A dig site in Egypt is about as far away as Nancy Drew can get from her suburban hometown of River Heights. But never one to turn down an opportunity to travel (and maybe solve a mystery or two), Nancy takes a jaunt to Cairo to assist a famous Egyptologist in her 26th adventure, Tomb of the Lost Queen. The dusty, exotic locale should have been a perfect setting for the series to stretch its legs and grow a bit, and indeed Nancy regulars will find some welcome changes, including a more user-friendly interface. Newcomers, however, will find themselves thrown into the midst of a swirling sand of chaos, with little in the way of introduction, character interaction, or dynamic animation. But of course there's plenty of sleuthing and research to be done, so if you aren’t searching for whiz-bang graphics and don’t mind some blatant design shortcuts, you'll unearth a reasonable amount of enjoyment from mummies, ancient curses, suave young men, and well-integrated puzzling as Nancy explores an archeological dig.
Years ago an expedition set out to discover the resting place of the lost queen of Egypt, Nefertari, paramour of Ramses the second. But the explorers discovered that the desert doesn’t give up its secrets easily, and all were lost. Sixty years have passed, and we now find Nancy job shadowing Egyptologist Jon Boyle. Of course, trouble always seems to follow her wherever she goes, and when Jon is injured during a treacherous sandstorm, Nancy learns that what appears to be an accident may have a more sinister cause. Even more worrisome, other accidents are starting to pile up at the current dig, making the participants wonder if the ancient curse is reaching across the sands of time to afflict them.
After Jon’s accident, most of the dig crew left, leaving only a few people remaining as suspects. While they have all convened here for various reasons, each seems to have equally compelling motives for hurting Jon or even sabotaging the site. Dr. Abdullah Bartoum, seemingly distinguished with his gray hair swatches just above his temples, is a swaggering, conceited archeologist. He may respect Jon as a pillar in the field, but in a world filled with mummified kings and queens, there’s room for only one pharaoh at this site, and in Abdullah’s opinion, it isn’t Jon. Lily is an overly ambitious graduate student who was quick to take over job duties when Jon left the site. She’s under Abdullah’s tutelage, and while she shows a rather unhealthy fear of curses, she’s also determined to get ahead in her field by any means necessary. Jamila is a young woman who seems to be much more interested in aliens than archeology. Finally, there’s Dylan, a handsome tour guide who shows more than a passing interest in Nancy. The funny thing is, this site isn’t on any tourist maps, and yet Dylan somehow managed to get himself here anyway.
As usual, Nancy also interacts with a variety of other characters through her phone. These include her good friend Bess, who’s always up for shooting the breeze and chatting with Nancy about her current case. Curiously, Ned is no longer on her speed dial. Nancy also spends a lot of time chatting with the knowledgeable, though very flighty and melodramatic, Professor Hotchkiss, whose textbook on Egypt’s famous queens led Nancy to the desert.
But Nancy’s not just trying to find out what happened to Jon; you can’t visit a mysterious pyramid and not look for the mummy. And while Nancy has at least a couple of Egyptian experts to call on in her search, she relies on her well-honed sleuthing skills to locate the elusive queen as well as the person behind the accidents. In doing so, however, for a large part of the game you’ll only explore two military-style canvas tents and the pyramid dig site in the middle of the desert. Even within the pyramid, you’re limited to the main room and three branching tunnels for nearly two-thirds of the game. Every surface inside the pyramid is covered in hieroglyphics and an explosion of colorful curls and tendrils forming ancient drawings that depict the various gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon. You’ll see queens with indigo hair, golden headdresses, and vermilion gowns and strange Egyptian deities like the jackal-headed Anubis. But because of these overabundant hieroglyphics and pictograms, it can feel like you’re looking at the same rooms and tunnels over and over again. Later in the game, you’ll finally gain access to more pyramid rooms, which provide a welcome respite from the sameness of sand dunes and ancient graffitied walls.
Partially offsetting the limited environments are several welcome changes this time around. There is a new ruby-centered cursor and an inventory menu that stays at the bottom rather than taking up a third of the screen real estate when open. Now you can scroll horizontally through your large number of inventory items and still retain the ability to view the scene you need the item for. And hooray for finally allowing players to use the mouse wheel to scroll through dialogue options. You don’t start at Nancy’s house this time, instead beginning in medias res in a swirling sandstorm. Also gone is the brief tutorial walking you through the interface basics, which is nice for folks who have seen it 25 times previously, but would have been helpful as an optional feature for those new to the series.
There are two difficulty levels as usual, only this time the levels are named Amateur and Master. The Master level provides more challenging puzzles, no hints, and only a basic task list. The hint system on the easier level is actually helpful this time around, at least for the logic puzzles. You’ll get layered hints that make you wait a bit before receiving the next round of help, but click on enough hints and you’ll eventually get the actual solution to the puzzle you’re trying to solve. You’ll need to rely on your task list alone if you get stuck determining where to go or what to do next, however, as the hint system offers no help otherwise.
The streamlined interface should have left more space for animations to bring the pre-rendered backgrounds to life, but it seems as if the game has backslid in the graphics arena. There are no improvements in the limited slideshow format, and there are nearly no ambient animations, which serves to further dull the already monotonous scenery. The few times you encounter some movement – locusts pouring out of a truck and a cobra swaying and hissing a few feet away from you – only emphasize the squandered opportunity to enliven a world mainly filled with dead things and ancient artifacts. The cinematics are also a bit disappointing. The game opens with dark ribbons of sand swishing across the screen, but while surely dramatic, this actually makes it difficult to see anything. When the hot desert winds finally calm down, you’ll encounter a character face down and already injured, which feels like a rather anti-climactic shortcut.Continued on the next page...