Monday, July 20, 2009

demo monday: nancy drew: the phantom of venice

CLOCK. it says clock. You are reading that title right now and you are probably all like “what.” Yeah me too.

See, the thing is, sometimes Demo Monday is boring. I tend toward things that I think I will like anyway, and I end up going for a bunch of known-quantity indie games that I’ve heard good things about before. Sometimes you just feel like picking the goofiest thing on the list and seeing what’s what.

Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice is one of four Nancy Drew games that have just now shown up on Steam. They were actually released as boxed products in 2008, which was frankly surprising. My first impression was that this was a game stuck in time.

From the outset, it was clear that this game was not meant for me, or probably for anyone reading this site. It’s firmly aimed at the K-12 crowd, the kind of thing my grammar school chums and I would play while gathered around the Power Macintosh. These Nancy Drew games actually reach all the way back to that era, around 1998 or so, and while I didn’t go all the way back to play Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger, I’d be surprised if it looked or played any differently from this iteration.

The game opens with a screen full of text and some moderately hokey voice acting, and it moves straight into some pre-rendered moderately hokey video. When you move around in a room, you’re panning across a flat image. No 3D engine, no polygons. It’d feel much more modern if you could move around and interact with your environment in a way that current gamers were used to. Movement is accomplished via a series of clicks, and it’s not always clear what you need to click to go where. You’ll figure it out, but it’ll take a second. You know, if you ever decided to play the game.

To say the game looks dated is very very generous. It does the task it sets out to do, though. It taught me some stuff about Venice, and some Italian. That doesn’t mean I didn’t check the developer’s Web site just to make sure I was playing a new game and not some old chestnut cleaned up and dusted off for Steam’s sake. Have I made this point clear enough? It looks old.

Music is okay and ambient but there is not enough of it. You’ll enter a room or start working a puzzle and some music will start playing and then fifteen seconds later it will stop and you’ll be left clicking on stuff in dead, awkward silence. It’s weird.

So really, Complaint Number One is that this particular branch of edutainment game has not developed apace with the action-packed explodey games of which we are so fond. That’s not necessarily that big a deal – Nancy Drew is still mostly entertaining, and kids will probably like it just fine. But part of entertaining and educating through games is going to involve making them as stimulating and interesting as the more mainstream games that the politicians and lawyers all say waste our valuable time. Come on, guys. Put this stuff in three dimensions already.