If you haven’t had your fill of reality show entertainment recently, Nancy Drew’s 30th adventure, The Shattered Medallion, will give you a dose of scheming TV contestants as she gets to tackle the shark-infested waters of the reality adventure show, “Pacific Run.” Only, these sharks walk on two legs and plot alliances, race for clues, and even threaten to harm Nancy and her friends as they explore New Zealand. Though you’ll need to keep your wits about you for the abundance of engaging puzzles the game throws at you, in a departure from previous games, the wandering storyline is a weak point, and a mishmash of educational tidbits, reality show tropes, and a pinch of alien adventures can leave your head spinning.
This time around, Nancy isn’t jaunting off to help out a stranger. Instead, she comes to the aid of her good friend George Fayne. Being athletic and adventurous, George jumps at the chance to participate in a bout of televised competition on her favorite show. Unfortunately, she is quickly taken out of the competition under rather mysterious circumstances that Nancy will need to investigate, and Bess Marvin gets pulled in to help keep their team on the show. Bess, the group’s social butterfly, who would be more at home in a shopping mall or an ice cream shop batting her eyelashes at the local soda jerk, is most definitely not in her element here, despite her pink camouflage outfit. Anything athletic or not related to flirting with members of the opposite sex has her completely flummoxed.
Nancy, George, and Bess compete together against a variety of contestants, covering the gamut from married couples to siblings to boyfriends and girlfriends to just plain friends. One of the strengths of previous games has been the strong characterizations of their varied casts. On “Pacific Run”, however, Nancy seems to interact more with disembodied voices than she does with real characters. Although there are ten two-person teams competing in the show, Nancy only meets with two other teams face-to-face. The other teams only “appear” as voice recordings taken from a confession booth. The voice work for all is enjoyable, especially Bess, who chokes out in the confessional that she thinks she’s going to die but also manages to sound loopy and dreamy as she describes how she imagines a crush carrying a puppy. The confessions allow Nancy to listen in on some triumphs, but mostly tribulations, from the other teams that slowly get booted from the show. Then there is the narrator of the reality show, who strangely seems to be all-knowing, making small digs about the various contestants that she interviews. While these asides are all entertaining, they aren’t necessary for gleaning clues to help Nancy solve the multiple mysteries that slowly develop as she participates in the show.
Of course, because this is television, the “characters” you meet all have dramatic personas, and it seems that no one can be trusted to look out for anyone but themselves. Team Kea consists of the unlikely girlfriend/boyfriend duo of Leena and Patrick. Leena is clearly the brains of the pair, with a top secret background and a variety of skills, including code-breaking, that make her extremely overqualified to be in a reality show or to be Patrick’s girlfriend. Born in New Zealand, Patrick is a professional rugby player with a pair of overly philosophical parents. His meditative upbringing often has him struggling to articulate deep thoughts; almost, but never quite, making sense. At other times, he just seems to have gone off the deep end, offering people crackers when he doesn’t feel like talking, describing his life using a river metaphor, and constantly telling Nancy after saying something particularly ridiculous, “That’s a profound thought. Please write it down.”
Kiri, with her short, dark hair, intense gaze, and slender frame, is all coiled ambition. She has outlasted her partner and appears to be a reality show regular. Her background is in aerial acrobatics. One day, though, she realizes the absurdity of putting on spandex and mirrored glass-covered antlers day after day and decides to make a slightly less absurd living participating in these sorts of TV competitions. No stranger to how this type of show is played, she immediately tries to form an alliance with Nancy. In her own words, she is “a greyhound. Fame is a cruel sport. But I have a need to run.”
And of course a “reality” show must have a producer to help craft that reality. Sonny Joon, the show’s line producer, has a background shrouded in mystery, though he seems vaguely familiar to Nancy. As you play through the game, Nancy discovers stronger connections with Sonny via past mysteries. As if that weren’t odd enough, you’ll also find that Sonny has extracurricular activities outside of show producing that include contemplating extraterrestrials. Yes, aliens; you read that right. In a reality show. That’s a profound thought. You’ll want to make note of it.
Telegraphing his eccentricity, Sonny, with his spiky blue hair, never, ever gives you the straight story. Anytime Nancy talks to him, he sends you on riddle hunts, with non sequitur after non sequitur pouring from him as he winks knowingly behind his purple spectacles. And in what may be a series first, he’s the one man who has managed to get Bess completely tongue-tied, putting her patented Bess charm out of commission for the show. While Sonny seems to be a total space cadet at first glance, Nancy slowly begins to see patterns in his requests that hint at a larger mystery that goes beyond reality competition sabotage.