The latest Nancy Drew adventure from Her Interactive, Ransom of the Seven Ships, is the twentieth game in the series. In spite of the quantity of games, the Nancy Drew titles manage to keep a high quality level, with fun writing and devilish puzzles. Ransom of the Seven Ships maintains this tradition, while trying to add some new twists to the formula, albeit with mixed results.
In Ransom of the Seven Ships, Nancy is once again whisked away to an exotic locale – in this case, an island in the Bahamas called Dread Isle – to meet up with her friends George and Bess. When she arrives, George tells Nancy that Bess has been kidnapped. The ransom is nothing less than the lost treasure of El Toro, a 350-year old legend which Nancy has to find if she ever hopes to see Bess again.
The first noticeable detail when starting up the game is the improved quality soundtrack. Gone are the synthesized tracks, the familiar strains of the piano and violin theme are actually played by real instruments. Throughout the game, the music is vastly improved. The graphics, while not ground-breaking high-definition "shiny," are well drawn, and detailed enough to make out details.
Of course, paying attention to detail is necessary for Ransom of the Seven Ships. Nancy will be exploring Dread Isle and the surrounding area, looking for pieces of evidence to help her solve both the mystery of the kidnappers as well as finding El Toro’s treasure. Two difficulty levels ensure that both rookie gumshoes and super sleuths have a good challenge.
Typically, in a Nancy Drew game, you’ll be keeping a real-life notebook to log details and clues. This is taken to a higher extreme in Ransom of the Seven Ships. The game is full of detailed clues in the form of books and other hints. The level of writing in the game is very high, with fun dialog that is often peppered with important information for solving the game’s many puzzles.
Puzzles here seem to be a little more complicated in previous games, and some of them are timed. For example, when scuba diving for a clue, Nancy will have a limited amount of oxygen. Once she actually finds the clue, a complicated lock puzzle appears, which will take most of the oxygen reserves to solve even if you know what to do. Another puzzle which stands out as difficult is a jigsaw puzzle, but the pieces don’t form the final picture; rather pieces to a slider puzzle. None of the puzzles are skippable, so you have to figure them out.
Like a few other Nancy Drew games, you have the ability to switch from playing as Nancy to playing as someone else. Here, you’ll play as George. However, George’s role is trivial when compared to The Creature of Kapu Cave when playing as the Hardy Boys. You will occasionally have to switch to her, but the switch is short-lived.
Navigating around Dread Isle is interesting but frustrating. Nancy will drive a golf cart around the island, sail in the waters around the island, climb cliffs while dodging rocks thrown at her, and scuba diving while avoiding jellyfish and sharks. Though the variety of gameplay is very nice, controlling it can be finicky. For instance, when sailing in the boat, the wind will change direction, slowing you down. Steering both the boat and the golf cart can be a bit imprecise. You simply left click the direction you want to go, but response time of the vehicles is a bit slow.
Unlike other Nancy Drew adventures, this one lacks the same large cast of interesting characters. It is a part of the plot that Nancy and George are stranded on this island, but a big part of the fun is interrogating different people. Not so much of that goes on here. However, one character, Coucou the parrot, will drive you mad.
Coucou epitomizes the biggest flaw of Ransom of the Seven Ships: too many fetch quests. Coucou sits on a metal perch, which you need to finish assembling an important clue. Rather than just grabbing the perch, Nancy tried to reason with the talking bird. Coucou wants a dritwood perch, but not just any driftwood. After six tries and exploring half the island, Coucou finally got a piece of wood he liked. There are other requests from basically the only other person on the island – who happens to have everything you need – which send you running from place to place.
But to call this game a below-average Nancy Drew game is still placing it much higher than most other titles out there. It’s hard to look at Ransom of the Seven Ships without looking at other games in the series. It’s just not as good as some of the others. However, for a head-scratching point-and-click adventure, you would do well to try Ransom of the Seven Ships. Her Interactive is still able to make games which appeal to people of all ages – and both genders – and this alone is to be applauded. Maybe number 21 will be able to reach the lofty expectations Her Interactive have given themselves.