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A Veteran's Review of CUR

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  • A Veteran's Review of CUR

    Allow me to preface this review by saying that I have been playing the ND games for fourteen years. Over those years, I have probably played each game well over twenty times--the older ones probably over fifty--and I do at least one full marathon of all 33 games (i.e., all 32 and SCK Remastered) annually. As I have gotten older, I have found myself ranking the games, characters, music, etc. in my spare time during marathons, and this year I thought I would write--and subsequently post--reviews of each game while I go through my 2018 marathon (I started a month early but life got busy, so excuse the long delay). I have lost access to/forgotten about my previous accounts on here, including my very first one, so I made a new one solely for this purpose. That being said, I hope you enjoy my review, and I apologize for the wait!
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    At long last, we have arrived at one of the undisputed crown jewels of the Nancy Drew franchise: Curse of Blackmoor Manor. Long regarded as a fan favorite and one of the scariest Nancy Drew games, Curse of Blackmoor Manor is, to me and many others, the perfect Nancy Drew game. Of course, it has a few minor flaws, as do we all, but it is truly one of the games that I can recommend to anyone and write a rave review about without feeling like I'm showing bias. It's just that good. Of course, like most of the older games, I have a large dose of nostalgia that accompanies my opinion of this game as well. Despite not being the first game I ever bought or played, Curse of Blackmoor Manor is the first Nancy Drew game I can remember seeing in stores shortly after it came out. I was immediately attracted to the box art and title, and when I read the description on the back, I was certain that this game was for me. It wasn't until a year or so later that I actually got it, but it was my premier introduction to Nancy Drew and the Nancy Drew games, so it holds a very special place in my heart. Let's dive in!

    Plot: "Greetings from jolly old England," is the opening line of the game, and it couldn't be more inaccurate, which Nancy remarks on herself in the very next sentence. From the moment Nancy arrives at the gates of Blackmoor Manor and treks down the walk, you know that the word "jolly" utterly fails to describe the dark, looming shape in front of you. As soon as Nancy's name is growled by the mysterious red-eyed figure in the shadows of the manor, all hope of peace and pleasantness at this place leaves you. This isn't a jolly game; it's a scary game. Nancy reveals in her letter to Ned that she has been sent to this countryside manor at the bequest of a neighbor, Mrs. Petrov, whose daughter, Linda, has become mysteriously ill and increasingly reclusive since she moved into the house with her step-daughter, Jane, and great-aunt-in-law, Mrs. Drake, following her marriage to British diplomat, Hugh Penvellyn. Nancy must delve into the dark family history and uncover their long-buried secrets to determine whether the cause of Linda's illness is natural...or supernatural.

    Of all the Nancy Drew games, this plot is one of my all-time favorites. From fabled curses, suspected witches, wolf-like beasts, family treasures, secret societies, ancient rituals, clever parrots, secret passages, hidden ghosts, musical staircases, mysterious voices, and even a spiral slide, this game has it all. The lore of the game is so strong, it isn't hard to imagine that an old English family the Penvellyns really could exist. There are so many little (and sometimes large) things in the house which seem random, if not odd, that slowly begin to make sense, and to me, what makes those puzzles and clues more interesting is that they are not just artificially contrived for you, as Nancy to solve, but actually have a place and purpose (sometimes dual purposes given Elinor's history) in the universe of the game independently of Nancy or the player. As you may have noticed and will assuredly see as I continue to post these reviews, I love historical fiction, so any game that relies heavily on intertwining a present and past mystery tends to be rated highly in my book with few exceptions. The Penvellyn's family history is incredibly fascinating to me and occasionally interconnects with real historical figures, like Oliver Cromwell, which really submerges me into fictional world of the game. I do think there are a few minor downfalls with the game's plot, some of which I cannot get into because of endgame spoilers, but overall, the story is strong and paced well.

