Nancy Drew: Message In a Haunted Mansion Review

The simplicity of the writing and the intriguing plots kept me interested when I was reading Nancy Drew novels as a pre-teen. The recreation of her character, as sleuthful and famous as Sherlock Holmes, is done masterfully in this, the third Nancy Drew adventure game by Her Interactive.

Nancy is invited to San Francisco to investigate some unexplained accidents that have taken place during the renovation of a 19th-century Victorian house into a bed and breakfast inn. After she is told the mansion is haunted, she witnesses ghostly figures floating down the halls, eerie noises, and strange occurrences. Is a ghost responsible for the accidents? Determined to solve the case, Nancy rolls up her sleeves and gets down to work. She is surprised to find the rooms, elaborately decorated with antiques, have a distinct Chinese theme rather than a Victorian one. As Nancy uncovers clues to the mansion's past, more puzzles reveal themselves and the mystery deepens.

Those of you who have played the previous Nancy Drew games, Secrets Can Kill and Stay Tuned for Danger, will be pleased to see some definite improvements in overall gameplay. Movement seems more fluid than in the previous games, and it was easier to navigate. The easy-to-use interface has remained. Nancy's inventory is visible at all times beneath the main screen, as is the scrolling text box. Buttons for the Main Menu and Help screens are large and arranged on either side of the main play screen. The magnifying glass cursor is also a repeat from the earlier games and is used for all movement, item usage, and conversation. Hot spots are large and easy to find. Saving and reloading games is a snap from the Main Menu.

The environment is two-dimensional and all movement is controlled by a cursor click. The graphic images are realistically drawn in vibrant colors in intricate detail. Music plays softly in the background and helps create the atmosphere during Nancy's investigation. Only occasionally did the music become monotonous. Dialing a telephone or opening a drawer invokes the proper sound effect. Nancy can talk to four other characters in the mansion as well as call friends and relatives on the telephone, which acts as the "in-game" hint system. Their voices are well done, with the proper tones and facial expressions, and their mouths move well with the words.

The difficulty level chosen at the start of a new game determines how hard your puzzles will be. Junior Detectives will find that Nancy gives more verbal clues and there are more "in-game" hints offered. The overall plot and ending does not change, however. Various types of puzzles need to be solved, including a slider puzzle and a maze, which can frustrate some players. The majority of the game is spent collecting special Chinese characters used on a puzzle at the end of the game. There are also jigsaw and object-oriented puzzles. Again, these are different and more difficult for the Senior Detective, a major improvement over the prior Nancy Drew games.

I found Message In a Haunted Mansion to be much better than its predecessors -- it is a delightful game and one that I highly recommend for the entire family. The ease of gameplay, clean and simple interface, the strength of the plot, the interesting scenery and choice of difficulty levels all contributed to my overall rating. There are only a few things which detracted from the perfect score of 5. Those include a save-game limit (only 8 slots) and the existence of the two most irritating types of puzzles in an adventure game (a maze and a slider puzzle).

-- Jeanne Muse