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Throwback Review Series: STFD {a fresh new play-through and in-depth review}

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  • Throwback Review Series: STFD {a fresh new play-through and in-depth review}

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    Release Date: November 13, 1999
    Difficulty: Master Detective

    FINAL SCORE: (5.5/10)

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    Rating Scale:
    1. Dreadful | 2. Poor | 3. Mediocre | 4. Not Bad | 5. Acceptable
    6. Good | 7. Exceeds Expectations | 8. Strong | 9. Superior | 10. Outstanding

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    Hi there! I am a veteran Nancy Drew player, and have been playing these games since I was very young. Message in a Haunted Mansion was the first game I played at eight years old. I am now 25 and have completed every game in the series at least once. However, it's been several years since I've played my last ND game (Sea of Darkness in 2015), and many, MANY years since I have played many of the games. I've had a bout of Nostalgia and have decided to replay the entire series, starting from the beginning. I've decided to write a review for each game as I go. I will be playing on Senior Detective and using as few hints/online help as possible.

    Please keep in mind that everything written below is only my personal OPINION. If you don’t agree with something I have to say about a game, please don’t feel upset or offended. We all enjoy different aspects of these games and it’s wonderful that we can all have differing opinions about what makes a game great. I hope you enjoy!!

    EDIT: I'd like to correct a statement above. When I said I have completed every game in the series, I actually meant every game EXCEPT for this one! Primarily because there was a very long time when it was so darn hard to get a hold of. As a result, this was my FIRST playthrough of STFD! Which was quite exciting, because it's been years since I've played a brand new Nancy Drew game. So, with that being said, on to the review!

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    PLOT: (6/10)
    Immediately after solving the case of Jake Rogers at Paseo del Mar high school, Nancy travels to New York City at the request of Mattie Jensen, star of the popular TV Drama "Light of our Love." Co-star Rick Arlen has been receiving death threats and other concerning gifts, and though he shrugs them off Mattie seems sure that they are serious and sinister. Going undercover as an extra on set, Nancy must figure out who is behind these notes before they become more than just a threat.

    The concept of this game actually intrigued me quite a bit. The premise is surprisingly unique for such an early installment in the series (ESPECIALLY compared with SCK) and HER actually pulled it off quite well considering the limited technology of the time. The story intriguing from beginning to end (though not quite as long as I'd like), and the information uncovered along the way was both interesting and served to move the story forward. I do feel that there was more that could have been done, and that there were plot points I had hoped they would follow up on in the end but didn't. However, I commend them for making me want to know more.

    For the sake of comparing all games equally despite time period, do I think that STFD had the best plot or that it executed the plot in the absolute best way? No, not really, and that's the main reason for the slightly conservative rating. However, this is an instance where I really do feel it's necessary to take note of not only this game's age, but it's newness in the series. While it is outdone by some of the larger and more recent installments, it isn't because of STFD's lack of greatness, but simply due to the natural growth of the series and the resources allotted to it. STFD isn' the best, but it's very good, and it's phenomenal in comparison to the first game.

    Additionally, there's much more snooping in this game than in the last (actual snooping), which I appreciated. The sense of urgency was most definitely there, especially for the second half of the game.

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    SETTING: (4/10)
    This time, Nancy gets to stay in the lovely home of Mattie Jensen in the heart of New York City. Unfortunately, we don't get to see any of the city itself. Which would have been nice, truthfully. In actuality, aside from when using the mini-map to travel between locations by taxi (which does scream New York, I'll admit), it's easy to forget that you're there. However, it doesn't seem like the game intends to capture life in the big city, but rather life on set. And overall I think it does that successfully, but in a very small way.

    LOCATION: (5/10)
    The locations in STFD were generally well done, but they certainly weren't overwhelmingly well done. Mattie Jensen's house is... well, homey. The studio feels like a studio. You'll feel a little shady about making your way through the badly-lit hallways to Dwayne Powers' office, and his desk is strewn with some immersive chinese takeout. The set was pretty cool. But I never felt wowed by any of it. So they got it right, but it isn't great. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad either. And a lot of it has to do with the age of the game, which should be considered. However, it seems as though other games released in the general time period, like MHM and FIN, did a better job creating a unique yet authentic environment. STFD got it right with the Prop Room, which was by far the most interesting and authentic location visually, but everything else dulls a bit in comparison.