    Setting: An old countryside manor plopped down in the middle of English moorland, Blackmoor Manor is truly a house after my own heart, though it is nothing like Misselthwaite Manor, Manderley, Pemberley, or Thornfield Hall. Unlike the previous game, all of the gameplay takes place inside the house, which is truly a shame since the outside of the home is probably quite lovely and it assuredly has nice views of an English garden and the surrounding moors. However, every environment in Blackmoor Manor is so rich with detail and quite expansive, so it doesn't feel confining at all. Since I love Blackmoor Manor so much, I feel compelled to discuss most of the house at length, so here goes:

    The great hall is the first room of Blackmoor Manor that we see, so it only feels right to discuss it first. Though not my favorite room in the house, the great hall is certainly ranked highly for me. The floor is probably the most noticeable feature of the room and my favorite with its geometric tile (or perhaps painted marble) design in a rich emerald, scarlet, black, and creamy yellow. At its center is a black-and-white maze (I still have no explanation for that design, though it had to be intentional) with a huge yellow sun and drain in the very middle. It's just a really eye-catching design and brings a warmth and life to the room, unlike a pale, solid marble floor or even checkered design would have done. The great hall is the heart of the house and it greets all who enter, so the choice to use warm-toned colors, except the cool-toned emerald green, makes that large space feel warm and cozy despite its opulence and grand size. There are four archways supported by three massive pillars that divide the center of the room into two opposite wings. The design on the pillars harkens back to the Ancient Greeks, Medieval Age, and perhaps even the Renaissance, and the continued use of the scarlet red backdrop, gold and silver accents, and warm-toned cream (aka a yellowed white) on the pillars is striking against the ornate emerald wallpaper on the walls of the wings. The marble staircase with a crimson carpet runner only adds to the grandness of the room. The wings of the great hall are lined with the family crests and portraits of past owners of Blackmoor Manor, which is an exceptional and realistic touch to the room. The last feature of the room that's worth mentioning--besides the ceiling which is only visible in certain perspectives but offers a lovely rib-vault ceiling typical of Gothic architecture in the wings and coffered ceiling in the center--is the exquisite front door. The door is a slate grey and designed with a pattern of quatrefoils, another Gothic staple, and built in a pointed arch, again a characteristic of Gothic architecture that is mirrored in most of the house. I just think the room does an exceptional job of bringing light and warmth to the house considering the appalling lack of windows. The color choice makes the space feel comfortable and bright regardless of what's going on in the rest of the house or what it is like outside, which is wonderful.

    The next rooms I want to discuss are the conservatory and the library. Ever since I played Clue as a young child, I was fascinated by the concept of a conservatory in a house, despite only seeing two or three in real life since then. The conservatory in Blackmoor is nothing like one would expect of a conservatory--except the one in The Addams Family--because it is gloomy and gray instead of earthy and bright. The ironclad windows are grayed-out and the walls are an unattractive reddish-brown color that does not do the room any favors. However, the two-story windows, cobblestone floor, and beautiful iron staircase, despite their gloominess, make the room beautiful. The fountain is quite lovely, once it starts working , and the plants are pleasant, though I would have liked to see a few more flowering plants that are often found in conservatories, like orchids. Where the conservatory defies expectations and retains beauty, the library indisputably does not. Libraries are, without question, my favorite rooms in a house should I be lucky enough to find a house with its own library. Whether it is dark and cozy or bright and calm, it never fails to be a room that I want to be in. However, the library in Blackmoor Manor is oppressively dark and appallingly uninteresting. The dark stone walls are lit by green-shaded lights which cast a sickly pallor on the walls. The checkered floor with gold woven rugs does nothing to lighten the room either. For a library, it is also incredibly sparse, though I did notice in this most recent playthrough that there is a supposed second floor to the library. You can see a second set of bookcases behind a balcony on the back wall, though gaining access to that second floor looks impossible. The few books in the library are "protected" from being examined by Nigel, whose explanation for why Nancy (and you) wouldn't want to read them is that they are boring and old. I don't know about you, but I love old books and I would be more than interested to at least open one, even if it was about sixteenth century law (which still sounds quite fascinating). I find it incredibly disappointing that such an old house has a less than extraordinary library in terms of its aesthetic, but it is even more disappointing that the room is so useless, except to house Nigel and the statue of Mercury.

