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

Nancy Drew: Danger by Design

Nancy Drew: Danger by Design

Fall 2006 Software
Ages: 10 & Up
Price: $19.99
Platform: Windows
Ou la la! In this 14th Nancy Drew title, the famous, smart and adorable teen sleuth goes to the City of Lights to solve the mystery of why up-and-coming fashion designer Minette is suddenly behaving so oddly—having temper tantrums, firing assistants, even wearing a creepy Phantom-of-the-Opera-type mask. And what about those threats that have been arriving at her studio? And just when she's facing the deadline to finish her new Spring line!

The series' usual high standards are clear and present once again: Remarkable, almost beautiful, graphics and the 360-degree, first-person gameplay interface perfectly suit the prowling and prodding our heroine (with the player's help either as a Junior or Senior Detective) must undertake to find clues and unravel the mystery. And the cast of suspects may be better than ever given the French slant and flair of the haute-couture environment. Cookie-snarfing J.J. Ling, a full-figured model, certainly has reason enough to seek revenge against Minette; fashion journalist Jean-Michel Traquenard, whose critiques are scorned, embodies negative French stereotypes; photographer Dieter von Schwesterkrank's romance with Minette left him broken-hearted; and even Minette's not-so-friendly assistant Heather McKay is hardly above suspicion right from the start. But despite the Gold Award it rightly deserves, this Nancy Drew case doesn't quite live up to expectations for this award-winning series, and doesn't satisfy all the potential of sending Nancy off to Paris.

As usual, tasks and puzzles appear throughout the larger mystery. In this case, the intriguing distractions range in difficulty from the downright hard, such concocting a special herbal tea for Minette by following her herbalist's detailed directions and printing fashion photos in Dieter's darkroom, to easy or seemingly mindless challenges, such as trial-and-error repairing of a "plotter" machine and a too-simple painting-in-the-park exercise. But what's puzzling is why the mini-games weren't a bit more—er, how do we say?—Parisian? Sure, ordering a croque monsieur from the menu at the café in the Hotel de Ville neighborhood was a brief joy, but the biggest missed opportunities throughout this title were not taking full advantage of its wonderful location. This is Paris!

While Nancy travels about town via the famous Paris Metro (players click on destinations on a fairly good replica of a Paris Metro map), alas, Nancy can actually go to only four neighborhoods, and each is limited mostly to a single building! Paris is so much more than that café in Hotel de Ville, Dieter's offices in Rue de Bac, J.J's apartment in Place Monge, and Minette's studio in famous Montmartre. What was disappointing is that this title's creators didn't give Nancy a mini-excursion or clue-finding trip to the Louvre! Or imagine what fun it would be checking things out from the top of Eiffel Tower! A boat ride down the Seine tracking a suspect, perhaps? Those catacombs, while indeed a tourist attraction in Paris, doesn't quite make up for so much else that could've enlivened this title and added an educational Paris-tour element. A faint image of Sacre Coeur outside of Minette's studio is about all you get. Quel domage!

Where the developers peg Parisian authenticity is the tormenting phone system Nancy must endure because the airline lost her baggage—including her cell phone!

By the way, this title requires two disks to load and takes way too lo-o-o-ong compared to past titles— and the on-screen advertising for each of the past 13 Nancy Drew games during loading makes you wonder if the load time was stretched out to get in the ads. And scattered throughout this mystery are mementos from past cases&mdashanother nod to a marketing presence that's new to this title. So why Gold? Despite a few shortcomings, and some mindboggling missed opportunities given the Paris setting, this latest Nancy Drew mystery still is kilometres better than most computer games out there today. Why? Well, that's a mystery for another day.

Don Oldenburg   ©2006 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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