Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand

Review by Jen
November 2002

Secret of the Scarlet Hand is the sixth in the series of Nancy Drew games and the third I have played—I thought I was done after two, in a "played one, you've played 'em all" sort of way. However, this one fell in my lap like manna from heaven, so I went ahead and loaded it up.

This time around, Nancy is invited to serve as assistant curator at the Beech Hill Museum in Washington, D.C. Joanna Riggs, the curator, is scrambling to put together and open an important Mayan artifact exhibit. The centerpiece of the show, a depiction of the Mayan King Pacal, is soon stolen, the thief leaving only a scarlet handprint in its place. Our intrepid girl detective starts detecting in between her museum duties.

In addition to Joanna, there are three other principals, Alejandro del Rio in the Mexican consulate, a handsome young man who is angry about his country losing its precious treasures, Taylor Sinclair, an oily dealer in artifacts, and Henrik van der Hune, a specialist in glyph translation with a checkered past. Is one of them the thief? Nancy sets off to find out.

In her quest for the truth, Nancy becomes steeped in Mayan lore, and—guess what?—there will be a test (or two). You as the player are forced to pay attention to the museum exhibits in order to pass these quizzes and progress in the game. I found the educational aspect a little heavy-handed this time around, but hey, I'm a grown woman. I already know all about Mayan culture—after all, I did play Timelapse for Pete's sake!

The puzzles are your standard clue-finding-and-applying and inventory fare. All puzzles are fair, in that they all have clues and the clues aren't too obscure—this game is made to be played by children as young as 10. However, there are some times when a woman player might put two and two together ahead of schedule, and then she cannot do anything with her knowledge because she's not supposed to have that knowledge just yet. A couple of times, I had to go back and go through the motions of figuring something out for the first time, but at the correct time, in order to trigger the next action.

Much of the information you need will be gleaned through telephone conversations. The phone in Nancy's hotel room becomes a very familiar sight indeed! Also located in Nancy's room is the alarm clock, a device that has made an appearance in at least one other Nancy Drew game—if Nancy is doing something at the wrong time of day, she can set the alarm to whatever time she chooses to advance if, for example, it's the middle of the night and she needs to see a hospital patient during visiting hours. However, she appears to have an unlimited number of days to solve the case, and she can visit the museum, the primary gameplay location, at any hour, so time is not really an issue in most cases.

When you begin, you may choose to play as a Junior Detective or a Senior Detective, the difference being, I assume, in either difficulty or quantity of puzzles. But since I never play as anything but a Senior Detective (I have a reputation, after all!), I guess I'll never find out. The game was not a brain-buster, although I did scratch my head a couple of times. Most stucknesses can be overcome by going everywhere and looking at everything again. No need to try every inventory item on every hotspot; you generally have a pretty good idea of what will work where.

Graphics, music, and voice acting are all passable but far from stellar. The actors rarely sound like they're reading, but they are not ready for their Broadway debuts either. Graphics are clear and crisp; movement within a particular building is via a click-induced jump from one node to the next; there are a couple of nodes with horizontal panning in a complete circle, although it's jerky. Traveling between locations is done via a subway map that pops up when you leave the building you're in. Cutscenes are few and far between.

On the whole, Secret of the Scarlet Hand really is another good, solid, well-put-together offering from Her Interactive. It is certainly not the stuff of which classics are made, but neither is it a complete waste of time. I found it to be a nice weekend diversion ... but I won't be lining up for the next title in the series. That "played one, you've played 'em all" statement proved to be true. These games are all formulaic, much in the same way as the Nancy Drew books are formulaic. That never stopped me from reading them all when I was 9, but as an adult I like a little more variety in my entertainment and am not compelled to play 'em all. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Her Interactive
Publisher: Her Interactive
Release Date: August 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP
200 MHz Pentium (300 MHZ PII recommended)
16 MB RAM (64 MB recommended)
160 MB free hard disk space (250 MB recommended)
16-bit video card (16-bit with 8 MB video RAM recommended)
8X CD-ROM drive (24X recommended)
Mouse and speakers

Where to Find It

Where to Find It

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