    In regards to other rooms I find somewhat disappointing, the secret passages and Moving Rooms are probably my biggest disappoint, but only in that we can only see them in that hideous green light. I am sure they are quite beautiful, but to cut down on their beauty by casting them in lime green light is almost sinful. I get that the developers were trying to save on animation and resources, but it is truly disappointing that such a massive interesting part of the house--and one that you frequent regularly--is so poorly illuminated. Thankfully, the forge/alchemy lab is nicely lit, but I would love to know that the Moving Rooms looked like under natural light. The other room I find disappointing is the East Wing, only because it is improperly described as a "wing" and yet it is a tiny room. The Orientalist theme is lovely and its secrets are exciting, but I wish there was an explanation of why that room is called a wing when the rest of the eastern wing of the house is nowhere to be found. The house in general seems to suffer from a lot of dead space, in that it looks larger on the outside than inside, so unless Blackmoor Manor is actually the House on Ash Tree Lane, I think there should be a door or something indicating where the rest of the house should be even if it isn't accessible or animated into existence (which is something that was resolved reasonably well in later games).

    For the sake of time and writing, I am not going to talk about the upstairs hallway even though it is lovely. There are plenty of staples of Gothic architecture again, including gargoyles and a beautiful stained glass window, and perhaps even some brocade tapestries on the wall--the texture is a little unclear to me, so it might be painted stone instead--but nothing else I feel like is important enough to mention for now. My favorite room(s) in the house are off of the hallway, with my absolute favorite being Jane's room, especially her furniture. The most eye-catching piece in the room is definitely her canopied bed. The woodwork on the headboard and the bedposts is beautiful, and the painted canopy bottom is so beautiful. Her vanity mirror looks like something out of a faerie's house, and the painted hope chest is just breathtaking. The color scheme in her room is red and gold, which pairs nicely with the mahogany wood of her furniture and the border on the walls. The window seat, tapestry, paintings, posters, built-in bookcase, desk, pottery, and dressing screen make the room lavish and beautiful, but Jane's own movie/show posters and personal items do not clash with the decor and make the room feel even more homey. It's just such a comfortable space to be in, which is sometimes needed with the tense and even scary moments that can happen in the game. It's a refuge in the house. I love the door--the painted side and the carved side are just beautiful--but there's that weird thing with the unexplained gargoyle's winking/blinking and the surprise of Ethel on the other side that kind of ruins it for me sometimes.

    Linda's room is another of my favorites, only because it does such a fantastic job of setting atmosphere. Here is a room that Linda apparently never leaves, and it is dark inside and all the furniture is covered like no one is living there. She is never seen behind that white curtain, so we only have her voice--and the voice actress who plays her does an incredible job--in that creepy room and most of what she says is not comforting at all. It's just such a spooky place and does a great job of maintaining the mystery of what's going on with Linda. My other favorite room is, of course, Bridgette's room. The royal blue walls are paired with bronze, silver, navy, olive green, maroon, and jade on the fireplace, tapestries, constellation maps, furniture, and decor. The whole astronomy and astrology theme of the room is lovely, and a testament to its previous occupant. Most of the house focuses on a warm color palette, so to have a room with a whole cool-toned palette is thrilling!

    Characters: I would be lying if I said any of the cast of characters in this game were my favorites, but they certainly make an impression regardless. Let's start with the character who probably leaves the most lasting impression, good or bad: Mrs. Drake, otherwise known as Aunt Leticia. Mrs. Drake is the first character Nancy meets when she arrives at Blackmoor Manor, and it is apparent from the start that Mrs. Drake doesn't like Nancy, doesn't like teenagers, and doesn't like Americans. In fact, I am not sure if Mrs. Drake likes anything anymore except silence, solitude, and her plants. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike Mrs. Drake, but she is certainly not a very helpful person and thinks Nancy is a bold-faced liar to boot. Waking Mrs. Drake up in the middle of night--something I didn't realize was possible until after many replays--is absolutely hilarious, even if it means I have to sit through an unskippable dialogue with Mrs. Petrov. Her accent kind of grates on me, too, because it doesn't sound as posh as I assume she is trying to be. It's clear she is worried about Linda and everything, but her attitude with Nancy just sinks her in my book.

