Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Laura MacDonald
"For girl's who arenít afraid of a mouse"
Her Interactive has been around for a number of years, putting out games aimed at girls and, to use what is fast becoming a catch phrase, 'the casual gamer'. I have always loved their company slogan, quoted above. I first ran into this company when they released 'The Vampire Diaries'. It was a point and click game based upon a popular juvenile fiction series of the same name. About that time I learned that they had produced another title based upon an even more popular series, the Nancy Drew mysteries. It was 'Secrets Can Kill' and I ordered it post haste. I have loved the Nancy Drew books ever since I first read the original 1930ís versions from my Momís childhood book collection.
Secrets Can Kill was a slideshow point and click game, with two levels of difficulty and higher end graphics for the puzzles you interfaced with. Lots of word puzzles, a few sliders, assorted characters, and even some 'game over' moments to add a thrill. All told, I was very happy with the game. It wasnít too hard, had delightful music at the load screen, and was pure entertainment without the brain strain. Since that time, Her Interactive has expanded the series to 7 Nancy Drew games. Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake is the most recent, and I think one of the best so far.
The Nancy Drew Formula
The subsequent games have seen subtle improvements since that first release. The point and click interface remains, which I personally like for these games. The graphics have been enhanced over time, and the quality of the environments, additional characters, and storylines have improved as well. But essentially many of the details of that first game remain. There are still eight save slots, and the main page and familiar Nancy Drew theme music are still there. You can select night or day time frames with the use of a clock, going to bed, and other such devices. George, Bess, and now the Hardy boys are available for hints and tips with a phone call.
There is a mystery at hand, and Nancy has to question suspects, people, and solve her share of challenges to get to the heart of the enigma. In short, what starts out as a routine request from a friend or family member takes a sudden twist, and Nancy is once more chasing after another mystery. Yawn, some may say, whatís new about that? Well I for one love the old soft chair and comfy slippers feel to the whole thing. But Iíll get back to that later...
When we last saw Our Heroine...
In the game before Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, Nancy had successfully solved The Secret of the Scarlet Hand. At the end of the game, Nancy mentions that she is now on her way to Moon Lake to visit an old friend who has bought a house formerly owned by a notorious gangster of the 30ís. Her friend is getting the house fixed up and needs Nancyís help, as things are not what they should be at Moon Lake.
So at the beginning of this game, we find our ace girl detective arriving at an old cabin in the woods. The house is accessible only by the one road and from the water access via Moon Lake. Suddenly a tree mysteriously crashes behind us, blocking the road out. We enter the house to find our friend gone, leaving only a cryptic message urging us to flee. Thereís also a cell phone number. We call it, and the mystery deepens. Night closes in, and we are trapped at Moon Lake, all alone... or are we? Well, it looks like Nancy has fallen into another fine mess and a major mystery. Who, or what, are the 'Ghost Dogs?' Where has our friend fled, and why? Why wonít the doors lock? And what on earth does Nancy do now? Well without giving away too much of the story... you get the drift.
Moon Lake and Beyond
The look and feel to Ghost Dogs is classic Her Interactive artistry. Always graphically well designed, this newest game is no exception. Moon Lake is a crescent shaped lake set in the deep woods of a national park. We have the typical inhabitants: an uptight and by-the-book park ranger, a cranky people-hating bird lover, a colorful country storeowner, and who knows what else lurks in the woods. The house itself has few accessible rooms, but again who knows what Nancy will fall into or uncover as she puts her detective skills to work.
The character look and voice talent is great, and improves little by little with each new game. I enjoy the voice talent used for our girl detective, and have always found this area to be exceptionally well done. The ambient sounds are another well-crafted feature that adds to the spooky atmosphere of these titles, and Ghost Dogs gets this part right. You have to make frequent trips out into the surrounding woods in this game. During the daylight hours, birds sing and the trees whisper in the wind. At night... well you definitely wish you werenít alone out there. Of the games in the series, Ghost Dogs is definitely one of the creepiest.
What will that girl do next?
The puzzles in this game are challenging. I am surprised that after this many games in the series, the developer still finds ways to have unique dilemmas and situations. We have a maze like woods, an interesting critter hunt, secret doors, and an assortment of other surprises. I could be wrong, but it seems as if this game had more to solve and interact with than some of the other Nancy Drew games did. Again, one of the things I liked is how the puzzles are logically integrated into the environments and plot.
And our favorite girl detective has some spiffy new tools. We have a PDA at our disposal, where Nancy keeps her notes on what she has found, conversations, and phone numbers. I used it quite a bit at the beginning, but being a compulsive note scribbler, I tended to rely on it less as the game progressed. It is a nice new feature for gamers to access though.
Comfort in the Familiar...
I mentioned that the Nancy Drew games follow a familiar format. This is one of the factors that I like the most in these games. I happen to have a number of television shows that I watch with varying degrees of devotion. I enjoy knowing that when I sit down on Wednesday night, I will hear those same old musical refrains that signal the start of Law and Order, meet the same familiar characters, and sink into the comfortable predictability of the style of the show. The stories and details change, providing all the variety that I want without having to break new ground elsewhere.
Such it is with all the Nancy Drew titles. I know that when I load one of these games, I will hear that same theme music at the start screen. I know I will see a letter on my screen and hear Nancy narrate the beginning of this latest adventure. Immediately, something will go amiss and we are off on another sleuthing episode. If I get stuck (and it does happen in these games, more than I care to admit), I can call on my old chums and get a hint or just check my progress. There will be mysterious clues, secrets to uncover or unlock, and a big showdown with the person behind it all at the end of the game. All of this, added to the low system requirements and the absence of glitches, creates a game that just about any system can load and play with no hassles. Is it a formula? Yep. But there is a lot of gaming comfort in the familiar, and pleasure in just enjoying the game story and challenges.
The end of this tale...
I would recommend any and all of the titles in this series to adventure gamers everywhere. Of the lot, Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake is one of the best. I am pleased that Her Interactive acquired the rights to produce these games, and that there are more to come. I think that if you want the gaming equivalent of slipping into your favorite PJs and coziest chair for an engaging and fun mental diversion, you canít go wrong with Nancy Drew in general, and Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake in particular. So with that in mind, this reviewer highly recommends Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake.
© 2002 Laura MacDonald
Developed (2002) and published by Her Interactive. Distributed by Infogrames.
Rated: E for Everyone
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium 200 MHz Processor; Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 16 MB RAM; 8X CD-ROM Drive; 16 Bit Color Graphics Video Card; 16 Bit Windows-Compatible Stereo Sound Card and Speakers; 160 MB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse
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Walkthroughs or Hints: