Review: Nancy Drew: The Hidden Staircase (Nintendo DS)

Nancy Drew: The Hidden Staircase
Developer: THQ
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Point and Click Mystery
Release Date: 09/22/2008

Oh my Goodness, I’m so glad to be back on the case with Nancy and her buddies at THQ. I will do my best to restrain some of my enthusiasm. As some of you are aware, the last point and click mystery I reviewed by THQ was American Girl: Kit Mystery Challenge. In all honesty I wasn’t too pleased with that one, and I was feeling rather lackluster when I heard I had Nancy on my plate as well. With that in mind, let’s try to see how open minded I can be on this one.

Story

The story seems to be a direct rip off of Carolyn Keene’s second installment into the Nancy Drew books. Oh my, but the family living at Twin Elms is in quite a fluster. Objects have gone missing, things are going bump in the night, and strange shadows are being seen all over. They know just what to do, call Nancy Drew! Nevermind the police officer they’ve got stationed at the house to help prevent and deter crime, Nancy’s on the case. Turns out, everyone that Nancy talks to, except for the strange hobo who lives in the decrepit cave in the backyard of the manse, has some new list of things for Nancy to find. It appears that everyone’s been hit by these “ghosts” or “hoodlums” or what have you. Anyways, if the mystery isn’t solved once and for all, the owners are going to be forced to sell their home, as these things are just too much for their old souls to deal with.

Story Rating: Mediocre

Graphics

Here I was pleasantly surprised. The graphics were in 3D and the people were very animated. Granted, when speaking to any of them, their mouths just moved up and down repeatedly as long as you had the dialogue open, but still, quite the improvement from the American Girl let down. There were lots of delicate flowers to examine, as well as a storm-filled sky that let a little of the “eerie” in. 3D panoramas were only seen during movie clips, but those few that appeared were done well, with great attention to background detail.

Graphics Rating: Very Good

Sound

There really wasn’t much in the way of sound. There was a constant background of thunder and heavy rains, which Nancy alludes to quite often. While wandering the grounds searching for clues you are haunted by the tick-tick-ticking of the clock to let you know just how much of your time is a wasting. If you stay too still too long you might get a hint of the “creaky door shutting,” if only, I assume to break the monotony. Oh, there are also wind chimes, to add some charm. There is absolutely no speaking dialogue throughout the entire game, which is rather dreary. Whenever you encounter someone you are forced to click through pages and pages of their drivel.

Sound Rating: Below Average

Control/Gameplay

Ah, here is the masterful gem of the game. Nance runs into people and they give her lists of what has become missing. Nancy wanders throughout the grounds, which are completely preset, no aimless wandering to be found in this game, until she finds everything on the list. Once she completes that task, she is free to move on to another chapter! After each chapter, you are given a ranking, based on the time it took you to complete that level. You can be ranked from Master Detective all the way down to Nosey Nelly.

To maneuver through the grounds Nancy can use her directional pad and her stylus. Any time her stylus touches something that can be taken, a hand appears, anytime she touches a place she can walk to, a boot appears. All you have to do is click on said action to make it happen. You can follow the boot around the grounds or push your directional pad to scour the map; the choice is up to you.
Now, the upper screen is entirely taken up by the grounds that you are free to walk during that chapter. So, if you’ve wandered the entire map and don’t have everything on your list, you’ve obviously missed something. If you just absolutely cannot find what you’re missing you can easily restart the game, which puts you back at the last chapter, but with a whole different list of things to find! Cheating? Not really. That seems to be the entire draw of this game as far as replayability goes.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Poor

Replayability

The entire game took less than and hour an a half to play through. Seriously. When it ended I sat staring at my DS in wonderment. Was that really it? Over already? No way, it had to be some sort of trick. Unfortunately, no, it was not a trick, but a scrolling congratulation reminded me that there were over 100 different items that have been missing throughout Twin Elms and why don’t I try my hand at finding them all? You see, each time you play, you get all new lists of missing items from your fellows in this oh so enticing mystery. Strangely, everything can be found in exactly the same places you’d find anything else on the other lists. So don’t strain yourself.

