If the most recent Nancy Drew mysteries on CD-ROM are any indication, kids are smarter than they were in my day. When I was in school, my best friend and I had enough trouble deciphering the Nancy Drew books—cute little yellow-bound tomes read in a few afternoons. The mysteries were exciting, not scary but too mysterious for us—we never guessed the culprit.
Today’s Nancy Drew CD-ROMs are filled with so many puzzles that it takes weeks to play the games. I found myself going around in circles more than a few times until I figured out a clue or trick. Fortunately, for the mystery-challenged, there are strategy guides ($9.99 each for most Nancy Drew games) to help you out. Kids can also find hints and help at www.herinteractive.com.
As in all the Nancy Drew CD-ROMs, these two mysteries—No. 10 and No. 11—require players to do the sleuthing. And, despite being marketed mostly to girls, these games are suited to all amateur detectives, male or female. My 8-year-old son loves these programs and figured out the puzzles that stumped me.
CURSE OF BLACKMOOR MANOR, $19.99, plus $9.99 for strategy guide, www.herinteractive.com; ages 10 and up. Old English manor houses isolated on the moors are a classic setting for a mystery. In this case, Nancy is dispatched to spooky Blackmoor Manor to find out why her neighbor’s daughter, Linda Penvellyn, has been acting strange since arriving at the manor. Linda, recently married to Hugh Penvellyn, refuses to leave her bed. From behind the draperies surrounding her bed, Linda tells Nancy she found a secret passage and a curse in the house, but says no more. It’s up to Nancy to unravel the mystery.
Hugh, a British diplomat, is away on business, leaving his aunt in charge of his daughter, Jane, who is staying in the house along with her closemouthed tutor, Ethyl.
The only other apparent resident of the manor is Nigel, a scholar writing a book on the history of the Penvellyn family.
But what was that creature with red eyes that called out to Nancy upon her arrival on a dark, windy night? And who is the black-robed woman who left a note on Linda’s bedside the night before she started feeling ill?
I don’t have months to play this game, so I still don’t know the answers to these questions. I used the strategy guide, which offers hints, but doesn’t give away the answers—players still have to solve the puzzles themselves and play through the game to find out whodunit.
Players need a notebook to write down clues, mysterious letters, symbols and other information they will need to play games and win rusty keys to open locked doors.
My son, who can’t get enough of computer games, loved playing against Jane, who gives out bits of information, such as the password to her grandfather’s computer—but only if you win one of the games she has in her room.
Kids who don’t know Latin (yes!) can ask the parrot in the hall, who always tells the truth, to translate the various phrases written on coats of arms and other parts of the manor. Constellations play a big role in the puzzles—all in Latin, of course. There are petroglyphs, hieroglyphics and a terribly hairy hand reaching out from Linda’s bed.
As in all the Nancy Drew series, the graphics are terrific and the story is fun, entertaining, interesting and frustrating. There are so many games, clues and puzzles that kids and parents will stay entertained for a long time.
I would avoid the strategy guide, which I think takes some of the fun out of it. Clues and hints are posted on the Internet for all Nancy Drew mysteries for kids who are totally stumped. In the easier of two levels, Jr. Detective, players look in Nancy’s notebook for a list of what to do next.
Kids must think and be resourceful to play this game. Maybe your kids will learn a little Latin, who knows? In this game, tempus fugit.
THE SECRET OF SHADOW RANCH, $19.99, plus $9.99 for strategy guide, www.herinteractive.com; ages 10 and up. Nancy tries to take a relaxing vacation at the ranch owned by her best friend’s aunt and uncle, the Rawleys, but naturally she finds a mystery in the Arizona desert.
The night before she arrives, a mysterious glowing horse arrives at the ranch. Minutes later, Uncle Ed is bitten by a rattlesnake and rushed to the hospital.
Was the horse a ghost? Or a plot to scare the Rawleys into selling their valuable real estate? Nancy’s friends are delayed at the Omaha airport, so she must sleuth on her own. But first, there are chores to do: collect eggs from the chicken coop, pick vegetables that are ripe, start a campfire, feed the horses and chickens, and deliver a mysterious letter to the owner of a local antiques store.
Life on the ranch isn’t easy. Nancy faces challenges at every turn. Tex, the head wrangler, won’t let her ride a horse until she passes a test. To find the answers, Nancy must read books in the Rawley’s library. Here players learn the difference between a paint, an appaloosa and a quarter horse.
I had trouble remembering all the directions—fill the water bucket, then find the kindling, then chop firewood to make the fire. Everything has to be done precisely or Nancy will be kicked off the ranch.
The Secret of Shadow Ranch will be a familiar title to those who remember the old Nancy Drew books. It’s the first CD-ROM to be taken from one of the original books. But the game, with all the puzzles players must solve, is far more complex than the book.
I found this game easier than the Curse of Blackmoor Manor, which is more cerebral—probably because I’m not up on 14th century England and have forgotten most of my Latin.
Fortunately, there’s plain talk on Shadow Ranch, lots of clues, mysteries and suspects with secrets.
Tex’s sister used to work for the Rawleys, but she was fired. Why? Mary, the antique dealer, hates the Rawleys. Why? The original owner of the ranch buried a treasure somewhere on the property. Who’s looking for it? The taciturn ranch hand, Dave? The overly loquacious cook, Shorty?
There’s plenty to entertain and amuse kids. My son loved this game, and kept correcting me as I searched for clues around the ranch and the surrounding area. Kids who have trouble following directions will learn fast here—one false move, and you’re shown the door (or the gate, as it were).
But there’s always a second chance—Nancy has endless lives. You don’t have to solve all the puzzles in order. If you get stumped, there’s always something else to do, so the game keeps moving.
Can’t figure out how to open that chest in the living room? Go out and feed the chickens.
Once players finish a task, other clues appear. If they are really stymied, kids can look for hints on the Web site, or get the strategy guide.
But perseverance, taking notes and thinking will win the day and solve the mystery.
Jane Huth lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a second-grader, a kindergartner and a baby.