"Despite my worst fears, Nancy Drew has not undergone a lobotomy. Lights, Camera, Curses! is the premier of the Nancy Drew Dossier series, designed specifically for detectives crunched for time. But even though it requires less brain power to solve, Curses still shows the super sleuth at her resourceful best."
Despite my worst fears, Nancy Drew has not undergone a lobotomy. Lights, Camera, Curses! is the premier of the Nancy Drew Dossier series, designed specifically for detectives crunched for time. That means easier puzzles, condensed chapters, and instant gratification. But even though it requires less brain power to solve, Curses still shows the super sleuth at her resourceful best. It's a typically clever entry in the Nancy Drew tradition.
The mystery begins when the young Ms. Drew is summoned to the set of Pharaoh, a big-budget remake of an old blockbuster movie. But the original didn't succeed entirely on its own merits. It was plagued by intrigue and death; a young starlet actually died filming the final scene. Now history appears to be repeating itself, as the current production is plagued by escalating accidents. Could the person behind the misfortune be Jorge Jackson, the cocky Aussie director working under duress? How about the leading lady and rising star, bimbo Eda Brookes? Surely it couldn't be the project's one and only financial backer, Hollywood power-player Arthur Hitchens? The harried producer, Molly McKenna, seems entirely too busy to cook up such a scheme, right? Or maybe, just maybe, the curse that hovered over Pharaoh has returned to claim more victims. Only Nancy Drew can get to the truth, and she'll have to go undercover to do it.
Working incognito as a production assistant, Nancy has to search every dark corner of the movie set. The game is self-described as a hunt-and-peck adventure; this means scanning the area for interesting objects, then combining them to form something more useful. Each of the 25 chapters consists of a single screen worth of self-contained action. You can't move elsewhere until all the vital clues are uncovered. Sometimes finding a hint is as simple as opening a toolbox, pulling out a wrench, and tightening a bolt. Other times it's more abstract. When Nancy needs to develop some photographs, she must engineer a red lightbulb out of trash laying around a hotel room. But there's no danger of getting lost, even though items aren't always in plain sight. A counter in the corner tells you how many clues remain, plus a little sparkle appears when you mouseover an instrumental object. It's just a matter of trying different combinations, and there's no way to lose. More points are given when you don't make mistakes, though, and an elusive special ending serves as a reward for a near perfect total score.
The movie shoot is actually on location at an abandoned, film-related theme park, which makes for some unusual scenery. Instead of the realistic 3-D environments used in the other Nancy Drew games, Curses features more cartoonish, 2-D locations, promoting the more playful nature of this new series. One chapter, Nancy's on a set full of sand and pyramid mockups, or she's buried by the pharaoh's clothes in a messy dressing room. The next she's searching a P.I.'s office with the outline of a corpse chalked on the floor, then strolling next door to the haunted mansion with a yard full of creepy black crows. It's exciting to wonder exactly what exotic locale will appear next.
The only 3-D animation you'll see occurs during interrogations. Between some chapters, our girl detective must question one of the central characters, and their head and shoulders appear to read out the script that appears on screen. The process itself isn't exciting; you just fill in multiple-choice blanks with recently discovered facts. But the models really bring the suspects to life. Jorge's sly smirk makes him seem so suspicious. And Eda, she practically hyperventilates her lines when she's stresses (all the time). Plus her voice is spot-on airhead.
Minigames provide another (less welcome) changeup from the usual routine. Nancy will have to pick locks, decode electronic data, and use explosives to excavate a cave. These activities are overly simplified variations on Tetris or Dr. Mario, aligning falling blocks and colors into certain patterns. One other game reappears, as well. Like in The Haunting of Castle Malloy, the heroine's most recent case, Nancy is forced to tend bar and mix drinks. Here, though, it's clear she's only working with fruit juice to make tasty smoothies.
That makes Lights, Camera, Curses an adventure any age can enjoy without reservation. The Dossier series looks to be a great alternative to Nancy's more intensive adventures, where you have to spend hours just figuring out your next objective. This is straightforward and intuitive, but most importantly, it maintains the spirit of the stories. In the time it takes to read though a book, you can experience a genuine Nancy Drew mystery.
Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (December 15, 2008)
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