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Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy (PC) artwork

Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy (PC) review

"Nancy Drew can do everything. This adventure, her 19th game outing, gives her an opportunity to work as a wedding planner, chemist, musician, bartender, astronomer, mathematician, and shepherd. But of course, her most important role is always that of super sleuth. To completely unravel The Haunting of Castle Malloy, Nancy must decipher an intriguing blend of old world folklore and modern scientific mysteries before her friend's wedding is canceled for good!"

Nancy Drew can do everything. This adventure, her 19th game outing, gives her an opportunity to work as a wedding planner, chemist, musician, bartender, astronomer, mathematician, and shepherd. But of course, her most important role is always that of super sleuth. Our heroine is traveling to Castle Malloy for the wedding of Kyler Mallory, and exchange student from England who lived in the Drew household for a time. As Nancy drives up to the front gates, though, an eerie white blur whisks in front of her car and sends her careening into a ditch. It's a harbinger of bad things to come; the groom has gone missing!

Those gathered at the castle have different theories about the disappearance of Matt Simmons, the betrothed. Kyler is convinced that her fiance, a notorious trickster, has engineered an elaborate prank to stun the guests. Kit, the groom's best friend, laments that marriage was just too much for his buddy, and Matt must have fled to warm up his feet. The crusty old caretaker won't stop talking about fairies and banshees – what he calls 'The Good People' – and how they must've abducted the arrogant Brit as retribution for entering the Irish castle. To completely unravel The Haunting of Castle Malloy, Nancy must decipher an intriguing blend of old world folklore and modern scientific mysteries before the wedding is canceled for good.

While this trio has given up searching themselves, Nancy receives most of her leads from questioning these witnesses. All of the characters are fully voiced with realistic graphics. Kyler's British accent sounds so proper when she pounds her fist and makes exasperated exaltations. Kit, an American, looks rather untrustworthy with his freshly blackened eye. Donal, the caretaker, warms his Irish brogue and grey whiskers at the Screaming Banshee, the pub in the nearest town. If you don't have sound, though, all the conversations appear in text as well. There are even places where you're given dialogue choices, though these don't seem to really affect the outcome. The only thing that would make communication more lively is a greater range of gestures and animation; these people sit in the same seats the entire game!

Interrogations yield errands and points of interest, but the people rarely offer tangible clues. That's left to the decrepit castle. Its hallways are lined with the requisite rusty suits of armor and corners full of cobwebs. Outside, it's pitch black (the events unrealistically transpire over one night) and completely quiet, except for the faint screech of violins, croaking of frogs, and the occasional unexplained shriek. Nancy interacts with the environment through a traditional point and click interface, but here, it's extremely focused. She's only allowed to examine objects that yield pertinent information, the ones that invariably lead her to solving the game's many puzzles.

See, a previous owner of the estate was a scientist who was rumored to be a spy during WWII. That is, until he blew himself up, along with his wife, daughter, and half the structure. The rubble that remains means there's fewer areas for exploration: just the musty library, messy nursery, and great entry hall form the interior. But being a logical and secretive thinker, this man laced the grounds with all kinds of mental challenges and mysteries. Some are expected. Every game in this genre seems to use a sliding block puzzle, where picture tiles must be maneuvered around a board with a single open space. It's also common to see the Towers of Hanoi. Here, disks of decreasing size are stacked on the leftmost of three rods, and the configuration must be moved to the rightmost rod following certain strict rules.

However, if you aren't familiar with these problems, it might not be so easy to figure out. The Haunting of Castle Malloy lets players choose from two difficulty levels: Junior and Senior Detective. While the Junior Detective route provides a helpful task list of people, places, and things to investigate, both settings share a hands-off approach to explaining the obstacles Nancy encounters. For example, you'll run into a circle of stone pillars carved with strange symbols. It's up to you to recognize the markings from separate books on astronomy and Celtic runes seen earlier, and then to synthesize the meaning of the documents into a solution to the problem.

The game doesn't give you any feedback if you come up with the wrong answer. Instead, it just sits there, and you must return to square one. That degree of difficulty calls into question the 'E for Everyone' on the front of the box. Most kids under a certain age aren't going to be able to decipher binary numbers or stick through procedures that require 40-50 steps to complete, especially without any help.

Plus, there is another small concern. Remember that the crotchety old caretaker is an Irishman, and he spends all his downtime in a pub. To drag information out of him, Nancy has to perform some harmless favors. Donal sends her to herd his sheep into the barn, and he also requests that she fill in as the drummer for the local band. (The group plays a fine jig, but your actions sound out of place even when performed correctly.) However, the first task he gives her is to mix a drink for him. So Ms. Drew steps behind the bar to see a mixing cup and blender, mugs and martini glasses. There's no explicit reference to alcohol. In fact, you'll notice the logos on the wooden keg say 'Root Beer' or 'Ginger Beer', and the drinks she mixes are fruity in flavor. But it's alarmingly ambiguous.

Not that The Haunting of Castle Malloy should drive anyone to drink. In fact, it isn't completely unforgiving. There are instances where Nancy is in real danger. If you happen to drown her in the bog or walk her off a sheer cliff into the icy ocean below, the game will automatically return you to the point preceding your fatal error. Removing the frustration of lost progress keeps the player moving towards an ultimately creative ending, one that blends the science and superstition surrounding the old castle. Starring in high-quality adventures like this, Nancy Drew will have a lot of interactive mysteries in her future. But hey, she can manage it. The girl can do everything, after all.


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Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (November 11, 2008)

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