Reviewed: November 3, 2008
Released: October 6, 2008
Brought to you by Her Interactive, Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy, the latest and nineteenth investigative adventure, takes the teenage girl sleuth on a plane ride to a run-down castle in Ireland for her friend Kyler’s wedding. Unfortunately, the groom has gone mysteriously missing, and amongst local chatter that supernatural forces are involved, it becomes Nancy’s duty as maid of honor/detective to track him down before the ceremony is ruined.
Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy opens with Nancy Drew flying to Ireland for her friend’s wedding, and shortly thereafter, she crashes into a ditch after a surprise encounter with a ghostly figure dashing across the front of her car. This is point the player takes over, and from the start, Castle Malloy has a different feel from the previous Nancy Drew titles because you’re given an overland map of the area, which you can explore freely during the entirety of the game.
The overland map is nice because it eliminates some of the unnecessarily repetitive click-through movement that typically dominates the Nancy Drew games, and it also gives you a sense of the overall scale and layout of the castle grounds. It does mean that more game time will be spent searching for and walking between locations than in previous adventures, though.
In any case, the map exploration is fairly well done. Areas of importance are clearly highlighted in blue once Nancy gets reasonably close, saving the player some time bumping around in the dark. Although not all features of each area are interactive the first time you visit, it allows you to complete many puzzles in the order you desire, as well as to get a feel for the lay of the land early on in the game.
Speaking of the puzzles, most of them are well crafted and varied in nature, and a number of them (at least on the Senior Detective difficulty level) are refreshingly challenging. There’s also some mini-games that players can repeat as desired during the downtime, such as the drink-mixing mini-game (reminiscent of the cooking mini-games from previous adventures), a darts pub game, a “spot the difference” mini-game, and a keyboard-based drum rhythm game. Her Interactive made the right choice in making these games purely optional after the first time through, a definite improvement over the notorious daily chores from The White Wolf of Icicle Creek.
I should mention, however, that game isn’t entirely flawless. For instance, one of the logic puzzles is worded too ambiguously to solve without the player making assumptions that weren’t explicitly given in the game (which honestly shouldn’t happen with logic puzzles), and the chemical sorting mini-game really got on my nerves because it went on a little too long and was easy to flub if you’re an impatient gamer like me. Luckily, though, as with previous Nancy Drew games, you get infinite retries if you fatally fail, and death by chemical explosion (or otherwise) is completely without penalty—well, except for the time required to watch the somewhat humorous death sequence that you unfortunately can’t skip.
Besides that, the old-fashioned printing press activities are a nice touch, as are the brief educational references to ancient Celtic festivals, the archaic Irish ogham alphabet, and other cultural tidbits. As with the previous titles, any cultural allusions should be taken with a grain of salt, since they’re inevitably mixed in with the fictional aspects of the game, but it’s still nice that they’re included as a nod to little-known ethnic traditions.
The Haunting of Castle Malloy continues a trend in the series that certainly deserves some praise: a slow but steady improvement in the game graphics. True, these visuals aren’t going to be top-of-the-line next to other modern game titles, and you won’t find fancy Havok-style interactive physics, but with every Nancy Drew game, the character models, background renders, and animations just get better and better.
I was pleased to see that the human cast was looking a bit more lifelike in appearance as well as in movement, and the moody backgrounds—mostly static as before, but also very detailed and well thought-out, with reasonably easy-to-spot interactive areas and objects—included more hints of dynamism, like dancing fireplace flames and rags streaming in the wind.
As usual, all dialogue is spoken, and it’s of the same quality that players of the series have come to expect. Donal’s comically exaggerated Irish accent is probably a bit suspect judging from real people I’ve met who come from the Green Isle, but other than that, it’s really pretty decent. The sound effects are suitably ominous, and the music includes both faint, Celtic-inspired strains beautifully delivered on the uilleann pipes and eerie plinks from a nursery-room celesta, an interesting combination that works well given the particular mystery at hand.
Suggested to retail at $19.99 for either the physical boxed copy or the downloaded version, The Haunting of Castle Malloy goes for the same cost as previous Nancy Drew adventures, but it’s a lengthier game (it took me two nights of a few hours each to complete) with more puzzles and more freeform exploration. If you enjoyed the previous Nancy Drew games, I don’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy this one, as it’s a step up from many of the prior titles you may have tried.
While I’m the kind of gamer who enjoys a lot of hot-blooded action in my games, I do also enjoy my puzzles and plots, and the Nancy Drew series deserves recognition for delivering a number of solid adventure/puzzle titles to complement a gaming market brimming with violence and gender typecasting. Given the state of adventure gaming these days, it’s definitely heartening to see any successful attempt at revitalizing the genre.
With its constantly improving game mechanics, light-hearted yet creepy atmosphere, and creative selection of puzzles, Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy is one of the more enjoyable Nancy Drew titles that I’ve played to date, and I’d recommend it to any of you who collect the series or enjoy a good mystery.