Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand from HER Interactive is the sixth adventure from the classic series, now available as a download game. Once again Nancy sets off on an ordinary activity, an internship at a museum specializing in Mayan antiquities. And once again she finds herself elbow-deep in a mystery that only she can solve! The mystery itself is tame, but the puzzles are challenging and logical. It lacks the entertainment value of newer titles, but if you like exploring museums, you’ll like the authentic detail here.
It all starts simply enough. While her father is away, Nancy accepts an internship at a small museum. But after the museum is accused of shady financial dealings, one of its priceless exhibits is stolen. Nancy soon discovers a series of similar thefts around the country. Are they related? Who stole the museum piece-and why? At the request of the Museum’s Board of Directors, Nancy begins her own investigation.
Gameplay is classic point-and-click adventure, but with limited locations. Nancy can explore several rooms and exhibits in the museum, and visit her hotel room to use her computer and make phone calls. She can also question suspects in a few outside locations.
Nancy has to spend a lot of time in the museum’s own exhibits, collecting everything from translations to dates from Mayan history. Most are used to solve codes later in the game. Others are needed for quizzes that the museum uses to grant schoolchildren access to additional rooms. As far as I can tell, almost all this detail is authentic, with the exception of one story about a scribe called The Whisperer. There’s no automatic notebook feature, though, so you’ll end up having to make your own notes as you go along.
The codes, puzzles, and adventure mysteries are all logical and fairly presented. You can find the answers by searching, although it can take a long time to figure out all the details. There is an ingame hint system where you can phone Nancy’s friend Bess and talk over the clues. But players who don’t really care about learning to count to 19 in ancient Mayan symbols may prefer to use a walkthrough if they get stuck.
Voice acting and graphics are good. Animation is limited when compared to current games, and room navigation is awkward since Nancy doesn’t seem to be able to move diagonally. I found that frustrating compared to newer games.
One part of the game is a horrible design, a maze introduced as one of the museum puzzles. The biggest problem is that if you ever bring your cursor down to the bottom 1/5 of the maze, the game thinks you want to exit altogether, and you can lose all your progress! You can get a map for the maze, but it’s not oriented the same way you are, so it can be confusing until you get the hang of it. This was definitely a mini-game that needed a skip option.
One timed puzzle at the very end of the game is challenging, but doable even in the harder Senior Detective mode. None of the other puzzles required particular physical dexterity. Although technically none of the puzzles rely on chance, there are at least two places where objects you need are not in any logical place, but can only be found by searching every inch of the museum until you stumble across them. That’s not unfair, but it can be frustrating.
You should also know that, like most Nancy Drew games, the logic challenges can be very difficult by casual game standards. If you’re not willing to scour 30 museum exhibits taking notes in order to build your own dictionary of 50 Mayan words on the off chance that you might need one some day, you’re not going to enjoy this game unless you use a walkthrough. The story is well-written, but you have to work hard to solve the mystery!
Families should be aware there are skeletons, mummies, and discussion of human sacrifice. It’s all like a typical museum exhibit, but it does move the game from G to PG. There’s also one point where Nancy herself can reach a fatal end. Although the game offers an instant "Second Chance," it might be upsetting for sensitive people.
All in all, I would say that although the mystery itself was very tame, I found the way Nancy solved it was satisfying. The steps Nancy had to go through were logical and well-suited to the museum setting. There was good variety in the puzzles, even if there were only a few individual ones that seemed memorable. The suspects were distinct, with different possible motives and methods. With the exception of the maze, there wasn’t any part of the game that didn’t fit the pacing of the story.
However, that pacing was pretty slow, and the story lacked sparkle until the very end. Secret of the Scarlet Hand is a playable adventure, and Nancy Drew fans will be satisfied, but it’s not going to make anyone’s top ten lists.
For similar games, try: Nancy Drew and the Phantom of Venice (18th in the series), or Nancy Drew and the Curse of Blackmoor Manor (11th in the series). For similar games with easier puzzles, try: Nancy Drew Dossier: Lights, Camera, Curses! or Women’s Murder Club: Death in Scarlet.