Reviewed: October 20, 2009
Released: October 13, 2009
Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy; Her Interactive’s 21st Nancy Drew mystery has the intrepid teenaged detective going undercover at a prestigious New York girls’ boarding school, Waverly Academy. At Waverly, someone has been targeting the valedictorian candidates with threatening notes and dangerously malicious pranks—one severe enough to result in a student’s hospitalization and her parents threatening legal action—and, as usual, it’s up to Nancy to figure out the identity of the culprit before the incidents grow even more serious.
Luckily, navigating the school and investigating Nancy’s surroundings is a pretty painless process. Waverly Academy sticks to the tried-and-true point-and-click interface of the previous Nancy Drew games, and gameplay is straightforward and should be easy to pick up for gamers of most ages and gaming experience. A tutorial is included for the uninitiated, and the game provides two levels of difficulty: Junior and Senior.
As before, choice of difficulty level only changes a few of the puzzles, and Junior-level players get the additional benefit of a convenient in-game checklist. Also as before, you won’t have to worry about making mistakes, as the game will automatically offer you a second chance to start again where you failed, should you make a fatal error.
The puzzles and mini-games in this particular installment are not particularly difficult, but be prepared to do some reading, memorization, logic puzzles, and spatial reasoning. Nancy will find herself heading down to the school’s library fairly often to use the online catalog and find books that she needs in order to continue her investigation. Her Interactive throws in some interesting educational tidbits with the puzzles, as well: for instance, I now know more about different types of flatware than ever before.
Chatting it up with the valedictorian candidates is equally key. Throughout the game, Nancy will be getting to know the other girls on her floor, all valedictorian candidates targeted by someone who goes by the moniker Black Cat. Each of the girls—from the Goth cellist to the snooty princess of a class president—has a distinctive personality, motivation, and plenty of reasons to dislike her competitors. During her investigation, Nancy also discovers that the school itself has a secret that seems somehow related to this Black Cat. All of these elements set the stage for an entertaining, family-friendly mystery.
Unfortunately, though, daily chores are back in this particular mystery, as Nancy’s been assigned to be the “snack shop boss” and is required to serve snacks at the downstairs rec room at least once a day if she doesn’t want to earn demerits. The food preparation mini-game should be pretty familiar to those who have played previous Nancy Drew titles and requires Nancy to put together a handful of snack orders for fellow students, or a single (timed) order for a teacher. It’s not a particularly onerous chore, I suppose, but some items are not very easy to pick up (or put down) quickly without overly precise mouse-work.
This leads to some mild frustration, especially during the timed teacher orders. To place an apple on a tray, for instance, you’ll need to click that apple not just anywhere on the tray, but on the little plate in the very center, despite the fact that it doesn’t actually go on the plate. It’s unintuitive and a bit off-putting, but it’s much better than those daily maid chores from White Wolf of Icicle Creek.
Various other activities in the game can also earn Nancy credits or demerits, such as sneaking around after curfew (demerit), helping other classmates (credit), pulling the fire alarm (demerit), or returning lost items (credit). Most of these actions aren’t required but add a little bit of flavor to the game.
The graphics might not be the most extraordinary by today’s standards, but the series exudes its own visual charm. Waverly Academy is rendered beautifully and meticulously in 3D and presented in the same pseudo-3D of the previous games. Characters and some portions of the environment are animated, and the impressive amount of detail put into each location makes Waverly a pleasure to look at. Each girl’s dorm room is decorated with personality, and the school’s dark halls and imposing library add a bit of appropriate creepiness to the overall atmosphere of the game.
Although the graphics quality hasn’t been updated all that much since July’s Ransom of the Seven Ships, I’ve noticed some little things. The character animations, for instance—including brow furrows and falling hair—are a bit more natural and expressive than what I remember from previous titles, and the textures used are a bit more realistic.
The game, however, does tend to be a little on the dark side, which helps create a forbidding atmosphere, but isn’t very accommodating when it comes to seeing objects that need to be investigated. On a monitor calibrated through Adobe Gamma to optimized settings, I was unable to see some necessary items without turning up the brightness. The monitor adjustment wasn’t a big deal, but I was a bit disappointed that the game options didn’t include a gamma slider to help me out.
Waverly’s sound quality is also pretty decent. The soundtrack, while not particularly memorable, remains comfortably in the background and adds a touch of eeriness when apropos. Nancy’s neighbor’s audible cello practice is a nice touch.
Meanwhile, the voice acting is as top-notch as ever. All in-game dialogue is clearly delivered by voice actors and suitably conveys each girl’s (or, in Ned’s case, boy’s) character in a believable manner.
Like the other Nancy Drew installments, Waverly Academy retails for $19.99, whether you buy the download or the box copy. It’s a somewhat short and easy game—I finished it in two evenings—but if you like the Nancy Drew series, you’ll probably find this mystery title to be an entertaining enough, if brief, romp.
Probably written with the back-to-school season and Halloween in mind, Warnings at Waverly Academy is a refreshing change of pace for Nancy Drew as, for once, we get to see Nancy in a school setting being a somewhat more normal teenage girl. The puzzles may be a little easier this time, and the length of the game a bit shorter, but those who enjoy the series for the mysteries will probably be happy with Waverly regardless.