    Linda Penvellyn is, strangely enough, probably my favorite character in the game, despite never seeing her and getting the silent treatment from her for half of the game. Still, I can tell that she is absolutely terrified about what is happening to her, and since no one believes her, she feels utterly alone and powerless to do anything about her plight. There are times you can tell she is comforted by the fact that Nancy is so determined to help her and unafraid of the consequences that might befall her by snooping around the passages, but I think she is also scared that Nancy may become a victim as well and that's why she becomes so uncooperative. I just can't help but feel bad for her and be massively intrigued by the symptoms she exhibits as the game progresses. That part where you see her reach for the lotion or when she orders food because she's hungry are some of the most chilling scenes in the game. The actress who voiced Linda did an exceptional job in my opinion, especially considering that she had to do that voice work knowing that her character would not be able to communicate any other information non-verbally, body language or otherwise. The way she delivers her lines is so emotive and memorable to me that I can hear every intonation and rise-and-fall in her voice just thinking about or reading the lines from the game.

    Jane Penvellyn is another fun character in the game--or three-fourths of the game anyway--especially when playing as a child. Her desire to play games with Nancy constantly gives a nice break from the scary/tense moments of the game or a breather after solving a difficult puzzle for the first time. It does get a bit annoying how she forces Nancy to play a game before volunteering any necessary information or an item, even if Nancy already played a game to receive/get said info/item, but after playing so many times, I've gotten used to it. Like Linda, you can tell that Jane is feeling very lonely with her new step-mom shutting everyone out and her having private tutoring in her own room. There's no one to spend time with except for her tutor and Nancy, so she has to be pretty miserable in that house. So, I definitely sympathize with her, but she still gets on my nerves a bit, especially when she clams up on Nancy and gives her the cold shoulder.

    Nigel Mookerjee is, unfortunately, an extremely boring person. He is very helpful to Nancy and serves as a valuable source of information about the Penvellyns, but his only role is to serve as a human equivalent to the search function on Nancy's phone. I don't dislike him, but he doesn't offer much and is a rather flat character. Needless to say, my favorite interaction with him is scaring him senseless with the statue.

    Ethel Bossiny is a name that strikes fear into the hearts of Nancy Drew fans everywhere. Truly, the woman is a living horror, a nightmare clothed in black turtleneck, pencil skirt, and (presumed) cardigan. With that turtleneck, she truly is the Lady in Black! Okay, but in all seriousness, I, to this day, jump out of my skin or scream whenever she shows up. I live in terror that she is going to pop up on the screen a second later than she should and make Nancy shriek (and thus me shriek as well), even though I know exactly when and where she will show up. Sometimes I expect her too soon, but I generally know when she is coming and prepare myself. However, the first time I played the game, I am fairly certain I screamed so loud when she appeared that my mom came into the room wondering what was wrong. It's difficult to explain that your fear came from the sudden appearance a red-lipped British redhead who is otherwise not scary and reasonably nice. In fact, from her position, I can totally understand why Ethel was ready to kick Nancy out of the house, and she was patient and nice whenever she talked to Nancy. I'm sure she is an incredibly interesting, non-scary person if you get to know her better, and she is obviously very intelligent, but, sadly, we will never know Ethel or associate anything with her but her terrifying pop-ins.

    I'm not going to talk about the phone characters or deceased family members, but I love Tommy and I would love to know more about Elinor's life than just the stories that were passed down about her. Oh, and Lou Lou is absolutely the best animal in any of the games and my favorite "character" along with Linda. She is quirky and hilarious, and Lani Minella did a great job voicing her!

