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A Veteran's Review of TRN

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  • A Veteran's Review of TRN

    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 to those who have been following me since last year!

    Plot: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon has one of the strongest, most memorable openings of any games in the series. While Nancy's opening letter is a little short, for good reason, the opening cutscene with Nancy, the Hardy Boys, and a handful of minor celebrities is extremely well done. First, Lori Girard, socialite and daughter of a wealthy businessman with a penchant for publicity stunts, addresses--and thus introduces--the other train passengers, namely: John Grey, a TV ghost hunter; Tino Balducci, a(n) (in)famous police detective; Charleena Purcell, a romance novelist with a specialization in the Old West; Frank and Joe Hardy, amateur detectives acquainted with her family (and friends with Nancy); and, of course, Nancy Drew herself. This opening segment allows Nancy, and thus the player, to get familiarized with the characters before the official gameplay starts, which I think is extremely important because of how the early-game unfolds and how Nancy has no connection with anyone there except the Hardy Boys. Once the introductions are out of the way, Lori divulges that they are on the way to Copper Gorge, Colorado, and that they were brought together to find out what happened to Jake Hurley, the original owner of the train, and discover the location of his lost mine. She says that a mystery has always surrounded the train, but especially after it was discovered deserted in Blue Moon Canyon in Nevada with no one but the dead engineer onboard and no sign anywhere of Jake. She also reveals that Jake was rumored to have found a rich gold mine, and that his wife, Camille, died on the train and was said to haunt it. Suddenly, the lights go out and Lori screams in the darkness, and when the lights return, she is nowhere to be found. From there, it is Nancy's job to not only find Jake Hurley and his mine, but also to solve the mystery of what happened to Lori and how she disappeared from the train.

    I absolutely love the opening of the game, and I think it sets up the plot exceptionally well by introducing the main mystery, introducing the characters, and presenting a secondary mystery involving those characters directly from the start. Sure, it can also be viewed as lengthy exposition, but it basically serves the same role as Nancy's opening letter with a twist at the end. The first time I played the game, which was sometime in 2006 (probably during the summer), I was immediately hooked by that opening cutscene. I find the plot of the game to be quite strong, especially the mystery involving finding Jake's mine. I really enjoy the fact that Nancy is looking for a location while in the confines of a train hurtling through the Midwest. Instead of snooping about onsite or in the region for hidden treasure or lost loot, she has to rely solely on the train's clues. As I have said in other reviews, I can't resist a historical mystery, but I really can't resist a mystery that happens on a train. I've loved trains, specifically steam engines and old passenger trains, my whole life, and I am fascinated by the Orient Express and all real or fictional stories/mysteries that take place therein. The Last Express is one of my favorite games ever, as well the Syberia games, and I like to think my love for this game sort of set me up to find both sooner than I might have otherwise. Of course, that holds no significant bearing on my love for the game or affects my opinion of it.

    Setting: Obviously, the setting of this game is incredibly unique because it's a residential passenger train from the late nineteenth century. Thus, it should be no surprise to anyone when I say that I absolutely adore it. Since each car is unique and rich with detail, I will discuss each one briefly, highlighting the things I love most or find wanting (if there are any). The dining car is the first area we see in the game, so it is only fitting to begin there.

    While not my favorite car on the train, the dining car is still incredibly lovely. It is divided into three sections: a bar, a dining room, and a kitchen. The dining room is my favorite area in the car with its floral stained glass windows, flower motif on the wood paneling, and mixed-type chandelier (it has a glass bowl and shaded candles). The room has all those elements that I associate with historic luxury passenger trains: rich wood interior, thick floral carpet, and (possibly) plush velvet upholstery on the furniture. The color palette for this entire car is mostly soft, cool-toned greens (something in fern/basil family) and reddish browns with accents of crimson and gold, which I find very cozy.

    The next car is the sleeping car, which is, unfortunately, not very appealing or interesting. There are a few puzzles to solve in this car and items to collect/observe, but it mostly serves as a hallway. The wallpaper is lovely at close inspection, but the lights are very dim--which is appropriate given its nature as a sleeping car--and make everything look dull. I wish we could look inside at least one of the compartments.

