Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon Download (2005 Adventure Game)

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In this point-and-click adventure, Nancy Drew joins her old friends, Frank and Joe Hardy, to solve the century-old mystery of a haunted train. A well-known socialite has invited the greatest sleuths of the day to take a ride on a famous old passenger train with a disturbing history. The train was once owned by a wealthy prospector named Jake Hurley, who was known to have taken it west during the coastal gold rush. Hurley's wife inexplicably passed away en route, but little else is known about that fateful voyage; the train was eventually discovered in Blue Moon Canyon, its engineer dead at the controls and Hurley nowhere to be found. By investigating the many antiques, artifacts, and other eccentricities of the luxury train -- and with a little help from her trusted companions -- Nancy may discover the clues that will lead her to an explanation for these 100-year-old mysteries.

A publicity-hungry heiress - think someone whose name rhymes with Stilton - has assembled an eclectic team aboard a dead eccentric's custom-built train in an effort to find the dead man's secret. In addition to Nancy and the Hardy Boys, airhead heiress Lori Girard has invited three others - celebrity cop Tino Balducci, author Charleena Purcella, and TV ghost hunter John Grey - to poke around the late Jake Hurley's mystery train. Seems it's one long rolling puzzle pointing toward a long-lost mine. Once Ms. Girard has explained all this, the train goes into a tunnel, the lights go out, and Lori disappears with a scream. Time for the snooping to commence.

Once the chase is on, each of the characters Nancy interacts with finds a place to perch and stays there, more or less, for the duration of the game. The Hardy Boys inhabit the train's dining car, the author sits at the bar, the detective takes over Jake Hurley's study, and the ghost hunter occupies the car of Camille Hurley, beloved wife of Jake who broke his heart by preceding him in death. As Nancy roams the train, there are questions to ask, items to find and puzzles to solve. All standard fare and all up to the Nancy Drew standard.

The Hardy Boys, whose good-natured sniping at each other brings a pleasing tartness to the proceedings, are a welcome addition. There had been prerelease speculation that the game would allow gamers to play as either Nancy or as one of the Hardy Boys. Turns out it was speculation. While one does, for a brief stint, guide Frank Hardy through the challenges of working as a short-order cook, one plays as Nancy for most of the game.

So Much Power, So Little Difference ...

The minimum hardware requirements for Train are the highest of any Nancy Drew to date, and it's hard to say why. Movement, with a few exceptions, is pure, and fairly limited, slideshow. Moving from one end of a train car to another means clicking forward repeatedly: no turning to look out the windows or into the compartments. In those environments where panning is available, the panning is no smoother or faster than in any other Nancy Drew title.

Nor do the higher hardware requirements appear to make much of a difference in terms of eye candy. One exception is the spectacular operation of a machine Nancy fires up toward the end of the game. Unfortunately, the machine and its surroundings look as if they were on loan from the Myst universe. Nothing else in the game remotely resembles the secret car or its contents. The effect is jarring enough to suggest that Nancy has somehow wandered into an alternate game reality.

Equally jarring, and considerably less effective, is the use of color photographs to suggest the movement of the train. The sequences start innocently enough with a dotted line appearing on a map. Then, as if the dotted line were not sufficient to convey the wonder of train travel, a series of still color photographs appear. These garish, lifeless images are dragged across the screen to imply progress. It's a dreadful effect, completely out of keeping with the overall look of the game.

And then there is the map that provides access to the final locations of the game. The map art looks like something one would find on a paper placemat from a resort town diner. Though a clever idea, the placemat brings yet another visual esthetic to the game: a blatantly cartoony esthetic. While all of the different looks are hardly fatal to enjoyment of the game, it's distracting when a series as straightforward as Nancy Drew starts getting murky in terms of its overall look. (If the preview for Nancy's next adventure, Danger by Design, is any indication, the use of photos will continue. Whether the third time is the charm or a final strike remains to be seen.)

Play it Again!

In terms of play, Train bears a strong enough resemblance to Nancy's last outing to feel like a cross between a sequel and a remake. As in Secret, there is no need for Nancy to nap in order to move things forward. That's a good thing. A somewhat less good thing is how closely some of the puzzles in Train resemble those in Secret. For those with good memories, it would probably be wise not to play these games back-to-back.

Coming up with a rating for this entry was tricky. If I'd never played any of the others, I'm sure, based on how I felt after playing my first Nancy Drew game, that I would have found it quite enjoyable. As it is, my enjoyment was tempered by a concern that the production crew is losing focus on what makes the games work. How else to explain the growing reliance on photos and flashy setpieces or the willingness to throw away the established look of the game for the sake of a single gaudy sequence? Though I remain a fan of the series, and am giving Train a Thumb Up, I am hopeful that Her Interactive will proceed with care in tampering with a formula that has, so far, served them well.


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