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Nancy Drew: The Captive Curse (PC) artwork

Nancy Drew: The Captive Curse (PC) review

"Young gamers, and perhaps those who are new to the point-and-click adventure genre, would find a lot to enjoy here – it is obviously marketed towards these audiences, and the developers succeeded in delivering a great product for them."

The Captive Curse is the twenty-fourth entry in the long-running Nancy Drew game series, which has survived throughout the downfall (and recent resurgence) of point-and-click adventure games. That’s right, there have been twenty-freakin’-three games prior to this one. Fans of the series know what to expect, but does The Captive Curse offer anything to people like me who haven’t a clue about anything Nancy-related?

As a newcomer who had no idea what’s going on, I didn’t feel a very warm welcome. For starters, there is no introduction to Nancy herself outside of, “Hi, I’m Nancy.” It’s a bit disappointing that there wasn’t a greater introduction to the character you will be controlling for the entire game, but I guess that comes with the whole “this is the twenty-fourth game, you should know by now” territory.

Players begin at Nancy’s desk where they can read various things including the case dossier and a comic book about a detective and his dog. Also found on her desk is a scrapbook with brief summaries of Nancy’s past cases (all twenty-three of them!) which were somewhat interesting to read through, and they left enough open that players who are interested in a particular story can buy that game without any major spoilers. Nancy also appears to be a fan of Japanese culture because she has rice ball and chibi-cat ornaments on her desk. They may have some significance to prior cases, but since the game refused to properly introduce Nancy to me, I chose to assume she is a massive otaku cosplaying as a detective.

As I said before, this is my first Nancy Drew title, and as such I didn’t know where to begin. Luckily there is a handy tutorial available to teach new players how to navigate the screen and utilize Nancy’s inventory. Of course, I had no idea how to actually turn the pages of the tutorial book, which wasn’t explained until I managed to somehow reach page three. And then I had no idea how to put the book down… but it was nothing that frantic clicking couldn’t solve.

Whenever you feel ready, you can initiate the case. You are asked to choose to be either a Junior detective or a Senior detective. The former has several benefits, including easier puzzles and a hotline Nancy can call for hints (not much unlike Nintendo’s hint hotline, rest its soul). I’ve been around point-and-clicks since my childhood, though, so I haughtily grabbed the Senior badge.

Unfortunately, it still wasn’t all that difficult on the Senior difficulty, which brings me to some words of caution: The Captive Curse is not meant for veteran point-and-click adventurers. It is clearly marketed towards younger players (perhaps specifically to young girls), so fans of the genre who are expecting the standard brain-wrenching puzzles should look elsewhere.

Those gamers who this game is marketed towards, however, will embark on a peculiar adventure to a castle in Germany where a monster has been kidnapping – and presumably murdering – the residents. It’s up to Nancy to figure out who or what the monster is and put on stop to it before it strikes again. But it will of course not be so easy, because it turns out that there are residents who are not too pleased with Nancy’s arrival, and just may be setting her up to be the next victim.

It sounds violent, sure, but players will never actually see the monster slaughtering humans. In fact, there is very little violence at all save for a couple instances throughout the game where Nancy herself can die due to her own stupidity, but those too lack cinematics of such deaths.

The characters living in the castle – Burg Finster, as it’s called – are the main sources of information, and serve as the “suspects” in the case. Unfortunately, for every good, interesting character, there is an annoying, awful one. I haven’t heard such bastardized German accents in a long time. There are a few who are obviously native speakers, but some characters are so blatantly stereotypical that it was a borderline insulting to people like me who actually speak the language; and it doesn’t help that they wear Lederhosen.

The game assumes, though, that you have no prior knowledge of the language, or of the culture. And perhaps rightly so, considering it is marketed towards a younger audience. I couldn’t help but slap my head, but I can see how the extreme accents and outrageous attire can make it seem more like a foreign country to those not in the know.

One cool thing is that The Captive Curse regularly has some characters speak in German, or has Nancy translate some German text using a dictionary. I could tell the developers wanted to teach players some vocabulary and I think both young and old will enjoy doing so.

Outside of the few awful voice actors, the voice acting is decent and fits each character well. Nancy speaks a tad slow for my taste, and it doesn’t help that you can’t fast-forward through dialog, but at least she isn’t grating on the ears. My only other complaint is that the voice clips sometimes cut off a bit too quickly, leaving out the last word of a sentence, but luckily the entire game is subtitled by default.

There are also several characters which can be contacted only through Nancy’s cell phone, including her boyfriend. About five minutes into the game, there is a massive argument between the two over the phone – which was quite uncomfortable to listen to – establishing the “impatience of boyfriend Ned” as a bit of a side-story throughout the game.

Navigating Nancy through the castle (and later, the wilderness) is standard point-and-click affair: you control a cursor and click in the direction you want Nancy to go, or on the object she should observe. It works expectedly well, and many areas will allow you to turn in place simply by resting your cursor near the edge of the screen. Additionally, there is not much need for frantic clicking or pixel-hunting, as the cursor will light up when something can be observed. In fact, I suggest against frantic clicking, due to the fact that I somehow ending up buying a useless picture of a turtle in the castle gift shop due to my spastic fingers.

The interface, too, is very straight-forward and easy to navigate. Large icons allow access to things such as her inventory and cellphone, as well as serve to save or load game files.

Graphically, The Captive Curse isn’t a marvel. The developers obviously opted to use a simple pre-rendered graphical engine in order to allow a broader audience to play the game, yet it doesn’t look horrible by any means. There were a few hiccups here and there (my PC had difficulty rendering a bucket being lowered on a rope despite being far above recommended specs), but overall it runs smoothly. My only gripe is that the widescreen option stretches the picture instead of providing a true widescreen image.

For being such an uncomplicated point-and-click adventure title, I didn’t expect to enjoy the game as much as I did. Looking back, I think I kept playing primarily due to one reason: the presence of clever humor. Humor is abundant in the dialog trees, and some scenes are just downright silly – for instance, the first time I walked into the castle lord’s office, I unexpectedly caught him playing with robot action figures as he fumbled to compose himself. The humor perfectly balances out the more serious side of the story and, to be honest, if prior Nancy Drew games are similarly funny I am tempted to play them for that fact alone.

There remains the reality, though, that The Captive Curse was far too easy and far too short, and despite the entertaining dialog (when the faux accents aren’t ruining it), I don’t feel like I can recommend this to die-hard point-and-click fans who have played other more demanding titles in the genre. However, I do feel that young gamers, and perhaps those who are new to the genre, would find a lot to enjoy here – it is obviously marketed towards these audiences, and I feel the developers succeeded in delivering a great product for them. After all, they’ve had twenty-four opportunities to perfect it.


EJHart's avatar
Freelance review by Eric Pomroy (July 07, 2011)

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