    Camille's private car follows the sleeping car, and I find it to be incredibly beautiful, but I can't help but wonder what was occupying all that space at the back of the car before John Grey set up his equipment in there. It is highly unlikely that such a massive amount of space served no purpose--after all, these people lived on a train and had limited space to make full use of--so I wish there was something to indicate what was there. Otherwise, it just looks like that space was intentionally created to house John's equipment. Anyway, the rest of the car is lovely, with my favorite pieces of furniture being the gorgeous upright piano, green chaise, and glass-shaded floor lamp. I also love Camille's sampler; the pops of red and gold alongside the various greens and all the adorable symbols (Awful Ursula and the train in the landscape section are the cutest) make it such a charming accent piece. The wood--I'm assuming mahogany--paneling and scalloped wallpaper that almost looks like actually puffs of velvet fabric give the room such opulence, and the color palette--very muted jade green and something between pear and olive green--is so soothing.

    Following Camille's car is Jake's private car, which is, once again, absolutely gorgeous. The color palette is what stands out most to me, as it is the first car that uses blue and it does so extensively with the ornate blue wallpaper, cerulean and gold curtains, cerulean and gold picture frame, navy and gold upholstered chair, muted turquoise couch, and navy accents in the rug. The mahogany wood border paneling is decorated with golden metal inlays as well. The matching wood furniture is lovely, especially the three bookcases (one of which has a large, S-shaped, golden snake handle). It's obvious that Jake used it as a sort of study, and I definitely think the decor choices fit the aura of a study.

    The penultimate car can only be described as Jake's machinery car, wherein his fantastic, steampunk-esque inventions lie in wait for Nancy to discover their well-kept secret. I love the steampunk aesthetic, and while this train doesn't quite satisfy the criterion for me (there's a profound lack of gears and cogs), it has that look and feel for sure. I don't have much to say about this car here because I will be discussing it at length in the puzzle section, but I will say that I love the design for the gem holders.

    The final, and my favorite, car is the caboose. All of the cars are lavish, but, to me, the caboose takes the cake! Like the dining car, the caboose features gorgeous stained glass windows with a floral design, but the predominant color is yellow, which goes perfectly with the rich purples and deep blues of the room. Even the wood in the car is painted plum, virtually stripping it of any warmth except the yellow of the stained glass, which is stunning. All of the purples and blues are subdued, and the dance floor in the middle of the car has blue-toned reds. Every single color in the room, except those windows and the accent pillows on the lounge, is cool and muted, and the lights are dim. Normally, this would make a room feel oppressive and small, but I think the caboose is designed perfectly. The paintings, the phonograph, the doll chest, and virtually every other piece of furniture in the room is designed exquisitely and decorated ornately. Of all of the cars, the caboose feels the most authentic to me in that it has a sort of lonely/eerie vibe because it seems like it just rolled out of the past.

    Characters: Once again, the characters in this game aren't among my top favorites, but they are extremely memorable and unique, which is part of why this game and its three predecessors are part of a "golden era" in the franchise. For once, I actually like all of them pretty well all things considered, and there are more characters in this game than any prior game since the Hardy Boys are tagging along with the typical four-suspect roster. Let's begin:

    This is our first time meeting the Hardy Boys after their appearance as phone characters in several games. Frank Hardy is my personal favorite of the two brothers. He is mature, cautious, and smart, and I think he secretly has romantic feelings for Nancy. I acknowledge that Ned and Nancy are a great couple, but I must say that I love the idea of Frank and Nancy as well. They could be like a more adept, less wealthy version of Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. Anyway, although I prefer Frank, I also love Joe for his goofy humor. He's impulsive and has some dense moments, but he always has upbeat, optimistic attitude and is absolutely hilarious. In the game, both Frank and Joe are great characters. They are helpful to Nancy, regularly investigating things on their end, and just nice conversation partners.

    Charleena Purcell is the first character we officially meet. For players who have played The Secret of Shadow Ranch, her appearance is quite a surprise, as she is a phone character in that game. However, with her established role as a romance novelist and expert on the Old West, her presence in this game couldn't be more appropriate. Unfortunately, however, she doesn't offer too much information about Jake Hurley's life, leaving Nancy to search for any possible information by herself. Though she doesn't offer a lot of help by way of historical information, I like Charleena's sarcastic, witty conversation. She is also revealed to have a character flaw and she clearly has a bit of an ego, which adds more depth to her character than we see in other characters from other games.

    John Grey is the second new character we meet, so long as the player visits each character by their respective train car location, and, as aforementioned, he is a TV ghost hunter. He is the first POC since Curse of Blackmoor Manor, second African-American man, and fourth African-American character in all of the games. While not the most developed character in the game, he has more dimension than previous POC characters, and Nancy, finally, doesn't treat him differently or like he is more suspicious than anyone else onboard the train. Like Charleena, there isn't a lot to talk to him about, but he is nice to Nancy and offers to share his findings about Camille with her, despite knowing that she's a skeptic.

