Girls around the world have looked up to Nancy Drew for generations. Her intellect and courage are timeless, and she's been depicted in novels, comic books, movies and TV shows. It would be a mistake to dismiss her as belonging to the realm of tween girls, because without her, we might never have met Buffy Summers, Dana Scully, or Veronica Mars, just to name a few.
Her Interactive has been cranking out Nancy Drew games since 1996, and Ransom of the Seven Ships is their 20th point-and-click adventure. We've featured Lights, Camera, Curses! from their Nancy Drew Dossier series, but their hallmark is, and continues to be, the complex large file mysteries.
A bit of background may be in order for those who may be unfamiliar with this girl detective. Nancy Drew has been solving cases and nabbing criminals in book form since 1930. She started out as a plucky blonde running errands for her father, lawyer Carson Drew, in her blue roadster. During her exploration of River Heights, she'd usually stumble upon a band of smugglers or counterfeiters and save the day with her quick thinking and seemingly inexhaustible personal talents. She could scuba dive, tap dance (in Morse Code!), ride horses and sail boats, just for starters.
Along the way, Nancy's tresses changed from blonde to titian, she aged from 16 to 18, went to college, fell in and out of love with Ned Nickerson, focused less on her social life and fashion, and developed into a modern young woman. Still as plucky as ever, today's books feature a Nancy that drives a hybrid, owns a cell phone, and solves cases at music festivals and on reality show sets.
The Her Interactive games portray Nancy as resourceful and intelligent as she ever was. She's in great demand all over the world as a teenage sleuth, having closed cases in France, Italy, Canada and Ireland, as well as across the United States. Her circle of friends includes cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne (a girl, despite the masculine name).
In Ransom of the Seven Ships, Nancy, George and Bess have won a free vacation at a tropical resort on Dread Isle, a small island east of the Bahamas. Nancy arrives a day after her friends and is shocked to find that Bess has been kidnapped, the resort owners are nowhere to be found, and she and George are cut off from communication to the outside world. A ransom note demands that, in order to save Bess, Nancy must find the treasure of El Toro, a Spanish captain whose fleet of seven galleons went down near the island almost 300 years ago.
Dread Isle is much too large to explore on foot, so one of Nancy's first tasks is to fix the resort's golf cart. Of course, before playing mechanic, she needs to find the key to open the shed where the cart's battery is kept. After replacing the battery, she puts her math skills to good use by determining how to fill each of the battery's cells with an equal amount of water. This mix of logic and object collecting is the backbone of the game's increasingly complex and intelligent puzzles.
Analysis: Ransom of the Seven Ships is a puzzler's dream come true. Cryptograms, slider puzzles, matchstick manipulation, a Blokus variant, and the hardest game of underwater Sudoku you'll ever encounter are just a few of the many challenges you and Nancy must overcome. Even better? Every single one of these obstacles is seamlessly integrated into the intricate plot. With each solution you're one step closer to outwitting both the kidnappers and El Toro.
The mouse interface is incredibly intuitive, and gameplay is a piece of cake. The cursor changes from an arrow to a magnifying glass to a hand, depending on the options within the scene, and will glow red when you mouse over an object that can be examined more closely. An optional in-game tutorial will have you up and running in no time.
Dread Isle is a tropical paradise, and the graphics and soundtrack reflect the Caribbean influence perfectly. Steel drums abound, native birds sing in the trees, and even Nancy's footsteps in the sand sound authentic. The voice acting is fabulous, although there's no option to skip the sometimes longwinded discussions. And can we just talk about the exquisite graphics for a minute? The colors pop, the sea sparkles, and each location is lovingly rendered with a careful eye for texture and detail.
Unfortunately, the game's weakest point is the animation. The static first person scenes are absolutely perfect, but when you need to control Nancy from the third person perspective, the quality takes a step down. Speaking of that third person perspective, driving the golf cart, exploring in a sailboat and rock climbing are a treat the first few times, but grow tiresome fairly early on. Some sort of warp feature would be greatly appreciated.
A staple of this series is the incorporation of historical facts and educational puzzles. Players will need to decipher a code using maritime signal flags, identify different types of bats, and learn how to plot longitude and latitude. Every single bit of information needed is in the game itself, so there's no need to consult external sources.
For an educational title aimed at young adults, this is a surprisingly difficult game. Make no mistake about it, these puzzles are hard. Thankfully, you can choose to play as a Junior or Senior Detective. The Junior level is highly recommended if you're unfamiliar with the series. Junior Detectives get the "task list" feature, a helpful tool when determining what to do next, and the overall difficulty level is lowered as well.
With hours and hours of casual gameplay, a solid plot, tons of educational content, gorgeous graphics, and a bevy of challenging puzzles, Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships is no mere child's game.
Large file, no demo available
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Mac OS X:
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Note: Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Seas is a large-file adventure game and, as such, no demo is available.