The resourceful teen sleuth visits an old castle of the English moorlands in this point-and-click mystery -- Nancy's first computer game set in Europe. Something has been spooking the residents of old Blackmoor Manor lately. Many fear the return of an old witch, said to have haunted the manor many years ago. Others think it might be the fabled "Beast of Blackmoor," returned to prey on the castle's innocent inhabitants. With her usual aplomb, however, young Ms. Drew assumes a more rational explanation, and sets out to discover the truth. Players will point-and-click the young heroine through this adventure, exploring the old manor, interviewing locals and other guests, and searching for clues. As in previous games in the Her Interactive series, players can set the game's difficulty level, and phone Nancy's friends for an in-game hint or two (if they need one).
Something's wrong with Linda Penvellyn. Not long ago, Linda married a British diplomat, became stepmother to his twelve-year-old daughter and moved to Blackmoor Manor, her husband's ancestral home in England. During a recent visit to the manor, Linda's mother noticed that her daughter was very pale and always tired, prone to sudden irrational outbursts, and her eyes had become so overly sensitive to light she'd actually taken to hiding behind a curtain in her bedroom. Visits from numerous doctors had failed to find a cause for her behavior. Immediately upon her return to the States, Linda's mother convinced her neighbor - Nancy Drew, ace detective - to fly to England and investigate.
No sooner has Nancy arrived at Blackmoor Manor than mysterious things start happening. As she traverses the walk to the manor's front door, Nancy hears her name whispered, turns and is confronted by a pair of glowing, red eyes! When she tells the woman who opens the door what's happening, Nancy finds that they're alone in the courtyard. Let the sleuthing begin!
The Curse of Blackmoor Manor is Her Interactive's eleventh outing for our intrepid girl detective. Like the previous games, the suggested age range is 10 and up; however, this game is slightly darker than the others - Nancy has a couple of bizarre nightmares that could be disturbing to younger kids. So if your gaming urchin is easily frightened or, like me, has an overactive imagination, you might want to sit close by while she plays; especially during the forays into the dark, hidden passageways - even I was a little freaked out by the noises there.
Blackmoor Manor is presented with the traditional first-person, point-and-click interface. Left-clicking the fat yellow arrow will take you forward or backward, left or right and, in some cases, rotate the static screen 360 degrees. The default interactive cursor - a magnifying glass, a girl detective's best friend - will glow red when an object is available for closer inspection or will change into a talk balloon when chatting up the suspects. A minor complaint: that fat cursor was a nuisance while using it with the cell phone. The hot spot for the tip of the arrow is not where you'd expect it to be, causing all sorts of problems when trying to call someone or do a web search.
Gameplay is offered in two flavors of difficulty - Junior or Senior Detective. Playing in Junior mode includes a checklist in your notebook of what to do next, more verbal clues from Nancy and an easier time during the minigames. Normally, you'd also have the option of calling Bess and George or Frank and Joe Hardy for help, but this time they're all off doing their own thing, so you're left to ask Loulou, the parrot, for help. (Yes, I said parrot.) Playing in Senior mode, you're pretty much left to your own devices to figure out what to do next, and you'll only interact with Loulou for a specific set of puzzles. Since I fired up Junior mode for a quick comparison only, my observations will be from the Senior detective point of view.
Blackmoor Manor's puzzles are quite varied and devious, so be prepared to take lots of notes. (Nancy doesn't take notes; she makes observations in her notebook.) The puzzles run the gamut from the typical inventory-based variety - feeding Loulou a parrot cake - to using an alchemist's formulary to open a door. You'll also come across a couple of timed sequences (nothing too daunting), a modified slider, rotating rooms and a vast assortment of fun minigames.
Deciphering the array of puzzles will involve keen observation, diligent attention to detail and actual typing ability. That last is a nod to one of the many minigames employed throughout the game to advance the story. One of the characters you'll meet will require that you impress him with your "mad typing skillz" before he'll consent to helping you in your quest.
(Spoiler alert! There be spoilers ahead, so if you'd rather your knowledge of this particular puzzle remain unsullied, I'd suggest skipping the next three paragraphs.)
No matter what game I play, I always seem to find a puzzle that makes me crazy. This time, it's the word association puzzle necessary to open a door. The door in question is at the bottom of a long, dark and hidden passageway. In order to navigate the passageway, Nancy needs light in the form of a glow-stick, which she receives from Jane after winning a game. As we all know, glow-sticks have a limited lifespan.
