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The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks (DS) artwork

The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks (DS) review


"Don't think the Hardy Boys are completely left out, though. They get to play the toe-tapping sequence later. Repetition is a theme of this entire graphic adventure; the same puzzles keep popping up over and over. What's clever the first time becomes busywork every time thereafter."



The Hardy Boys are leaving the safety of Bayport behind, traveling half-a-world away from home for a one-of-a-kind treasure hunt. Every year, a select group of seekers gathers on the Royal Express, winding their way across the rails of Europe in search of a mythical golden train, the purported lost fortune of the Romanov Royal Family. It promises to be a cutthroat quest, but thanks to some bland and monotonous puzzles, The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks turns out to be no vacation.

Frank and Joe are the only detectives on the trail, but that doesn't mean they don't have competition. Each of the other travelers possesses a specialty that could give them an edge. There's Alexey Konstantirev, a young art scholar who won't make many friends with his condescending nature. Carol Stephenson-Hughes is a well-respected British historian, but she seems a little too laid-back and helpful. No one could say that about Baron von Ekartsburg, a blustery, imposing man who claims to be a direct descendant of the Romanov family. In contrast to these serious individuals, the boys have a really playful air in this graphic adventure; Joe finds a way to poke fun at their companions and their puffed up names. Well, all except Isabelle, a simple young woman who managed to find work on the train as a serving girl, and who has an inkling that she too carries Romanov blood.

It's an effectively compact list of suspects; any one of these people could easily be responsible when events begin to go awry on the journey. Those mishaps, though, lead to the most suspicious character of all, the super-secret spy Samantha Quick... if that is her real name. Samantha periodically contacts the sibling sleuths out of nowhere with helpful information. Her specific motives are unclear, but both the game and the instruction booklet insist she's completely trustworthy. In fact, you even get to play a few story sequences from her perspective, and since espionage is her trade, her tasks are the coolest in the game. First, she has to diffuse a bomb within a limited amount of time, equipped with only cryptic instructions. Later, there's a little reflex minigame where you must help her evade capture by hitting footprints as they appear on the touchscreen.

Don't think the Hardy Boys are completely left out, though. They get to play the toe-tapping sequence later. Repetition is a theme of this entire graphic adventure; the same puzzles keep popping up over and over. Take the map that accompanies every city the train visits. It includes a grid and a series of numbers that must be deciphered to find the two or three locations the boys can actually visit. There aren't any directions, just an example, so decoding the rules of the problem takes a fair amount of analysis. However, the rules remain constant for each subsequent map. What is clever the first time becomes busywork every time thereafter.

It's even worse when the puzzles aren't interesting in the first place. In order to gain admittance to important museums, the brothers must scour the limited locales of the city for scraps of tickets. Most bits are in plain sight, but the pair inevitably end up down by the river, rummaging through the refuse bin for the final piece. Even when Frank and Joe need something as vital as an electronic security badge, it's hidden among the old pizza boxes and banana peels of the trash heap.

Exploration on the moving locomotive follows the same hunt-and-peck order, and there aren't many areas to search within the four cars of the train. The duo has to ransack the same rooms over and over. Most often they'll find old newspapers or antiquated notes whispering about the vile Rasputin; even the Tsar's private journal lies around begging to be read. These curiosities are supposed to provide historical context for the adventure, but they serve as a poor chronicle. The game weaves its own fictionalized theory about the royal family's fate after the Revolution, keeping any unpleasant details purposefully vague. Someone without any background knowledge of the downfall of the Romanovs will exit in the same state.

It's not as difficult to pinpoint this game's downfall: the puzzles. The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks most wants to be exciting, and it succeeds to a degree. Stylish comic book panels outline the suspenseful sabotage between each chapter. It features a synthesized orchestral score that makes it seem as if something thrilling will happen at any moment. And the cast is wonderfully villainous. Come to the puzzles, though, the crux of player interaction, and Treasure on the Tracks is simplistic, even juvenile. It suffers in comparison to Nancy Drew's long running game series, where the tasks display her intelligence and resourcefulness. After this adventure, I'm not sure the Hardy Boys could detect their way out of a paper bag. Unless it was in the garbage.

Rating: 4/10

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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (November 01, 2009)

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