The "Girl Detective" stars in a fast-paced, charming, and accessible, adventure.
Nancy Drew may at first be categorized as an adventure game for young players, but it's so much more than that. Key to this game's uniqueness is its willingness to cut out all the fat and accelerate players right to where they need to be. It almost feels less a game and more like a sort of Nancy Drew comic book.
Now, old-school adventure gamers will cry foul at this. What good is an adventure game where the game tells you where to go, where to look, who to talk to, and what to talk about? To begin with, it's like this game was tailor-made for novice DS players. As long as you can read, you can get caught up as Nancy Drew, Girl Detective, cracks a satisfyingly twisty crime thriller. The beginning part of the game is actually a little more traditionally complex, suggesting that the game's go-here-then-go-here pace may be a function of budget, but it's still a comfort to know that this is a game to enjoy, not to obsess over. It's a story you can take in, instead of having to analyze every step of the way.
Speaking of story, Nancy is first called upon to find a missing dress and some other items for her friend Bess, who has won a contest to attend the opening of a new theme park. But even as the plot stays family-friendly, it turns out to be a really compelling page-turner: it introduces crackpot authors, werewolves, convicts, insurance fraud, secret identities, cover-ups, and a billionaire gone missing. Driven by some innate sense of justice and curiousity, Nancy is shuttled from reluctant witnesses to important crime scenes by her supportive, amused, but resignedly understanding boyfriend Ned (a rare, emancipated, 21st century male), who shows up more and more as the game feeds you increasingly specific tasks and clues and hurtles excitedly towards the finish.
Most of the action takes place on the top screen, which displays hand-drawn illustrations when you examine clues or interview people, or a 3D environment when players need to physically walk Nancy to a specific person or clue. Moving around in this 3D view is easily done with the D-pad instead of any sort of point-and-click functionality; instead, the touch screen is almost exclusively used for displaying icons that can be tapped to display information, or to ask subjects about certain topics. The controls work perfectly once you know them, though there may be the odd disconnect when switching between the D-pad and buttons for movement (you must press the X button to interact with people and Nancy's environment) and using the stylus for reviewing information or selecting subjects to grill people about.
There are six mini-games to break up the straight-forward sleuthing gameplay by adding some simple, yet different challenges that apply to Nancy's situation. Each is described in such a way that even though you're casually sliding tiles or matching symbols, Nancy is supposedly picking locks or reading her suspect's emotions. With the exception of one game where you slide around jumbled tiles to reform a picture, none are very difficult, even later in the game when they show up in slightly expanded forms, and you can often choose to do a different mini-game if one of them is giving you too much trouble. Occasionally, players will also have to use the D-pad to walk Nancy around a maze-like room, sneaking past a security guard and staying in the shadows to reach important clues.
Amidst all this is some beautiful 2D art work that really fits the game's license and audience. If there is one thing that really stands out in this game, it would be the art. It can be described as inviting, hip, and easy on the eyes, as well as distinctly Western amidst today's prevalence of Japanese-inspired design. Yes, the game's characters and atmosphere are entirely suitable for younger players, but it's also in no way condescending or simplified, and older players need not feel driven away by it.
That's actually a theme that describes Nancy Drew: The Deadly Secret of Olde World Park really well. It's amazingly accessible for young players, features a proactive character for girls, and is a great way to introduce children to the adventure genre. And although long-time gamers will find the game to almost run on automatic, it also features a fast-paced crime story with surprise twists, and some smooth art.