This second 2003 release in Her Interactive's highly respected point-and-click adventure series finds the famous young sleuth on a trip to the San Juan islands, invited for a whale-watching excursion by an acquaintance named Katie. Soon after her arrival, Nancy finds the small local village alive with excitement over lone killer whale that seems to have taken up residence in the harbor. Nancy soon realizes that there is more to this situation than meets the eye, as her new friend Katie seems to stand in the way of the villagers' attempts to deal with the rogue orca.
Nancy will have to meet and speak with a variety of the characters who inhabit the small island, and ultimately draw her own conclusions about what should be done. She'll need to make use of different modes of transportation to reach all the important locations on Deception Island, riding her bike to the Whale Center, investigating the village on foot, and exploring the surrounding waters in a kayak. Following the format of earlier Nancy Drew games from the developer, Danger on Deception Island offers simple controls and adjustable settings to appeal to a range of virtual crime-solvers.
Danger on Deception Island is the ninth Nancy Drew offering from Her Interactive since the release of Secrets Can Kill in 1998. Nine games in five years in the same series might just be a record for graphical adventure games. (Zork managed ten if you count Wishbringer but roughly half of those were text games.) The King's Quest line made it to eight. In the children's game market, The Famous Five series, based on Enid Blyton's children's books, turned out five. Nine games is impressive and would be considered a major accomplishment were it any franchise other than Nancy Drew. In the land of Nancy, nine is little more than a good start, more a child's first bike ride to the end of the block and back than a trip to the moon. Nancy Drew, pardon the insinuation, has got very long legs. Ever since the intrepid girl detective arrived on the kid lit scene in 1930 she's been solving mysteries for fun and profit. Fun for the readers and profit, of course, for the publishers.
Before I get into the review I must confess my only previous exposure to Nancy Drew came from a dog-eared paperback I found in the backseat of the neighbor girl's car while on a road trip to the local college campus. Though I had just turned 10 at the time, it took me all of two hours to finish the book, a fact that seemed to elicit equal parts respect and pity from the older women (16 and 17) in the front seat. So here it is, many, many, many (ahem) years later and we meet again. I've changed. Nancy, for the most part, is still the sweet, proper, curious girl I met all those many years ago.
Danger on Deception Island is rated "for Mystery Fans 10 and up." That's a big demographic and I would guess that a portion of those mystery fans who fall within the "up" category, say, those who enjoy the edgy musing of mystery novelists such as George P. Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane, aren't going to find themselves fully engaged here. The Nancy Drew series is sold in the children's section at most stores, and rightly so. As much as this series is praised by adult adventure gamers, they are very much kids' games.
For one, the guiding hand of the concerned adult is all over Danger on Deception Island, admonishing the player to take care and think twice, to always wear a helmet when bicycling, to never get in a kayak without a life jacket. Oh? But it's a game and not real life, you say? Fine. Go ahead. Pedal off on your bicycle without a proper helmet. Go ahead. Guess who's going to find himself featured in the next day's victim headlines? Ditto on leaving your life jacket on the dock or paddling out past the warning buoys to that cool looking break just beyond. (Yes, you can die or get a game-stopping injury in Danger on Deception Island, so consider yourself warned.) Apparently the developers view the world as a scary place eager to hurt the inquisitive girl detective. Now reasonable caution is only common sense and something any responsible adult would impart to a child, but its being such a prominent a feature of the gameplay quickly came to oppress this player. By the time I finished this game (and I played it on Senior Detective setting) I had taken to checking my jacket when I left the house in the morning for fear someone from Her Interactive had tiptoed in in the middle of the night and pinned a pair of mittens to my lapel.
For all the annoying potty training this game indulges in, Nancy Drew Danger on Deception Island is a good game. It is not a great game, and it is not a bad game. It's certainly not a game I'll remember a couple of months from now, nothing like Secret of the Lost Rainforest or Search for Cetus or Pepper's Adventures in Time, but if you need a break from the more adult fare you're playing, Nancy Drew Danger on Deception Island might be just the ticket.
As Nancy Drew, you set off on a mini vacation to the beautiful San Juan Islands off the west coast of Washington State. Destination? The village of Snake Horse Harbor on Deception Island and specifically the back berth on your friend Katie Firestone's tour boat. Unfortunately someone has vandalized Katie's boat, strewing her belongings above deck and below and damaging her engine.
As soon as you set foot on board, Katie tells you that the island residents are bitterly divided over the presence of an orphaned orca whale that has recently moved into the waters off Snake Horse Harbor. The authorities, at Katie's request, have investigated and decided to harshly fine anyone who comes within three hundred feet of the wayward whale. Since the orca can move around freely and surface at any time, anywhere, the local fishermen are forced to detour around the island, costing precious fuel and time. Several blame Katie, and she has made matters worse by mouthing off at the local town meeting. As a result of the vandalism, Katie's boat is inoperable, and as she's too busy trying to repair the engine to entertain you, you're on your own. Since you are Nancy Drew, that is absolutely, positively not a problem. You set out to find the those responsible and bring them to justice, and you start at Katie's galley sink. You put the plumbing back together and in doing so you get a clue. Upstairs, you replace all Katie's books in their drawer and get another clue. In the world according to Nancy, cleanliness is apparently next to sleuthliness.