    Tino Balducci is possibly my favorite original character in the game, despite not being an extremely likeable person. He is extremely arrogant and a bit dim-witted, but he provides comic relief and the sincerity with which he talks to Nancy about his feelings for Lori makes me sympathetic to his character, flaws aside. He isn't malicious in any way, but there are times when he does crooked, suspicious things without thinking about how his actions affect others. He is jealous of Nancy's sleuthing abilities and feels that her solving the case undermines him, but he never tries to sabotage her chances and is generally helpful. Maybe he is my favorite because he shows a depth and complexity that the other characters don't.

    Lori Girard is the last major character in the game. She is a flighty, somewhat rude socialite who wants nothing more than to be famous. I don't completely dislike her, but I think she is rather flat for most of the game, largely because there's not much for Nancy to say to her. I do think she and Tino suit each other, though, so I am glad they seem to amend things after Nancy talks to them both.

    I don't really have much to say about Fatima except that she cracks me up, and I really would like to know what she looks like under that Buell costume. The other minor characters of the game, such as the Sally, the waitress, and the engineer's grandson, are hilarious as well.

    Music: I'm sure many of you who are following my reviews--if anyone actually is--have been waiting for me talk about a soundtrack from the games that I am either not fond of or dislike completely, which I have only done once in my reviews so far. If you have been waiting for another panned soundtrack, then I am afraid that today is not the day that I will indulge you, as Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon has a nice soundtrack. Now, with the exception of two songs, I can't say that it is one that I like to sit and listen to out of the context of the game, but the music suits the location and, like most of the soundtracks, creates the atmosphere of the game extremely well. I'm not going to discuss all of the songs for sake of time, but I will say that I love the instrumentation in the soundtrack, especially for "Steam." The added steam and hissing air sound effects, naturally, suit a song that plays while on a steam engine, but the breathy, syncopated way the flutes are played give a mechanical feel to the song that's genius. I admire that "Steam" and many of the game's themes sound "Western" without distinctly following that genre. Still, the themes that I love most and can listen to with pleasure outside of the game are "Melody" and "Camille's Theme," with "Melody" being my favorite of the two. I might be biased for "Melody" because I'm a flautist, but it's really a beautiful theme. "Camille's Theme" is also beautiful, but it's a much sadder song and a tinge more Western-sounding than "Melody." Anyway, I think the music does a great job of creating atmosphere and suits the environment perfectly, so much so that I don't even notice it sometimes. (Oh, and I will say that "Society" is another one that stands out to me because it makes me think of a train starting up and moving faster and faster. I never noticed until recently that there's a subtle tempo change--so subtle it makes the musicians sound like they are rushing--in the first twenty seconds of the song. As the tempo gradually increases, more instruments come in and the layers build, so it really has this kind of movement to it similar to a train starting up. I love that so much!)

    Puzzles: I know there are some mixed opinions about the puzzles in this game, but I generally like them. There are several that I dislike immensely and find both tedious and boring, namely: the pipe puzzle and the mine puzzle being the worst offenders. The pipe puzzle is just irritating because Nancy has to, first, open the grates (which is generally a better puzzle than any of the pipes), and then she has to connect the pipes four separate times before she has to backtrack to the dining car, open the steam valve, and then go all the way to the invention car. It's just unnecessary. The mine puzzle is slightly better than the pipe puzzle, but I never knew how to solve it because I thought I was supposed to follow the lizards, although to find the solutions, Nancy has to go on just about every path that doesn't involve the lizards. I honestly don't even know why the lizards were included in the game when it is unlikely for Nancy or the player to get that lost in those tunnels, especially when it is possible to go other paths and still arrive at the final destination in the tunnels. Truly, not until a few years ago, I had absolutely no idea how to solve it, and I had just used trial and error and died repeatedly to solve it in the past. Furthermore, Nancy doesn't take any notes while exploring the tunnels to help you remember the symbols you saw or the stones' order around the fire pit. I really do not like that puzzle.

