Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion

2000 Her Interactive
Designed by Robert Riedl, Cate Riedl
Reviewed 2000 December 11

Rating +0 Linearity wide
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity moderate
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance moderate
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time minor

In the third game of the series, Nancy is off to San Francisco to visit a friend who is renovating an old, Victorian mansion, hoping to turn it into a bed and breakfast. Naturally, things aren't going smoothly: there have been several strange accidents, and the place seems to be haunted. It's up to Nancy to get to the bottom of things.

There's only a small cast of characters, pulling their share, plotwise, but not really interesting otherwise. The main character interest comes from the historical owner of the building, and the events of that time, over a century ago. There are, of course, present day shennanigans to unravel, but that end is short-changed by revealing the schemes too soon.

The first part of the game is mostly just snooping around, gathering information, playing detective. There's more to do as the story picks up. Almost all of the contextual challenges are very simple, but there are a couple that require effort, and they are well placed, plotwise. There are also several stand-alone puzzles, mostly old standbys like a maze and a slider. They are given good excuses, storywise, so they'll only bother insane purists.

There's a clock that ticks along as you play, marking the time of day. Every few minutes of real-time advances the clock by 15 minutes. This is significant because some things can only be done at certain times of the day. There's a way to quickly advance the clock when you want it to be a certain time. There doesn't seem to be any overall limit, so you don't have to feel rushed, or afraid to play with the clock. The clock is used rather heavily, though, so you often find yourself at a loss for what to do next -- the usual answer is to wait (or advance) to an appropriate time.

The mansion is beautifully presented. The visual style, along with the lovely music, suits the franchise. The voice acting was noticeably rough, though. The interface is unchanged from the previous games in the series. It's intuitive and attractive. I only wish there was a way to look at inventory items closely.

The game seems to have been crammed onto one CD. You can spin around in a pseudo-360-degree engine way -- rather than spinning smoothly, the view jumps some degrees, but the end effect is the same. In this chapter, I found myself wanting to spin in several places that the game did not allow for. This made navigation a bit awkward in some places.

This game has good pacing and a good level of interactivity. The gameplay is lacking in creativity, although that's probably not a concern for the target audience. This game, and the series, really succeeds at representing the franchise, at reproducing the ambience of Nancy Drew. Nancy fans will love it.

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.