Once upon a time . . . make that once upon the 24th time, a young sleuth named Nancy Drew set out to solve a mystery called The Captive Curse. This time around, Nancy finds herself in Bavaria attempting to discover the secrets behind a creepy monster reported to be haunting an imposing castle. A fine mixture of German culture, great supporting characters, and a dash of local folklore provides a pleasant backdrop for some complex puzzles to be solved at Castle Finster. Unfortunately, this adventure is streamlined almost to a fault, and a dearth of scene diversity and suspects make this outing an exercise in random wandering at times, with not much in the way of fairy tale magic or mystery.
A wealthy German investor named Marcus calls Nancy for help with a fabulous castle that he owns, whose denizens and employees are terrified by sightings of a mysterious beast. What makes the tale more intriguing is that the castle has a long history of monster sightings and missing girls. In typical Nancy Drew fashion, upon her arrival Nancy begins interviewing a small but colorful cast of characters. You’ll meet Lukas, the impish son of the castle’s head of security; Anja, the fiery castellan; Karl, the game-obsessed burgermeister (mayor); and Renate, a mysterious tourist who always seems to visit the castle whenever the monster makes its appearance. It’s a shame there aren’t more of them, however, as having such a limited cast drastically reduces the number of suspects in the game, making it fairly easy to guess the final outcome long before Nancy.
You’ll conduct your investigation by delving into each character’s knowledge of the monster’s history, and this is where the game really shines. Dialogue is as simple as clicking through a long series of options, but character animations are well done, adding depth and personality to each character. Lukas, seemingly abandoned in the castle by his family, is a merry prankster. His eyes open wide in feigned innocence, and he’ll duck down beneath a table to whisper something secret to Nancy. Anja, who also runs the castle’s gift shop, bangs the counter for emphasis, cocks an eyebrow, and narrows her eyes when revealing critical information.
Supporting the great character animations is some delightful acting and humorous dialogue. When Karl asks Nancy, “How do you deal with peasant uprisings?” Nancy deadpans: “It’s never really been an issue.” Listening to Lukas act out American cop shows in his little boy German accent is a treat, as is hearing Marcus berate another driver while he switches mercurially to cavalier chatting with Nancy on his cell phone. The voice acting for the most part is solid, except for Anja, whose German accent comes and goes, and more disappointingly, Nancy herself, who never seems to be fully in the spirit of the game. It’s as if she’s acting in a very different story, one where the sun is always shining and monsters that frighten little girls are nowhere to be found. If a character reveals something spooky, she’ll cheerily chirp “Auf Wiedersehen” as she leaves. At times, her line reading is so different in tone from the character she’s interacting with that it pulled me entirely out of the game.
Given the fairy tale backdrop to the mystery, there was plenty of opportunity for the designers to add some rich imagery for Nancy to investigate. This is the Bavaria of the Brothers Grimm, after all: spooky castles and misty woods filled with monsters and scared little girls. But despite a stylish black and white opening cutscene, the rest of the game’s graphics are merely serviceable. Much of the castle’s interior looks fairly similar, and you’ll find yourself wandering halls with nondescript paintings and monotonous parquetry floors. Two wings are designed identically except for the wall coloring; as I consistently forgot which color went with which wing, I’d find myself going down the wrong one only to later discover I was at the complete opposite end than I wanted to be. The only area designed with any humor and whimsy at all is the gift shop. There you’ll meet an animatronic monster that growls in both English and German, amidst books ranging from “Sassy Stuttgart” to “Castle Plumbing and German Existentialism.” If only the designers had brought this same attention to detail to the rest of the castle.
Outside, you won’t fare much better in the exploration department. The game describes Castle Finster as a sort of self-contained city, but none of the storefront or house occupants in the castle square let you in. You will get to explore a bit of the surrounding forests, but most of the paths are extremely similar and definitely not spooky. In fact, part of exploring the woods is determining which path to follow, and trying to discern the right direction by minutely examining rocks or plant placement becomes a bit tedious. You’ll feel a sense of déjà vu as you randomly wander through the castle’s hidden passages as well. You will eventually find a map to these passages, but you’ll have to navigate through them first to find it. Along the way, there are very few ambient animations bringing this world to life, and what animations do exist are rather annoying. Sending a bucket down a well takes forever, which is something you’ll have to do many, many times, making me wish I could pull out Nancy’s smartphone and play a few rounds of memory while waiting for the bucket to come back.Continued on the next page...