Are you Alien or Ali out ? Tomb of the Lost Queen is a polished universe that you’ll want to play in
Ancient aliens have invaded the popular consciousness in recent years, so it’s no wonder that their reach has extended to the universe of Nancy Drew in Tomb of the Lost Queen, the franchise’s 26th installment from Her Interactive. Where conspiracy theory, unsolved archeological mysteries, curses, and eternal love intersect is 100 kilometers outside of Cairo at the University of Kingston dig site. There you’ll ferret out the fact from the fiction by investigating a burial tomb and interrogating members of the expedition.
Sixty years ago, a team of British archeologists set out to find Nefertari, the lost queen of Egypt, when a sandstorm suddenly uncovered a tomb. The expedition was never seen again and their sphinxlike deaths served as the only reminder that the enigmatic tomb and its secrets were still in the desert, waiting to be solved… Now the tomb has revealed itself again, and an enterprise spearheaded by Abdullah, archeology’s next big thing, has begun digging. But a nefarious sandstorm strikes, and Professor Jon Boyle is injured—only his medical report states he’s been attacked with a blunt object by someone other than Mother Nature. He calls in his distinguished colleague, Nancy Drew, to find out who attacked him and who is in the tomb.
Tomb of the Lost Queen‘s gameplay pays homage to the classic point-and-click adventure games with its story-based puzzles artfully dispersed throughout relevant environments that require sleuthing, interrogation, and an investment of thinking time to solve. Players get the best of the old and new, as the game features modern elements, such as an expandable, interactive task list and a customizable mobile phone that serves as your Hint Hotline and connection to subject-matter experts.
I was especially fond of the Hint Hotline that provided gradual tidbits of puzzle help. That way I could choose just how much help I received, and, unlike games of yore, I was never blocked by a puzzle, because eventually the phone would offer the solution. Players who bought the Bonus Edition also had minigames installed on their phone, adding a fun layer of metagaming that passed the time as quickly as actual mobile games. I had to laugh when I tried to make a call from within the tomb—there was no service!
Those who’ve played other games in the Nancy Drew series will immediately notice the sleek new UI. Usability is much improved, and the expandable task list and journal keep the inventory panel minimal, so more screen real estate is allotted to in-game scenes. I liked that I had to check off tasks in the task list, as it somehow instilled a sense of achievement when the game agreed I had indeed completed them. Completed tasks are sent to the bottom of the list, so active tasks are always on top.
Although the theme of a cursed tomb in Ancient Egypt has been explored to death in casual games, I was relieved that this encounter was modern, humorous, and intelligent. Her Interactive has clearly done extensive research to create puzzles, events, and characters that are authentic and faithful to the world of archeology in Egypt while taking creative liberties where appropriate. Most of the puzzles require knowledge of Ancient Egyptian culture, all of which is imbibed in game. I applaud this studio for entertaining me and making me feel like an Egyptologist simultaneously.
But as shiny as Tomb of the Lost Queen is for the Nancy Drew series, its upgraded art and new UI could be considered almost baseline for top-selling casual games. (Although I must say, their 3D characters look great.) Some fairly standard functionality was missing that I would’ve really liked to have had: right-click to drop an inventory item and click to progress dialog. The lack of the latter could get especially irksome if I’d initiated a phone call that I didn’t want to finish or I just wanted to speed read through a conversation. And for those of us who are just a bit navigationally challenged, an interactive map, either fast-travel or GPS-style, would’ve been extremely helpful. I also found the parallax scrolling at the camp to be a mixed bag: while useful, it felt inconsistent with the rest of the game’s navigation mechanics.
If you like smart puzzle-adventure games, I’m sure you’ll be alien—er— all in. Her Interactive operates in a niche market—adventure games targeted at female gamers but playable by anyone. I know I’m not alone when I say that I look forward to the next one (even if the Nancy Drew brand is getting a bit tired) and to the day the studio creates an original intellectual property. Tomb of the Lost Queen is a testament that they have the talent to.