Nancy and I negotiated the passageway and come upon a door with a very peculiar lock - it's a word. We trudge back up the stairs and come upon Loulou in her cage. We nonchalantly ask if she knows anything about this, but she refuses to help unless we say "the magic word." We scratch our heads and head off to question everyone in the house. Upon learning "the magic word," we again accost Loulou and she tells us what we need to know. We rework the mechanism necessary to open the hidden passageway, fire up our trusty glow-stick and head back down that long, dark and winding road ... uh, hallway. We spin the dials to spell the word that Loulou's given us ... another word. Drat. We traipse back to the main floor of the house and consult Loulou. A new associated word! We open the hidden passage; take two steps and Nancy remarks that we're going to need another glow-stick. Feh.
We toddle off to Jane's room and play another round of an obscure Mayan game. Jane rewards our victory with a glow-stick. We rework the passage machinery, hurry back down into the bowels of the manor, spin the dials ... another word! Ack! Up the stairs, confer with Loulou ... now she wants a parrot cake before she'll help us further. Nancy and I wonder if there's a cat nearby. Luckily for us, we'd already made the cake on a previous foray into Jane's room. We feed Loulou, she bestows "the word" upon us ... passage mechanism, slog through the passage, twirl the dials ... heaven save us, another word! By now, Nancy and I are muttering that there'd better be gold behind that stinkin' door. "Once more, with feeling ..." up the passage, Loulou, passage machinery, down the passage, spin ... the door opens and the villagers rejoiced. Yay. Okay, so there really weren't any villagers, but Nancy and I celebrated with a full-blown fete.
(End spoiler alert.)
In retrospect, I can laugh about it - after all, isn't that what most adventure games are all about, traveling to and fro, here and there? - but at the time, there was some serious grumbling going on.
As with any Nancy Drew mystery, the only way to solve it is to identify and chat up your suspects, and Blackmoor Manor has its own rogue's gallery: Mrs. Drake, Hugh Penvellyn's aunt and "housekeeper" now that Linda's indisposed; Jane Penvellyn, Linda's precocious stepdaughter; Edith Bosinny, Jane's stuffy tutor; and Nigel Mookerjee, an author who's writing a book about the history of the Penvellyns (or is it a scandalous tell-all book?).
Voice work was done very well, although, to my ear, the British accents didn't quite sound authentic, but what would I know? My only point of reference would be all those Masterpiece Theatre or Mystery! period pieces. My favorite was the phone call with the Cockney owner of the local pub. Both Nancy and I had that "deer in the headlights" look while listening to him describe the meal options available for delivery.
Blackmoor Manor's ambient sounds are excellent. In the majority of the game, you won't hear Nancy's footsteps as she wanders from room to room, but you will hear them when she walks across the cast-iron balcony in the conservatory. You'll also hear unseen water dripping in the hidden hallways, panels sliding open and shut, the tapping of the keyboard when you type and the sound of cards played or pages turned.
There is some music during the game, but it's very unobtrusive and low-key.
Graphically, Blackmoor Manor is an eye-candy junkie's dream. That's not to say that the game breaks new ground, but there's a tremendous amount of detail and color that's just plain yummy - I wanted to reach out and touch everything. With the exception of the hidden passageways, all of the rooms are awash with brilliant colors. The wood in the library gleams, the plants in the conservatory are a vibrant green and the tapestry and illuminated book in Jane's room are luxuriously rich in detail. (Pay attention to the little gargoyles on either side of Jane's door when leaving her room. The eyes move!)
As with Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, I still had the issue of not always being able to identify what Nancy has picked up and dropped into her inventory. It would be lovely if, in future games, the inventory items had a written description or Nancy verbally tells you what it is as you roll the mouse over the object.
Character animation is quite good. The combination of lip-synching with the character's arms and hands movement made it appear as if I were talking to a real, live person. At one point, as Nancy and I were admonished by the tutor, I noticed that she was actually pointing at us to make her point clear. As terrific as the animation is, including blinking, characters are limited to only one facial expression, which can detract from the game's immersion factor.
Oversized cursor, unidentifiable inventory objects and an annoying puzzle aside, I enjoyed my trip to Blackmoor Manor enough. The puzzles were challenging, the various ways to end my visit were hilarious, and the minigames added an extra bit of diversion and fun to the game. While the game may be a little difficult and scary for those at the low end of the age requirement, I think the 12+ group will have fun with it. I know that I did.
People who downloaded Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor Manor have also downloaded:
Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island, Nancy Drew: Danger by Design, Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel, Nancy Drew: Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, Nancy Drew 2: Stay Tuned for Danger, Nancy Drew: The Final Scene, Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand, Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon
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