Reviewed: August 15, 2006
Released: July 24, 2006
Nancy Drew, the iconic American girl detective character originating from the 1930s, has recently made the jump from paperback novel to computer game. In Nancy Drew: Danger by Design, the fourteenth installment of Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew CD-ROM mystery game series, the teenaged sleuth travels to Paris on an undercover mission to discover the truth behind the threats against a famous fashion designer.
As Nancy Drew, the player collects clues and solves a variety of puzzles while traveling through a number of detailed, 3D-rendered environments set throughout the City of Lights.
Generally, Danger by Design plays like an old school, linear adventure game and seems to be designed with younger and more casual gamers in mind. The game starts with a brief and clear tutorial explaining the game controls for new players, though you may choose to skip the tutorial and jump straight into the game. The controls are simple and easy to learn, so non-gamers and children should be able to pick them up very quickly. Additionally, the game provides the player with a choice between two difficulty settings (Junior and Senior) that determine the puzzles’ challenge level.
True to its adventure game genre, most of the game consists of guiding Nancy in a first person view through various interactive locales while picking up clues or usable items and playing assorted mini-games—ranging from solving logic puzzles to preparing tasty-looking parfaits—in order to advance the game plot.
The diversity of minigame types makes for a more interesting gaming experience, and some of the puzzles lean on the side of the bizarre (a la Cyan’s adventure game Myst), but even the more unexpected puzzles are by and large more enjoyable than frustrating. Sometimes, as part of the puzzles, the game even presents educational opportunities for players to learn a little bit about French language, food, culture, or history.
Occasionally, gameplay is interspersed with cut scenes and dialogue, and transitions are usually (though not always) fairly smooth. In-game movement, however, is a little choppy for a modern game, as the environments are static, predetermined backdrops with occasional animated elements, rather than the fully traversable environments common in today’s games. The limited view, however, serves the game’s purpose of making it easier for players to discover items and tasks.
Also, without spoiling the ending for anyone, it’s probably worthwhile to note that Danger by Design is not the kind of mystery in which players can actually put together the clues gathered and figure out what is going on by themselves. Instead, in the style of Sherlock Holmes, most of the actual plot is revealed at the very end of the game—although the player has the chance to dig up a separate mystery that unfolds a bit more satisfactorily as the game progresses.
The backdrop graphics are, despite being mostly static, actually very detailed, lifelike, and beautiful. The cut scene cinematics, too, are pretty decent looking, especially the water effects. The 3D-rendered human characters, however, leave a bit to be desired, especially in their animation, which is a little unnatural and doll-like; and some of the characters have a creepy habit of not blinking, which adds to the doll effect.
Besides the 3D-rendered graphics, Danger by Design also seems to incorporate a good amount of stock photography of France which, by itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some of the photos are too low-resolution and come out looking a bit pixilated and unclear. Crisper photos (and perhaps more of them during scenic travel routes) would probably have enhanced this area of the game’s graphics.
Danger by Design includes fully voiced-over dialogue, even during the tutorial, which may be a relief to players who prefer spoken dialogue to onscreen text. The voice acting is decent for its purpose, and the character voices (including the ubiquitous over-the-top French accents) match the game’s lighthearted tone.
The ambient sound effects convey the atmosphere very well, and the background music is, while unremarkable, appropriately low-key and undisruptive.
At a retail price of $19.99, Danger by Design is relatively inexpensive for a PC game, but keep in mind that it is also a very short game. Playing this game on the Senior difficulty, I finished the entire game within only a handful of hours. And, while the designers perhaps injected a touch of replayability into the game by giving players different “awards” upon completion dependent on, for instance, how quickly the player completes puzzles or how much French Nancy speaks during the course of gameplay, the linear structure of the game provides for very little variety the second (or third, or fourth…) time through.
Even with its limitations, Nancy Drew: Danger by Design is a decently entertaining, albeit short, mystery adventure game with a diverse assortment of easy to moderately challenging puzzles. Family-friendly and easy to play, it may be a worthwhile and educational diversion for younger gamers.