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Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy (PC) artwork

Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy (PC) review


"Perhaps the biggest problem isn't the limited nature of the building, though; it's the backtracking. When you first arrive, you'll make the rounds as you get acquainted with your new classmates. That takes a lot of time, since at first it can be easy to head down the wrong hallway and find yourself at a dead end. Once you know your way around, which may not happen until you've played for a few hours, you'll still find yourself wearing holes in the hallway carpet because you're covering the same ground so frequently. Instead of a resourceful sleuth, you'll feel like an errand girl."



Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy is the 21st installment in a long-running series of adventure games for girls. It features the plucky and resourceful heroine who has been entertaining girls and young women for decades. Each new franchise entry has given gamers the chance to assume the role of the beloved heroine as she unearths the clues that will allow her to solve intriguing mysteries. This time around is no different, at least on the surface. It follows the general conventions of a successful formula that has worked for years and should work for years to come... just as long as the next few in the series are better than this one.

The game opens in much the same manner as last year's superior release, Nancy Drew and the Ransom of the Seven Ships. From a nondescript desktop, you can review a case file which lays out the plot de jour: some girls at a prestigious high school known as Waverly Academy have been receiving menacing notes from someone in their midst who identifies herself as the Black Cat and signs her missives with an inky paw print. Misfortune has tended to follow. One girl has even been sent home as a result of the ongoing pranks, her parents are considering suing the school and now it's up to Nancy to find out what is happening. She'll do so in an undercover capacity, by becoming one of the students.

There's nothing wrong with the premise, really, which seems like it could easily have come from the pages of a young adult novel. The follow-up is just fine, as well. The various girls attending the school each have distinct personalities, even if they do feel a bit one-dimensional overall. There's Mel the goth girl who won't leave her room because she has an image to maintain, pretty girl Izzy who is all smiles to your face but known among her peers as a bit of a backstabber, Leela the fiercely competitive athlete, Corinne the reclusive bookworm, Rachel the girl with too many projects on her hands and at one point there was Megan, the girl with a butch-style haircut who had to leave because one of the pranks played on her proved serious enough that a hospital visit was necessary.

One of the game's problems is that once you get to know the girls, there's not much else to the Waverly Academy scene. You'll travel between a handful of dorm rooms on the upper floor, explore a music room, library and game room on the ground floor, then maybe head outside along a cobblestone path to examine a cellar and some trees. Cover that ground and you've essentially seen all that the building has to offer. As a whole, these halls feel much less exciting than the island that made Ransom of the Seven Ships so memorable. It's not a great sign when the most fun that you have with a puzzle and adventure title comes from the darts mini-game.

Perhaps the biggest problem isn't the limited nature of the building, though; it's the backtracking. When you first arrive, you'll make the rounds as you get acquainted with your new classmates. That takes a lot of time, since at first it can be easy to head down the wrong hallway and find yourself at a dead end. Once you know your way around, which may not happen until you've played for a few hours, you'll still find yourself wearing holes in the hallway carpet because you're covering the same ground so frequently. Instead of a resourceful sleuth, you'll feel like an errand girl. You're even required to spend a bit of time during each day making sandwiches for the other students!

Most of your servitude isn't the result of that work duty, though. Many of your least enjoyable tasks come Rachel, the character who is supposed to be putting together the school web site but is working on a paper while she has you conduct her busy work. She'll require you to snap pictures of each student who is in the running for valedictorian. That doesn't sound so bad, but you're using your cellphone camera and you have to get both the framing and the zooming just right. The game is vague about the exact requirements, so you're left to experiment to see what is expected of you. Pictures must be uploaded into the library computer at the ground level. Then you need to head upstairs to inform Rachel that you've uploaded the pictures. As she sits on her bed and types on her laptop, she won't just tell you what you need to change. Instead, she''ll instruct you to head back down the library to read the verdict. Usually, she'll have some sort of issue with at least one shot, so then you have to run around snapping more pictures. Even if you've saved up a bushel of shots in several styles (your phone will store as many as 30 at a time), you can only test one at a time before more backtracking enters the equation.

The example referenced above is not the only one of its kind, either. Once you finish snapping pictures of the girls, you'll be asked to capture the school's iconic attractions on film. Before you can take half of those shots, you have to roam around the halls and discover the targets, which sometimes are outlined in only the vaguest of terms. Worse, you could be looking at the proper target and merely snapping a picture from the wrong angle, in which case you'll be told that you're not even taking the right picture. Aaargh!

When the puzzles do actually work--which isn't something that happens as consistently as it should in a game of this sort--and when you have all of the information that you need to solve each challenge, Warnings at Waverly Academy becomes a great game that falls in line with the best installments in the series that came before it. Players are simply expected to put up with more filler than they really should. Ransom of the Seven Ships felt like a complete adventure and what Her Interactive provides here more closely resembles table scraps. Even regular series features such as the decent inventory system and the solid interface for movement and investigation are less pleasing when they're sandwiched between uninspired or irritating puzzles.

Nancy Drew is still a heroine. Her place in both literature and in adventure gaming has long since been assured. If the plan at the Her Interactive offices is to continue producing new adventure games with Nancy at their forefront, though, quality control needs to be more consistent. Long-time fans will undoubtedly get some enjoyment out of this installment as they await something better down the line or before returning to past high points, but the casual gamer who starts with Warnings at Waverly Academy won't get a real idea of what the series truly has to offer. That would be a true shame.

Rating: 5/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (February 05, 2010)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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