    Music: The music in this game is so incredibly atmospheric, meaning that at times it is lovely and at times it is downright horrifying. Of the games' soundtracks, this one is not among my favorites, mostly because of the unpleasant compositions, but there are some compositions from it that I truly love. First, I'll go ahead and get the scarier themes out of the way, starting with the one that makes me uncomfortable to listen to even out of the context of the game: "Wolf." Anytime it comes on while I am playing the game, I try to go somewhere else to get the music to change or play a game with Jane to pass the time. Generally, her room has nicer music looping anyway. Truly, I am not sure if I have ever heard music that I find so unsettling as that theme, making it a totally freaky song. Even as I type this while listening to it, my arms are covered in goosebumps. The low strings (and maybe some low brass) sound so ominous at the beginning. It's so slow and predatory, like something is stalking you in the shadows, and then the higher strings come in with that fast-paced, uneven tempo and it makes me think of a victim running while the monster slowly follows behind, waiting until the person cannot run anymore. It's horrible, but incredibly effective. The other themes that follow this trend, though they are nowhere near as terrifying, are the "Prep Theme" and "Danger." I actually like the "Prep Theme" because it sounds like pipes banging around under a house or in the walls, which is perfect for when Nancy is in the secret passages or wandering around the house at nice. The "Danger" theme plays at the end of the game, so it is appropriate, but it doesn't really make me feel anything but slightly anxious (which is, of course, the point). "Dulcimer" is, I guess, among the scarier themes in the game, but it is one that I actually love immensely. It might even be my favorite from that game. For one, I love dulcimers and they are so rarely used in modern music, so it is always a treat to hear one, but there is something about the theme that is so atmospheric to me. It, like the "Prep Theme," makes me think about being in a passageway or exploring old ruins, and the choice of a dulcimer to play that music only enhances the mystique.

    Of the (more) pleasant themes, there are some that find okay but don't love (i.e., "Empire," "Amusant," "Bridgette's Ballad") and some that I flat-out adore (i.e., "Renaissance Theme," "Memoirs," "Fairy," "Recorder"). The "Renaissance Theme" suits the house perfectly to me. It, like the themes from TRT, makes me feel like I am in an old manor on a cold winter's night with a fire blazing in the fireplace. It is somber and beautiful, and it's use of the cello, a somber-sounding instrument if there ever was one, is perfect. "Memoirs" has a similar affect, except that it makes me think of sitting next to a window on a bright, snowy afternoon. It also features the cello prominently--though it has a piano too--but it is a warmer song. "Fairy" is my favorite of the pleasant songs. The tinkling piano, piccolo, chimes, strings, and synthesized vocals really give a lightness and magical quality to the song, though the theme has a darkness to it that makes it sound mischievous or mysterious. "Recorder" is another of the more somber themes, but it stands out to me for the use of the recorder. Since the game focuses so heavily on the Penvellyn's past, it seems fitting to have a theme that sounds a bit medieval. As for "Empire" and "Amusant," I don't dislike them--in fact I think "Empire" is peaceful and relaxing--but I don't feel like they fit as naturally with the rest of the music. "Empire" reminds me a bit of music from the late Classical/early Romantic period, which might be why it doesn't feel right. "Amusant" fits the other music perfectly because it sounds like medieval music, but I find it to be a bit grating for some unknown reason. I admittedly am not fond of "Bridgette's Ballad" at all, though when Jane hums it, it is slightly more tolerable to me.

    Puzzles: I love the puzzles in this game! Not only are they complex, but, as I said earlier, they have a place and purpose in the world of the game. A lot of people hate Curse of Blackmoor because they get stumped on the puzzles, and I will admit that it took me a while to beat it when I was a kid. Multiple pages of printer paper were dedicated to my scribbles and notes as I tried to make sense of everything. I don't feel like this game has the most difficult puzzles in the series though. My favorite puzzles--and there are a lot so I won't mention too many for sake of time--definitely have to be the gargoyles (both the rotating and lighting the forge), the Moving Rooms (which are super easy if you know the trick, but awful if you don't), the thirteen ghosts, and the alchemy door. Honestly, though, I love ALL of the puzzles, especially the ones that relate to the Mutus Liber.

