Danger by Design
Review by MrLipid
Most mysteries have a relatively simple premise: something happened
and it is the job of the detective to find out what. The reason
it is a job is that what happened is a secret. The secret is affecting
events today and, as in a ghost story, peace and order cannot be
restored until the secret is revealed and the world put back in
That's been the premise of more than a few entries in Her Interactive's
Nancy Drew series. Each game's cast membersalso known
as suspectshave a hunch about something that happened once
upon a time, and it is up to Nancy to solve the mystery first and
see to it that whatever everyone is chasing winds up in the hands
of its rightful owner.
It's a solid formula that has worked for creators of detective
fiction for decades. It is a formula that creators of detective
fiction violate at their peril. If what happened once upon a time
has nothing to do with what's going on today, solving the mystery
of whatever it was that happened is not likely to be very interesting.
And that's the problem with Danger by Design. There is no
point in the game where what happened once upon a time connects
with what is going on today. This creates an enormous structural
problem because the resolution of the mystery the game spends most
of its time setting up has nothing to do with the mystery Nancy
was originally asked to solve. As a consequence, the solution of
the big mystery falls flat because it doesn't directly involve anyone
in the present. At the same time, the mystery the game implies it
is going to be about falls flat because almost none of the game's
activities have had anything to do with its solution.
Game On, More or Less
Danger by Design starts out promisingly enough. Nancy has
gone to Paris to work as an intern for world-renowned fashion designer,
Minette. Minette has taken to wearing a mask at all times, and one
of her major investors wants Nancy to see what's going on. Roughly
half of the puzzles and errands in Danger relate to Nancy's
role as an intern. These activities include making tea, making cookies,
developing photos, buying objects to inspire Minette's muse, and
so on. All nicely realized and enjoyable enough, but not the sort
of challenges one expects a legendary sleuth to spend a lot of time
The mystery that has nothing to do with all of these intern-level
tasks provides the basis for the other half of the game's puzzles.
Some of these are real corkers and require players to, among other
things, develop a basic understanding of cryptography as practiced
during the Second World War. Great stuff, but it has nothing to
do with Minette or why she wears a mask or why she is falling behind
on her new line.
There are, by my count, only three puzzles that have anything to
do with the job Nancy was sent to do, and, of these three, one can
be skipped completely (!) without affecting the outcome of the game.
In percentage terms, only 10% of Danger by Design involves
the mystery surrounding the woman whose mask graces the cover of
the box. As my wife and I played, we kept wondering how all the
threads were going to be brought together at the end. It was wasted
wonder. Rather than ever being tied together, the threads just stop.
While the story in Danger by Design never really works,
the look of the game is quite pleasing. This is, after all, a game
about fashion, and fashion is all about the look, no? The production
team has found a way to effectively integrate photography into the
game's backgrounds, giving Danger's one exterior location
a nearly three-dimensional effect.
The smoothness of the visual surface of Danger stands in
stark contrast to the erratic quality of the title's puzzles and
errands. The level of difficulty ranges from trivial to near-impossible,
with more twitch, arcade, and timed sequences than I remember seeing
in any previous Nancy Drew game. Anyone who's solved the
timed safe puzzle with the solution offered in the official strategy
guide should consider switching to decaf. (A considerably less frantic
solution is available here.)
The timed bomb defusing and the underwater maze also bring a level
of tension not usually associated with Nancy Drew games.
And, as if all of the safecracking, bomb defusing, and underwater
maze navigating weren't enough, the last twitch puzzle is tied to
the final cinematic, making it impossible to provide less-agile
gamers with a saved game to let them see Danger's finale.
One of the more controversial puzzles in Danger takes place
entirely in the dark. Some loved it. Some hated it. I found it both
nervy and commendable. The last time I encountered a dark screen
puzzle was in DreamingMedia's 2002 Independent Game Festival Grand
Prize winner Bad
Milk. Would never have expected to find anything like it
in a Nancy Drew game.
And the Verdict Is ...
Though it pains me to do it, the best rating I can give this, the
14th entry in the Nancy Drew series, is "average."
It's a good-looking game with some enjoyable challenges, but the
two stories it tells have nothing to do with each other, effectively
denying players one of the basic satisfactions of mystery fiction.
Rather than restoring order and balance, Nancy settles for tidying
up a bit, tilting the game more toward chore than adventure. Here's
hoping her next outing, Creature of Kapu Cave, will provide
the satisfactions that make both Nancy and the genre within which
she lives so enduring.
Danger is the second Nancy Drew game to be available via
download from Big
Fish Games. The plan seems to be this: once the next Nancy
Drew is within a week or two of shipping, the current Nancy
Drew is released as a download. At the same time, Big Fish Games
is releasing some of its downloadable games, such as the Mystery
Case Files series, in boxes at retail.
Release Date: July 11, 2006
Four Fat Chicks Links
1 GHz processor
128 MB RAM
650 MB free hard drive space
32 MB DirectX compatible video card
16 bit DirectX compatible sound card
24X CD-ROM drive
Mouse and speakers
Where to Find It
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