There is nothing particularly original about Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion, as it plays very similar to other mystery adventures of this type. Players simply use the mouse to move a cursor around the screen and click on various objects or people. This is not a drawback, as many games of this nature (such as Myst) have had great success using this style of gameplay. Besides, it isn't the gameplay that makes or breaks a game in this genre; it's primarily the story as well as the setting.
The story in Message in a Haunted Mansion should be able to keep its intended audience, young women ages 10 and up, interested long enough to play through the entire game. At the same time, however, it will likely be forgotten shortly after completion. What holds the story back is the environment as it is way too small.
As Nancy, players are confined to this mansion; at no time during the game can players go outside. Even worse is the fact that not all of the rooms are accessible. While there are a number of doors throughout the house, only some of them can be entered. This is a large Victorian mansion that is being turned into a bed & breakfast, yet Nancy can only enter two bedrooms, an attic, basement, and a few rooms on the ground floor. Also, neither a kitchen nor a bathroom is ever seen in the game.
If more rooms were available to explore, the story could have been expanded and additional characters introduced. More disappointing than the lack of rooms is the number of characters. With only four characters to question, Nancy's work is made much easier than it has to be. Fortunately, each character features a distinctive voice that adds to their personality. Although the characters tend to always appear at the same places throughout the game, sometimes they will be away. The time of day will have an impact on a character's daily routine, but if players don't want to wait around for them to return they can use the alarm clock to advance the game time.
Aside from the point-and-click gameplay of finding items and investigating them, Message in a Haunted Mansion does include a number of puzzles. Many of the puzzles feature either letters or symbols that must be arranged in a particular pattern in order to trigger an event. Some of them are tricky, most are easy, and one turned out to be quite challenging. I'm not sure if something was overlooked that would have made the hardest puzzle much easier, but it was a welcome challenge that extended the game by at least an hour.
Overall the difficulty is fair, but if it does become too difficult there are built-in game hints. There are also two levels of difficulty to choose from at the start of the game. If the harder difficulty setting is chosen and the game is found to be too challenging, then the game will have to be started over as you cannot switch the setting during play. A game can end prematurely if Nancy makes a major mistake, but players can select the "second chance" option from the main menu to continue playing right before the game ended. Games can also be saved at any time.
Despite Message in a Haunted Mansion's shortcomings, there are not a lot of other games aimed at "Adventurous Girls 10 and Up." Therefore, while this is only an average game, it could definitely be recommended to a girl between the ages of 10 and 12.
Graphics: Everything is drawn nicely and fits the Victorian mansion setting. Most of the backgrounds are not very interesting though as almost no objects move.
Sound: Nearly all of the voices are well acted while sound effects are placed effectively throughout the game.
Enjoyment: A little too easy and straightforward with a lack of rooms and characters to interact with.
Replay Value: While the box states that the game features 20+ hours of gameplay, the game, even at its highest difficulty, should only take between 12-15 hours to complete.
People who downloaded Nancy Drew: Message In A Haunted Mansion have also downloaded:
Nancy Drew 2: Stay Tuned for Danger, Nancy Drew: Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower, Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island, Nancy Drew: The Final Scene, Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand, Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill, Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel
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