Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel

Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel

Fall 2003 Software
Ages: 10 & Up
Price: $19.99
Platform: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
Don't fix it if it isn't broken--and that's certainly true of this top-notch series. What is broken in this eighth compelling detective game is the carousel at Captain's Cove Amusement Park, where strange things have been happening lately and famous girl gumshoe Nancy Drew has been called in to solve the mystery.

Legend has it that bad luck will curse the amusement park if ever the painted horses on the carousel are separated. Well, since someone has stolen a horse, the roller coaster had a mishap, and now the carousel turns itself on in the middle of the night. So the park is closed down for investigation.

Like in the other first-person, role-playing Nancy Drew mysteries, players sign on as either Junior or Senior Detectives to set the game's difficulty level. Then, it's off to the mystery with players exploring in Myst-like 360-degree viewing the richly rendered 3D locations and intriguing digital effects, from the Captain's Quarters Hotel where Nancy is staying to the amusement park where the real footwork takes place. And there's the usual cast of very different suspects, all characters, from Harlan the park cop to Ingrid the park's chief engineer to Elliott the park's bookkeeper. And while the plot lines are a little thinner at the amusement park than in some past mysteries, the suspense remains heightened and the problem-solving challenging.

Equipped with her trusty laptop, young snoops help Nancy keep track of clues and suspects, her things-to-do list, journal entries and check e-mail. Never know when those Hardy boys might message with an idea to break the case! And there's the newest feature--a cell phone Nancy can use to take or make calls from anywhere in the game. In the mix, besides walking dark hallways, escaping close calls, and turning knobs to doors hiding clues, there are puzzles, riddles and arcade games on the midway that create a nice diversion from unraveling the tension-mounting mystery.

As in past mysteries, this one pays homage to learning something besides deductive reasoning and logic. It seamlessly interjects a little story-relevant knowledge by requiring players to make an electrical repair on the carousel, to study a little carousel design history, to use a lathe and to break a stenographic code on documents.

The game is absorbing for hours, and young Sherlocks who take a wrong turn need not give up in frustration. They can click the "second chance" option and revisit and revise their critical error in this, yet another, fun mystery story/game.

Don Oldenburg   ©2003 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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