"Nancy Drew has too much time on her hands; she's ready to take on any mystery at a moment's notice. Thanks to extra duties in this investigation, though, time isn't on her side. She has to collect laundry by noon and produce three square meals a day. If she neglects these deadlines in favor of solving puzzles, Nancy gets the boot."
Nancy Drew has too much time on her hands; she's ready to take on any mystery at a moment's notice. This time, the young sleuth is headed to the Great White North, where a series of escalating accidents has struck Icicle Creek Lodge. Some guests suffered food poisoning, one fell down the stairs, and most of the staff fled in fear. No one has been seriously injured yet, but an explosion lights up the sky just as Nancy arrives at the remote location. In The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, you have to lead the seasoned detective through a series of arcane brainteasers. Only after the puzzles are solved will the person behind the crimes be revealed.
Some of the guests have fixated on the titular white wolf as the cause of all the problems, since it constantly prowls the grounds. Nancy, however, chooses to focus on human suspects, and there's no shortage of suspicious characters around. Ollie, the caretaker, looks like an old ranch hand with his cowboy hat. He's stubborn, though, and doesn't take to Nancy's interference. Yanni is a world class cross-country skier, but the Eastern European is extremely paranoid, always chattering about competitors spying on him. Lou is a socially inept college student who disappears on long, solitary walks. Guadalupe spends all her time looking out the window with a pair of binoculars. Bill, a native Canadian (complete with hokey accent), seems nice enough, but all his advice seems to put Nancy in bad situations. Even her employer, Chantal Moique, is a piece of work. The manager is out of town and only speaks over the phone, but she's flaky and unreasonable. Chantal even demands that Nancy fill in as a maid and cook on top of conducting her investigation.
Thanks to her extra duties, time isn't on Nancy's side. In the upper-left corner of the screen, a persistent clock displays the current hour. She has to collect laundry by noon (though it gives her an excuse to poke around everyone's room). More trying, she must produce three square meals a day at regular times. If she frequently neglects these deadlines, Nancy gets the boot. Our detective also must watch her body temperature when poking around outdoors. Every step in the freezing air – all you can hear is the harsh wind – brings her closer to a more literal deadline. It's so tempting to maximize her exploration, thinking that she can make it just a little farther. Plus there are areas where it's easy to get confused and lost. The snowbanks look the same, after all. Dealing with rigid schedules and frigid weather make these mundane parts a little more exciting. I get a shot of adrenaline scrambling back to the kitchen with only a minute to spare, as well as from pulling open the lodge door just as frostbite is about to take hold.
The biggest rush, though, comes from solving puzzles, grasping leads, and piecing together the mystery. In Icicle Creek, the challenges stem from the founder of the lodge, an eccentric pioneer who holed up in the mountains by himself. The guy went a little crazy, setting up secret passages and underground tunnels with brainteasers for the entry keys. You'll have to decode his diary to even find the location of his most guarded puzzles. Many of these involve some combination of pattern matching and sequential steps, and can take dozens of moves to solve. There are some more familiar tasks; clearing snow off the frozen skating pond is exactly like Minesweeper. But as with Nancy's numerous other adventures, the main struggle in solving problems is just figuring out their rules and parameters.
People follow their own rules, too, and that means they're not available around the clock. Speaking to fellow lodgers can elucidate the next investigative step, but choices in conversation don't affect the game (as usual). You have to budget time to interview the guests between bursts of exploration. Unfortunately, the constraints aren't absolute. It's nice that Nancy can make empty hours disappear by setting her alarm clock and taking a nap, but there also seem to be an infinite number of days to catch the culprit. If you miss a clue one day, there's always tomorrow.
Some of Nancy's activities did undergo a motion-control facelift as Icicle Creek was ported onto the Wii from the PC. Most pervasive are the cooking controls. You'll be slicing, flipping, and grilling like any generic food preparation sim out there. Even though a recipe book is available, the game tells you what to make and the steps to take. It is sometimes slow to respond to your gestures, which can drop the evaluation of your performance. Although the quality of the food doesn't seem to matter; it just needs to get on the table. Also, it would be more fun if you didn't have to make the same three dishes everyday.
Snowball fights take advantage of the remote, too. Freddie, Ollie's daughter, won't let you pass her towering fort without defeating her in a match, and you actually have to make a throwing motion to toss the projectiles. Only one real puzzle was affected in the platform move. There is a time when Nancy finds herself trapped in the middle once frozen lake. On the PC, you had to find a safe path to shore over the remaining ice floes by trial and error. (This game maintains the series' treatment of death, returning you just to the beginning of the fateful event.) Now, you must balance Nancy on each ice sheet by using the remote as a level. It is nice to have an purely physical challenge mixed in with the mental exercises.
There are specific aspects of Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek that make it exciting. Working against the clock, even if it's ultimately inconsequential, introduces a level of urgency to the events. It also doesn't hurt that the identity of the culprit is hard to guess until the very end. The game really makes a successful transition to the Wii because its core stays intact. It maintains the difficulty of the brain-cramping problems while keeping the encroachment of the motion controls to a minimum. As long as future efforts resist the urge to go crazy with the remote, expect many more smooth ports of Nancy Drew on the Wii.
Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (February 20, 2009)
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