Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill

1998 Her Interactive
Designed by Sheri Graner Ray; Anna Roth, Lisa Smith
Reviewed 2000 January 21

Rating -4 Linearity wide
Reasonability sporadic Connectivity moderate
Difficulty easy Relevance moderate
Interface 1st 360 simple Real-time minor

You play Nancy Drew, the famous detective. While visiting your aunt in Florida, you go undercover at the local high school to investigate a murder. You meet four students, all suspects. You must scour the area for clues, interrogate the students, and figure out the events leading to the murder, hence the murderer.

There are only a handful of characters. While none are subtle or deep, they serve the story well enough. The story is similarly functional: straightforward, but with enough complexity to be interesting.

Mimesis is broken by a bunch of superfluous clues that are scattered about, especially on bulletin boards and posters. Each has some simple obfuscation, and a bit of fun can be had decoding them. The problem is that these messages tell you things that nobody should know. Who put them there? If they know so much, why didn't they give the information to the police? These messages are unecessary, since all the information you need can be obtained from interrogating the suspects and from other, "natural" sources. Aside from these messages, the challenges and clues are relevant, and the game can be played completely within this relevant domain.

Most of the gameplay consists of talking to one person, then using information gleamed to open new discussion topics with another character, as so on. There are a few inventory problems, and a few "find the combination" problems. There's nothing original.

There are also a few timed sequences. These are well done, from an adventure perspective, with no need for deft mousework. There is also a good auto-restore in these situations.

The game world is presented through realistic looking artwork, almost like photographs of the locations. The characters, however, are animated cartoons. The first person view appears to have a 360 degree engine, although it really seems to be done by simply allowing you to turn in small increments at every location -- however it's done, it's effective. Overall, the engine is not spectacular, but it is perfectly competent.

It must be noted that this is a game intended primarily for pre-high-school girls, neophyte adventurers. For that audience, the light story and easy challenges are suitable. The irrelevant messages are unfortunate, but they are probably fun and encouraging for new adventurers. For a young Nancy Drew fan, this game rates highly, and is a good introduction into adventuring. For veteran or older spelunkers, however, the game has little appeal.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.

Related reviews:

  • The Nancy Drew Series
    David Tanguay's Game Reviews
    Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.