Review: Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice (PC)

Game: Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice
Genre: Mystery Adventure
Developer: Her Interactive
Publisher: Her Interactive
Release Date: July 7, 2008


Nancy Drew dances for dollaz in The Phantom of Venice.

No, really.

When I first picked up this assignment, I was a little disappointed that I was once again reviewing a “girlie game.” Then, I received the game with my very own Carnevale mask. After looking over the information that came with the game, I was intrigued. Apparently, I was going to have to learn some Italian in order to break this case. That’s good enough to get me interested.

The Phantom of Venice is the eighteenth in a series of award-winning Nancy Drew games by Her Interactive. The game opens with Nancy locked in what looks like a storm drain, with the water quickly filling up to drown her. How on earth did she get there? I’m guessing her nose got in the way of the wrong person.

Story

It seems that someone in a mask and cape has been terrorizing the art lover’s of Venice. The newspapers call him “The Phantom,” and he leaves very little in the way of clues. Nancy gets called in to the case by Prudence Rutherford, whose necklace Nancy recovered in a previous case. Prudence is angry that the thief is still at large, and she knows that Nancy is the go-to-girl in solving this case. She contacts the GdiF, and Nancy is set to go undercover in Venice.

Prudence doesn’t stop there, she’s also arranged for Nancy to stay at her old Palazzo, now owned by Margherita Faubourg, who, for some reason, hates Nancy. Margherita isn’t the only one Nancy is sharing the Palazzo with, and guess what? One of her roomies is in on the crime! Hey, maybe that vase that almost fell on her head has something to do with that…

Nancy is deep undercover, so she has to receive her information from nondescript places. Go to the ATM to collect the crime dossier, binoculars, and a PDA. Now, she’s on the case!

Story Rating: Good

Graphics

I was rather impressed with the graphics in this game. Images are clear, and non-grainy. There isn’t a definite difference in graphics quality for places or items that need a closer look. When looking through detective magazines for tips, there are well thought out advertisements for the young sleuth. “Snoop Duds: Spy Gear for the Super Sleuth” and “Detector Nectar: The Ultimate Think Drink.” At first, I wondered why there was a picture of a perky young girl smiling out at me from my lock-picking instructions, after reading through the adverts on the various pages, it all started to make sense. Her Interactive was trying to be cute! Good thing they succeeded or I would have been forced to heckle them severely.

Graphics Rating: Classic

Sound

This is, in my opinion, the best part of the whole game. Throughout the game, you hear either people speaking in the background, as if you’re in a crowded place, or light symphony music to keep you upbeat as Nancy gets closer to danger. You can even opt for a more expensive gondola ride if you’d like to be serenaded, and there are quite a variety of young men willing to sell their songs for a few Euros.

The bathroom had to be the most entertaining, and most impeding part of the beginning of the game. Nancy walks in, shuts the door, and while you can hear the familiar sounds of washing up, Nancy will offer you a wonderful tidbit of her thoughts. There is the questionable, “Of course it tastes bad, it’s a squirrel!” and the ever so delightful, “Behold, our heroine emerges from the tomb like a manatee!” I think I spent 20 minutes going in and out of the bathroom, just to hear what she’d say next. Of course, I’m easily entertained.

Sound Rating: Great

Control/Gameplay

This is a simple point-and-click mystery, with a few fun mini-games thrown in. There are icons on the bottom of the screen depicting Nancy’s bag, notebook, checklist, game settings, save, and quit. To move around the rooms, simply follow your mouse until it becomes an arrow in the direction you’d like to go. The mouse icon is usually a magnifying glass, and you can look more closely at things by clicking on them when the magnifying glass turns red. The icon will also become a hand when there is something in the screen that you can take, or manipulate. Clicking on Nancy’s bag gives you access to her inventory (everything that you’ve picked up so far) simply click on the item you want to use and it will turn red when you place it on something you can use it on. If you’re playing on Jr. Detective mode, Nancy’s checklist shows you what you need to do, but not necessarily what order you need to do it in, so it may be easier than Senior Detective mode, but it’s definitely no cakewalk. I nearly frustrated the heck out of myself in a few places where I hadn’t done something in the right order. I think I spent an entire hour chasing a self-destructing tracking device all over Venice, and I really needed to feed the thing to a pigeon.