It will hardly come as a surprise that Nancy Drew Danger on Deception Island is a traditional point-and-click adventure game. Movement is via arrows forward, backward, left and right. Your cursor changes to a glowing magnifying glass when you move it over a hotspot; otherwise it's just a plain old nonglowing magnifying glass. Inventory is always visible in the rather large interface frame. A menu button in the upper left corner of the frame provides access to the save, load, exit functions. Actual gameplay takes place in a window in the middle of your screen. When I first saw the interface layout I was a little dismayed but honestly I forgot all about it after the first hour or so. You have a laptop set up on Katie's boat (sorry, you can't take it with you), which gives you access to incoming e-mail, a search engine, an anagram buster and a journal. You also have a cell phone, which turns out to be one of your most vital tools. With the phone you can dial friends for general clues or call specific characters about specific puzzles, and more importantly they can call you.
After the tour boat is shipshape you leave Katie to sweat over the engine repair while you hop on her bike (don't forget that helmet ...) to explore Deception Island. This takes all of about 30 minutes. The game world in Danger on Deception Island is extremely limited. In fact, there are only four locations and only four nonplayer characters with whom to interact. A fifth character emerges later, but in the interest of preserving suspense I hesitate to describe her fully. Suffice it to say you should keep your cell phone charged and at the ready. Though the gamescape is limited the developers did a good job of utilizing available space to maximum effect, and there is a lot to do in and around Snake Horse Harbor.
The puzzles are nicely interlaced and there's just enough nonlinearity so that you can move around if you get stuck. I hit one roadblock with a puzzle requiring me to enter a series of words. I knew which words to enter and what they meant but was stumped as to what exactly to do with them. As proper placement was crucial to trigger the next phase of the game, I was stuck for a while. Other than this one instance, the puzzles were straightforward.
There's some light arcade action in the marina location that requires a bit of hand-eye coordination, specifically the Feeding Frenzy game where you are required to click on fish that pop up and down through holes, much like a benign version of the Whack-a-Rat game in Sam and Max. The Senior gamers will have more trouble here than the Juniors, but if all else fails the game will automatically advance you after five failed attempts. I won it fair and square by picking an area near the center of the board and clicking on all of the fish in that zone. Try and chase the little fishies around and you'll more likely than not lose every time.
This is a game that likes you. It wants you to win. For instance, there are several puzzles where you must fill in the blanks with numbers or letters you have found elsewhere. If you are wrong, Nancy tells you so with her "unhappy voice" and the game erases your entries. If you are right, Nancy rewards you with her "happy voice." I confess I took shameless delight in hearing Nancy's encouraging vocal stylings. Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement.
There were some decent characterizations, with just enough true-to-life stuff to keep the game from bogging down in saccharine sweetness. Like life in any confined piece of real estate, tensions run high between the opposing camps. Nancy, much to her credit, does a good job of remaining the objective observer, even when Katie herself is implicated late in the game. All of the adult voices were excellent, but the quality varied drastically with the younger actors. The actor playing Nancy had a nice tone and timbre, but her delivery was wooden. She seemed so concerned with proper diction and correct enunciation that at times she came off as more robot than teenage girl.
As the island gives up its secrets, Nancy Drew finds herself hot on the trail of a mystery that includes a loony old lady living offshore on her own island (which, sadly, we never get to visit), an orphaned orca whale, an abandoned lighthouse and a series of tunnels dug by shanghai-happy locals from the turn of the century. There's a maze down in those tunnels but by then you'll have a crib sheet in your inventory to help you along. I didn't have to resort to it, as the maze was easily navigated by trial and error. Clues are everywhere and prominently displayed. You'll have to take notes if you don't want to constantly retrace your steps but as the locations are limited this never gets too burdensome. Near the end the pace picks up - a few new locations become available and Nancy comes face to face with the real Danger on Deception Island. One of the characters here was truly creepy and I experienced a few real shudders, a rarity for me. I expect it was due as much to the sudden shift in tone as anything really frightening. Many of the plot points are addressed in this climax and several are farfetched and overly convenient. There is a distinct aroma of rotten red herring in the wrap-up.
Nancy Drew Danger on Deception Island is a solid kids' game with straight-ahead puzzles and pleasant graphics. You can buy this game for your child without giving a second thought to age-appropriate material. I suspect the adult fans of this game will like it a lot. Nonfans take heed. As I mentioned above, I haven't played any of the prior eight games so I'll leave the compare and contrast to others. For me it was a nice interlude from my more adult fare and did exactly what it was supposed to do, the way a freezer should make ice cubes or a battery should power a radio. Nothing extra special, not great, not terrible. Just Nancy Drew doing what Nancy Drew do.
People who downloaded Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island have also downloaded:
Nancy Drew: Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel, Nancy Drew 2: Stay Tuned for Danger, Nancy Drew: Message In A Haunted Mansion, Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand, Nancy Drew: The Final Scene, Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor Manor
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