    Graphics: Like The Secret of Shadow Ranch, the graphics of Curse of Blackmoor Manor are a vast improvement to their predecessors. The characters' movement is less clunky and awkward, and they each look extremely unique. The scary neck/shoulder/arm syndrome continues to improve as well. Nigel's skin tone is a bit patchy, which is unfortunate, given how well they did with Mary Yazzie in the previous game. The environment graphics are equally beautiful to the predecessor, and the user interface continues to be comfortable and simple to use, with the same flaws I mentioned previously.

    Ending: The ending is the one and only true pitfall of this game, which is a shame. There is so much potential, but the culprit is bewilderingly obvious from early in the game. It doesn't really affect gameplay much because there are still other mysteries to unravel, but anyone would agree that the culprit should not be so apparent. Even when I played the game for the first time as a child, I was not even remotely surprised at who the culprit was, and I am positive that anyone older would see through circumstances and come to the same conclusion even faster than I did as a child without that understanding of certain dynamics, if you get my drift. Besides the culprit choice, the reveal is done nicely--it's all very dramatic and exciting--and the explanation in Nancy's letter is extremely satisfying, if not horrifying, and doesn't leave any unanswered questions.

    Other points of interest: I believe I already talked about the voice acting at length in the character section, so I won't say anymore about that here.

    As I said, this game can really turn people off because it is A) scary and B) difficult, but I think that those two aspects are what has made it such a hit among long-time and new fans for fourteen years now. I intentionally didn't talk about everything that goes down at 3:15--that's just a really bad time for Nancy, isn't it--because it can vary from game to game. There are scares that I didn't see until years after I first played--the scariest one being one of them and I was...legitimately terrified when it did happen--and scares that I can't seem to trigger that I have seen before hundreds of times. Since they are different for every person, which I like more than the scripted ones that you can rely on happening once you reach a certain point, and because they enhance the game so much for me, I won't specifically describe their content here, but just know that there are a good many events that you can completely miss out on from replay to replay (e.g., Linda's order, the charm, the Lady in Black, the nightmare, the frog dream, the rune letter, the door scratches, the doorknob jiggle, the chanting, and one other I'm forgetting that happened for the first time recently).

    The Takeaway: Curse of Blackmoor Manor is the continuation of the second golden era of Nancy Drew games. After several games rife with different problems, it emerged with a rich story, great puzzles, and quirky characters. It is a definite classic and incredibly nostalgic for me because, as I've said, it was among the first four games I played after receiving the original five for Christmas in 2005 (not sure if I played The Secret of Shadow Ranch first or this one). The plot is fantastic, the lore is fascinating, and the puzzles are great, but some of the characters fall a bit flat for me and the culprit choice was poor. If I were to rate this game on a ten star basis, I would give it nine out of ten stars.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. No question; you definitely should play it! If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, this should be high on your priority list; even with its faults, it's not the worst game by far. If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play or if you're new to the ND games, this one is a great length and challenging without being insanely difficult, at least I don't think it is, and it has such a good story and it's scary to boot (if you like that sort of thing). If, however, you are looking for something else, I would recommend Treasure in the Royal Tower, The Final Scene, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, Shadow at the Water's Edge, The Deadly Device, Ghost of Thornton Hall, and The Silent Spy (all in my top ten).

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    Thank you for reading my review! I hope that my perspectives and ramblings inspire someone to play this game, replay this game, look at it through fresh eyes, or try it for the first time. I should be posting a review of Secret of the Old Clock hopefully sometime over the next few days, and I will continue to post them as I scurry to complete my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon...the clock is ticking for me to finish these reviews before the new year.

    Previous review: The Secret of Shadow Ranch
    Next review: Secret of the Old Clock

    Other reviews: SCK STFD MHM TRT FIN SSH DOG CAR DDI TRN DAN CRE ICE CRY VEN HAU RAN WAC TOT SCK2 SAW CAP ASH TMB DED
    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; December 12th, 2019, 02:19 AM.
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