While meandering around Venice, I found myself in front of a club with a sign in front of it saying “Auditioning Dancers.” So, of course I had to go in. Looks like Nancy can earn herself some tip money dancing at the club if she manages to pass the audition. The dance mode is the only part of the game control that I found somewhat difficult. There are various sounds that correspond to the various dance moves. The icons related to the dance moves are on the top of the screen, and it is your job to click each icon as the sound is played. There is supposed to be a tech assisting you with this by using colored lights to coach you as to what move is next, but he doesn’t do so hot, and if you don’t have some fast fingers, you’re going to get booed off the stage. Fortunately, I managed to scrape by at the auditions, and now I could make Nancy dance as “Punchy LaRue,” and I got to take the black cat suit with me, so I could dance whenever I needed the Euros. Tell me that isn’t hot.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Above Average

Replayability

While this is an entertaining game, I don’t see much hope for it to be played again. There is the possibility of wanting to earn more Euros to get better, more entertaining outfits, but once you find out who The Phantom is, and solve the crime, well, what’s the point of playing again?

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

Balance

The game starts out with a brief tutorial you can read in Nancy’s copy of How to be a Detective. It doesn’t tell you how to put the clues together, though, for that you’re on your own. There are numerous clues to pick up and to advance in the game you have to use your rains to figure out what needs to be done, and when. Make the wrong move, and you’ll get sent right back home to America. This game is intended for ages 10 and up, and while I think I’m quite a bit brighter than the average ten-year-old, I found this game stumping me more than once. Is it sad that this children’s game has gotten to me? If I hadn’t spent so much time trying to hone up my dance moves and playing in the toilet, I’m sure I could have beaten the game by now, (I’d like to hope.) For $20, I’d say the game is a steal.

Balance Rating: Great

Originality

As there are 17 other Nancy Drew cases just like this one, I’ll have to drop some points in this category. What’s cool about this though is that in the first screen of the game you can check out Nancy’s scrapbook, which shows sneak peek info on all of her previous cases. This way, you can tell which ones you might be interested in buying in the future. I can tell you I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying case #13: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon. She get’s to solve the case in the old west with the Hardy Boys! It’s just like the books I used to read when I was a kid.

Originality Rating: Decent

Addictiveness

I will say that the first time I was able to dance as Punchy LaRue; I was playing for two hours just to figure out the controls. After that, I kept swinging by the club to see if I could wrangle more Euros out of the patrons. One day, I will manage to dance like the princess I am.

There are quite a few little cliffhangers that keep you from saving just yet. I think there were two nights in a row I wanted to go to bed, but I had just found some damned incriminating evidence that needed to be followed up on. Damn, that means I had to keep playing well into the night. Jerks.

Addictiveness Rating: Very Good

Appeal Factor

Apparently, the Nancy Drew games made by Her Interactive have sold over 4 million copies so far. That makes for a pretty huge fan base. Despite my initial doubts, I found myself very impressed with this game, so I’d have to say I’m proud to be number 4 million and one. This is a game that could possibly appeal to men as well, but at this point, I don’t really care if it does. I’m just glad that there is someone out there that knows how to make a game designed for a woman that displays our intelligence, rather than defeating it.

Appeal Factor Rating: Classic

Miscellaneous

I think I mentioned somewhere that this game would be injecting some Italian language into its users. On that note, I was a little disappointed. Initially, you are given about two pages of nouns and prepositions in an Interactive Guide to Venice that Nancy finds in her room at the Palazzo. While it’s all good and wonderful to learn that Gatto means cat, I was really hoping for more immersion than that. Throughout the game, when you encounter Italian that Nancy needs to read, you simply pull out your trusty “Italian to English” Dictionary and click it on the offending verse. Magic! It’s English.

Even though I was a bit disappointed with the Italian lessons I wasn’t getting, I found that the Guide to Venice had some really great information on the history of Venice. I learned that Venice was originally 118 small Islands that they built foundations on by pounding piling of oak and pine into the subsoil. They built houses on these foundations which have stood for hundreds of years. A lot of the 150 canals in Venice are natural, and there are more than 409 bridges spanning the canals. I learned about the top sights to see while in Venice. If I ever get to go, I’ll be sure to visit the Grand Canal, St Mark’s Cathedral, and The Doge’s Palace. Most interesting is the Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs.) It was named because the bridge connected to The Doge’s Palace, which was the center of government and held the cities dungeon. The people crossing the bridge to the prison were said to sigh as they passed, knowing they wouldn’t be seeing the outside again.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Modes: Good
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Great
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Rating: Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary

Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice is an intelligent, well-thought, point-and-click mystery. The graphics are clear and easy to navigate, while game play is simple. There are lots of things to do and see in Venice, so it’s difficult to get overwhelmed by the story, especially when you’ve got Gelato to eat.

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