidden) cave, can result in your death if you don't move quickly, so be aware you can die. Of course, dying in Nancy Drew games simply means clicking on the Second Chance button to restore the game before the fatal action. At another point you need to make Big Mike his favourite shaved ice snack. With twelve flavours to use, the possible combinations can be a little overwhelming. As each attempt will cost you precious cash, conserve your hard-won dollars by saving before you start this puzzle. Trust me, when it comes time to purchase scuba diving equipment to complete the last part of the game, you will thank me for saving you money. This brings me to my favourite puzzle of the game, where Frank gets to ride some crazy currents. This is a lot of fun even though it felt suspiciously like a maze puzzle to me.
The graphics in Kapu Cave seem to be where Her Interactive spent most of their time. It's not that they overhauled the graphic design from previous games, but there are a number of unexpected and delightful details included in this game that I haven't seen before. The first is the lapping water in the ocean. Lapping water, you say? I'm sure you've seen that before, but have you seen it before in a Nancy Drew game? Of course not. This isn't a huge change, but even such a small thing can have significant impact on the game environment. I was tickled pink to see more ambient animation. Next are the cutscenes in this game. Other games in the series have had them, but in The Creature of Kapu Cave they are beefed up. They are longer, more involved, and clearer than I have seen in the past, and they are a welcome addition. Lastly, the attention to detail in the jungle environment is very good. There's a great deal of texture and colour used to fine effect here. I almost found myself wondering at one point if I had gotten lost in the jungle world of Myst 3: Exile. Now, I know that game came out five years ago, but the point is that the series is moving in the right direction. These kinds of flourishes add a lot to a budget title like Kapu Cave, and show a willingness to improve on an already successful series that could easily rest on its laurels. Such a long-running series can start to feel a little dusty if boundaries aren't pushed once and a while.
I enjoyed this game for most of the reasons I have liked previous games in this series. What is improved is that Her Interactive has tried to take the graphic design element to a higher level. This will help the games to grow with their players. The inclusion of new playable characters, Frank and Joe Hardy, also broadens the game's appeal and adds more flavour to the gameplay. But The Creature of Kapu Cave still suffers from too many make-work activities. This is nothing new; it's a complaint I had about the previous two games as well. But it seems to me that the developers are tackling one problem at time. Hopefully, this will be the one they choose for the next instalment. Still, I would recommend this game to anyone looking for a quick, but fun game. While not the best game in the series, it is a worthy entry and well worth your time to try.
This series has always provided quality stories and good value for the cost of the games. With some enhanced animations and cutscenes, this entry is better than the last game but shorter in duration, and continues to rely a little too heavily on chores than actual detective work.