Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion

Review by Jen

Her Interactive's Nancy Drew games are marketed toward teenage girls, but they can really be enjoyed by all ages, and both male and female players. Her Interactive is garnering an impressive roster of accolades for these games, from groups as diverse as Parents' Choice, Good Housekeeping, and Teen People Magazine Online. I played the first Nancy Drew title, Secrets Can Kill, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I have not yet played the second in the series, Stay Tuned for Danger, but by all accounts, it was superior to Secrets Can Kill. How will Message in a Haunted Mansion measure up to Her Interactive's previous efforts? And adventure gamedom in general?

You play as Nancy, of course, in this first-person, point-and-click adventure game. You can choose from two difficulty levels, and there is a tutorial for adventure game neophytes. I played on the higher difficulty level; I had to or I would have lost all self-respect!

Nancy has been invited by Rose, a family friend, to help renovate a San Francisco Victorian mansion and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. Based on various documents and clues in the mansion, Nancy soon suspects that there's a treasure hidden in the house.

Rose has a partner, Abby, who has a strong interest in the paranormal. Abby implies that the mansion is haunted, and you do begin seeing ghostly phenomena, which continue throughout the game.

Charlie is a young handyman who appeared on Rose's doorstep one day looking for work. Rose hired him because he worked cheap and seemed competent, but there have been a lot of construction accidents—and Rose wonders whether Charlie may not be as competent as he appears. However, Rose is on a tight budget and can't really afford to let Charlie go. Besides, she's insured to the hilt. Charlie seems like an okay guy, but he's maybe a little on the sneaky side.

Then there's Louis, an antiques dealer who advises Rose on keeping the renovations true to the original period in exchange for free use of Rose's extensive library of antique books. What is he really up to?

Nancy, in her inimitable fashion, uncovers clues, learns more about the suspects, and brings to light all of the mansion's secrets.

You simply can't go wrong with a story based on a Nancy Drew book! The game is tightly plotted and interesting throughout.

In direct contrast to Secrets Can Kill, which had some improbable puzzles and unlikely clues just laying around any old place, Message in a Haunted Mansion's puzzles are completely organic to the game. There are clues to every puzzle somewhere in the mansion, although sometimes I found the clues only after I had solved a puzzle. While this game is not difficult for an experienced adventure game player, neither are the puzzles in any way dumbed down for the inexperienced player. This player definitely had to put on her thinking cap!

Bad news: The game has a maze. The game has a sliding tile puzzle.

Her Interactive has always done a beautiful job with background graphics, achieving near photorealism. MHM's backgrounds are no exception; they are lovely. The character animations have improved vastly. In Secrets Can Kill, they were very cartoony, superimposed on the backgrounds in a way that was jarring to the eye; but in MHM, the characters are 3D-animated, fairly smoothly, and fit into the overall look of the game quite nicely. As with Secrets Can Kill, the characters don't move around within the game at all, but in MHM, sometimes they're in their fixed locations and sometimes they're not, which opens up some new avenues for exploration.

The voice acting is passable. It's not the greatest, but it's not the worst either. Sometimes it sounds as if the actors are reading lines out of sequence because their inflections are off-kilter, but it is never annoying. (That's about the best we adventure gamers can expect.) The music, on the other hand, gets old quick. It's very nice, but the loops are too short and there's not enough variety from room to room—it all sounds the same before too long. The sound effects are great, never out of place, always appropriate.

Ever since their games first came to my attention, I have been a staunch admirer of Her Interactive. I really like the fact that they design games for girls (that everyone can enjoy), with no stereotypes, no overt educational value, and absolute respect for girls' intellectual abilities. A lofty goal to be sure, and well-met, but was Message in a Haunted Mansion actually fun? I think so! I had a great time playing it! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Her Interactive
Publisher: Her Interactive
Release Date: November 2000

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98
166 MHz Pentium
130 MB available hard disk space
16-bit color graphics video card
8X CD-ROM drive
16-bit Windows-compatible stereo sound card
Mouse and speakers

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