Replayability Rating: Pretty Poor

Balance

As far as balance goes, I’m being asked to assess the merits of a game that is only an hour and a half long, at best. I can’t even begin to think how short a replay would be, especially knowing the entire plot and where the “hidden staircase” was. I found myself wondering what the purpose of releasing such a game was. Was it only to capitalize on the huge Nancy Drew market? Or was it simply designed to be some sort of joke on mankind? I’m still lost on that one. Sure, play it again, and again. You’ll just be exploring the SAME areas, and following the SAME plot.

Balance Rating: Worthless

Originality

Well, based on the fact that this story was originally penned by Carolyn Keene, many years ago, I can’t very well say that the story holds much in the originality factor. Putting it in video game format? Well, I suppose that would be following the raging trend toward that market to reintroduce new fans to the Nancy Drew line. There was very little originality in game play, and I saw nothing exciting as far as graphics or sound. I do have one little bone to pick: why does Nancy feel the need to be polite as heck to everyone she encounters? Greasy hobo-man was yelling at her and telling her off for being in his “house.” And all she says is, “oh sorry, I’ll be leaving you alone now.” How plucky and sassy is that supposed to be anyways? Ok, so maybe this is a personal beef for me.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

Addicitiveness

Well, perhaps if you happen to be 8 years old there might be some appeal for you to play this game. There is perhaps the draw to become faster and faster at “solving” the cases (finding all the lost stuff.) Then perhaps you can actually be the Master Detective. Yay? The most interesting and head-shaking part of the entire game was finding the hidden staircase, which wasn’t even a staircase at all; it was just a pile of junk that you had to arrange in such a manner in which you could climb up it and onto the roof. It even gives you a template to follow, thereby relieving the game of any possible challenge it could have then contained.

Addictiveness Rating: Awful

Appeal Factor

Yes, yes, there is a fan base for Nancy Drew, and I’m sure that all of them who happen to also own a DS will help themselves to this wonder of technology. While the story and graphics of Nancy Drew is much better than Kit Kittredge I still loathe recommending this game to anyone. I see a child who receives this game being excited at first, but then becoming easily bored within the first 5 minutes. I see any hopeful adult putting it right back down on the shelf that they initially took it from. There are just no redeeming factors that jumped out at me while playing this game. While it pains me to have to say that, well, I have to. I can’t choose to not be honest.

Appeal Factor Rating: Awful

Miscellaneous

Each chapter in this tale of mystery brings you closer and closer to the truth which, if you’ve been paying attention, you figured out after the first chapter. You start outside wandering the grounds. Say hello to Nye the gardener and get a whole new list of things to find. Also get a new batch of suspects. “Hoodlums!” They had to have done it, really.

As soon as you find all the goodies outside, Helen will let you inside, but only on the first floor. You have to find Lillie and Rosemary’s stuff before you can be allowed upstairs. Then you must locate the Doctor and Miss Hayes’ items before you can attack the attic, which is where you’ve wanted to go all this time. Or, don’t go, if you want the game to last longer. But it’s rather pointless either way.

Miscellaneous Rating: Dreadful

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Pretty Poor
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Awful
Appeal Factor: Awful
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
FINAL SCORE: BAD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

A simple point and click mystery, with a bland, story we’ve heard before. Nancy Drew the Hidden Staircase has nothing new to add. No new quirks in gameplay, nothing special in regards to sound or graphics. The gameplay is extremely short and leaves you wondering just where it is your game actually went. Fans of the Nancy Drew franchise might be interested in checking out this version of their favorite books in game form, but I deeply encourage them not to bother. Either that, or check out HerInteractive for a better, more informed gaming choice.

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