    Thankfully, the good puzzles far outnumber the bad puzzles, with my favorites including the doll puzzle, the invention puzzle, the locked box puzzle, the elements puzzle(s), and the hamburger puzzle. I'll be the first to admit that those dolls are creepy, but I kind of like them anyway. The puzzle, although a bit contrived, is fun and a bit challenging because you have to remember twelve dolls' names and appearances on top of how to spell two lengthy French words. I really look forward to that puzzle every time, for whatever reason. The locked box puzzle isn't difficult, but it involves a bit of informal logic to figure out that the boatman can transport the animals in both directions so long as only one is on the boat at a time. I've actually encountered that logic puzzle in real life, and I was quite excited about it. The elements puzzle is pretty fun, despite requiring memorization of both elements and the six-color combinations for three of them. I noticed a while back that the puzzle always involves color pairing that are opposite each other on the wheel and tend to follow a pattern of moving one over from the second color in those pairings (i.e., orange and blue, red and green, and purple and yellow always follow each other and whichever color is the second in each pairing is followed by the color closest/next to it, so orange-blue would be followed by either purple-yellow and then green-red OR green-red and then purple-yellow), which always makes remembering the solutions easier. There's not much to say about the hamburger puzzle, but I love any of the puzzles that involving cooking or assembling food orders for absolutely no comprehensible reason. I will say, though, that I love messing up the order to hear Sally/Flo yell at Frank, and I had trouble with the puzzle as a child because I couldn't tell the difference between pineapple and avocado slices.

    The invention puzzle is the biggest puzzle in the game, and it made a strong impression on me when I was a child. I know that the technology displayed was really not possible during the late 1800s, especially whatever was going on with those gemstones, but, if I suspend my disbelief as I often do in these games, I think it fits the time reasonably well and is a cool puzzle regardless. Acquiring all of the items is reasonably fun, but the gemstone section of the puzzle is what I enjoy the most. I took me forever to get it right the first time because there are so many sea creatures represented and I didn't know which one was supposed to be a soft arm and which was supposed to be a hand of the deep. The starfish was the most obvious, but it still can fit those other two descriptions. Anyway, I think it is a unique puzzle and an extremely thrilling and satisfying way to reveal the location of Jake's mine.

    Graphics: As I said in my last review, I think this period reflects a time that HerInteractive was working out kinks in their character models in order to give them more unique appearances and a wider variety of facial expressions and body movements. None of the characters in this game are hideous examples of 3D character models, but they do suffer a little in the chin/jaw department (i.e., they all look like they got their jaws shaved down to have the most narrow, pointy chins in existence). Their massive, wide foreheads only accentuate their narrow jaws, which makes some characters look a little strange. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a heart-shaped face, but I find it unlikely that these four people would all have such a uncommon facial shape. The Hardy Boys do not seem to suffer as strongly as the other characters, though they also have the same facial shape as each other, and are very cute. Aside from that, I have no objection to their appearances, except that Charleena's open mouth is a little scary. Anyway, they really do look unique and are all, except maybe Charleena with that awful hair and clothing, decent looking people. As usual, the environment graphics are beautiful.

    Ending: There's not much I can discuss about this ending without getting into spoiler territory, unfortunately. The culprit choice was appropriate once the motive was revealed, but that entire ending kind of came from nowhere because the game didn't set up a subplot for it at all. There are a few small hints at it throughout the game, but truly, I was so confused the first time that scene happened. It's an okay ending, though the punishment(s) for the crime(s) committed in the game are nonexistent to laughably meager at best. The escape segment is pretty exciting, if not nonsensical, and how Nancy catches the culprit makes no sense whatsoever, but it's not the worst. I just wish we got more closure and less celebrity drama during that final letter.

    Other points of interest: The voice acting in this game is on par with the previous games. I like all of the voices and think they suit the characters' appearances extremely well, with Tino's voice being the most distinct in my mind (to the point that I remember his lines). For some reason, I also really like the voice acting done for the crypt keeper. I know it's supposed to be a little creepy, but I think his voice has a gentle, calm nature to it as well.

    The Takeaway: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon is another great example of a golden era Nancy Drew game with less pitfalls than its direct predecessor. The plot is interesting, the characters are flawed and likeable, the music is nice, and the puzzles moderately challenging. It is 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, but, nostalgia aside, I think it is a strong game in the series, despite its flaws. If I were to rate this game on a ten star basis, I would give it eight out of ten stars, largely because of the disappointing ending, surprise culprit motive, and unresolved post-game questions.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. Of course! If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, this game should be high on your list! If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play, this one is moderately difficult and a decent length. I definitely recommend it for first-time players, but I might would look into other titles, depending on the prospective players' tastes and ages, to serve as a starting game just because the formula for this one is a bit different than any of the others. For those who have played a good many Nancy Drew games, this one is a must. If you are looking for something else to play, I would highly recommend Treasure in the Royal Tower, The Final Scene, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, Shadow at the Water's Edge, The Deadly Device, Ghost of Thornton Hall, and The Silent Spy (all in my top ten).


    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 Danger By Design hopefully sometime in the next few days, and I will continue to post them as I scurry to complete my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon...I hope I'm not in danger of boring you with my reviews.

    Previous Review: Secret of the Old Clock
    Next Review: Danger By Design

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; December 12, 2019, 01:18 AM.