- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

Teen detective Nancy Drew, the 1930s character created by writer Edward Stratemeyer who wrote under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, has been solving mysteries in one form or another for almost 80 years.

Nancy has evolved with the technology over the decades. She not only is comfortable on the PCs and the Nintendo DS these days, but is celebrating her 16th interactive mystery, Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek (from Sega and Her Interactive, $29.99), with help from Nintendo’s Wii.

The premise behind her novels carries over in this game (ported from a PC version released in 2007), providing a tried-and-true play format that will be familiar to past players and fairly intuitive for the new fan.

A fairly easy-to-use interface, thanks to the Wiimote, which basically replaces the computer’s mouse, and a voiced-over tutorial bring this player up to speed quickly. The tutorial loads quickly and allows the player to get right into the problem-solving.

In this tale, an elusive white wolf is causing havoc at Canda’s Icicle Creek winter resort, chasing off the maid and the cook, thereby allowing Nancy the freedom to assume their duties and do some unobserved sleuthing. Taking on these roles means Nancy must be in the kitchen to cook meals at specific times while also ensuring the rooms are tidied up for the guests. Yes, the Wiimote is used liberally in the kitchen to prepare dishes.

To help players keep track of time, a clock is continuously displayed in the corner of the screen. As long as Nancy gets her chores done, keeping her from being fired and ending the game, she can spend the rest of the day doing what she is famous for.

Nancy can explore the three-story lodge, the fishing shack at Icicle Lake, Trapper Dan’s “Needle” — an obelisk shaped structure that has a hidden meaning — ride a snowmobile and encounter the famed White Wolf.

There is also a bit of snowshoeing, shoveling and skating around on the ice that needs to be done while keeping up conversations with guest and lodge employees and calling persons of interest to forage for additional information, all while making French toast and getting the beds made.

Players help Nancy access guest rooms, looking for clues among four suspicious visitors and other guests checking in during the game. As Nancy enters suspects’ rooms, the lodge office, gathering space, kitchen, basement and surroundings, she collects clues and evidence as to who is sabotaging the lodge and why and just what happened to the almost mythical lodge guardian, Trapper Dan.

During Nancy’s quest, there are several fun puzzles to solve.

Challenges include a “pyramid” with a grid of 16 revolving picture tiles that must all be turned to display all the same animals — raccoon, wolf, pig and moose. Figuring out this puzzle requires a conversation with a lodge guest to find a very important clue — Trapper Dan’s journal.

In the lodge’s office, players can access the computer to check on Nancy’s duties and access files on native birds and fish that can be found in Icicle Lake. When ice fishing at the shack, it is important to remember which of those lures will catch the fish Nancy needs to snag. When speaking with guest Guadalupe Comillo, she mentions seeing certain bird species. Are those species in Canada at that time of year? You will have to access the office computer to find that out.

Additional challenges include shoveling the snow from the creek without falling through, maneuvering ice floes on the lake so Nancy can reach the shore safely, and having a snowball fight with Freddie, the daughter of the lodge’s general handyman.

Here’s a tip, when working through the guest’s orders, it is helpful to keep a pen and paper nearby to take notes on exactly what they have ordered. Actually, having that pen and paper, and remembering to save the game frequently may greatly enhance your chances of solving the mystery of Icicle Creek.

Learning Time: The game requires plenty of deductive reasoning and memory skills, along with the ability to solve problems. Puzzles are challenging — maddeningly so at times — and a lot of logic and analytical thinking is required to figure out sequencing in many of the challenges.

I wish the information on the birds and the fish could have been expanded beyond the very cursory pictures and migration information. Also, what about a bit of an homage to the books, along with the encouragement to pick one up and read a good mystery?

Despite those minor annoyances, I can see why these titles are such a hit with casual gamers.

Age Range: The game is intended for players 10 years old through adults, but I think it might take a slightly older child to work through the game without parental assistance. Then again, it’s often the younger players who are much quicker than their older counterparts.

Final Advice: When I played this game with a fan of the Nancy Drew books, there was some disappointment that her mythology is not evident beyond the name of the character and that she is a “young, female detective.”

The games should not only highlight an interactive adventure but also, much like the books, open imaginations to exotic and far-off places and leave the player not only solving a good mystery with their heroine, but also learning a little bit about the world.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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