    Additionally, I feel that it is absolutely NECESSARY to mention... The pictures on the walls. The magazines. ALL THOSE CGI FACES mixed in with real people. I called my husband over and we both had a good laugh, I'm not gonna lie. I should add that I'm not docking points for this, but you have to understand. It's my first time playing this game. The last game I played was Sea of Darkness, a graphical WONDER in comparison to even newer games let alone any of the old ones. So those pictures came as... well, quite the shock. A pleasant, amusing shock though. One that had to be mentioned.

    EXPLORATION: (3/10)
    Right. So. This game is not that large. Like the last game, it has three total locations (Mattie's home, Dwayne's office, and the studio) with one being much larger than the other two. However, this game does feel larger than SCK. There isn't much more space to work with, but there is a lot more to look at within the same space. Mattie's home gives you access to the front hallway and living room, and there's minimal to look at. Not to mention that the locked drawer of her desk DOES NOT HAVE A KEY, which is maddening! Similarly, Dwayne Power's office is one room, with limited exploration.

    The studio on the other hand. The studio in STFD compares to the school from SCK in size. But in material? It is so much larger. The set itself is pretty cool to look around, but in all honesty it's the least interesting of all the rooms. The prop room is a lot of fun to look around, and it's cluttered up with all kinds of random objects just like you'd expect. Mattie, Rick and Lillian's rooms, however, are the real gems. Though small, each offers plenty to read and look at and each really give off a different, unique vibe according to the character. Mattie's room is cozy, with plenty of makeup and mail from loving fans to look at. Lillian's office is neat and organized as expected, with lots of interesting points of interest. Rick's room is the most fun, as it's strewn with the various death threats that he's been receiving and really helps to make the situation feel urgent.

    So far, all good things. But, not everything is good. This game still feels small, because it is small. Additionally, although there is a lot to look at, there isn't a lot to do. Reading the letters and magazines are great, but that isn't what I mean. There are many things that can be zoomed in on that don't do anything at all. Props in the prop room, makeup, little tables in the corner that feel like they should have something interactive to see but don't. There's even an unfinished crossword puzzle in the prop room that you can pick up but can not complete. It can be a bit annoying. There also isn't much to find in the way of secret locations. In general, what you see is what you get.

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    CHARACTERS: (6/10)
    Overall, the characters introduced in Stay Tuned for Danger are good. In fact, these guys right here are really what made this game such an enjoyable experience for me. They're unique. They're believable. They're interesting, and by the end I was left wanting to know more about them. The fact that they look like hideous barbie dolls brought to life in a way reminiscent of a horror film is besides the point.

    ALSO, before I forget and because I rarely actually consider Nancy herself when thinking about the characters of these games. NANCY IS BOMB HERE. She has some of the snarkiest replies, and I think some of her dialogue options were brilliant. If you’ve played this game before, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

    MATTIE JENSEN: (6/10)
    Mattie is one of the stars of the hit TV series "Light of our Love," and she's the one who requested Nancy's help. Mattie comes off as a very likable and and thoughtful character. She dated co-star Rick Arlen for some time, but they've since broke it off. I'd imagine that makes work just a little bit awkward... But if it does, that doesn't seem to phase dear Mattie, even though she's clearly still madly in love with him. She just seems to want what's best for him - like for him to not get killed. I really enjoyed her story, though it's a bit predictable. And she needs to move on, because she is way too good for Rick. I really wouldn't blame her if she came to her senses and tried to do away with him.

    LILLIAN WEIS: (7/10)
    Director of "Light of our Love," Lillian comes off a bit... eh, standoffish at first. As in, she's quick to slam her door in Nancy's face every chance she gets. But, that right there is what makes her such an excellent character! Unlike Mattie (who's pretty much an open book), we have to try a lot harder to get anything out of her. In fact, Nancy never really gets much out of her, but there's an excellent story with this lady anyway. After all, "**** hath no fury like a woman scorned." And Lillian has been scorned all right. By who? Of course. None other than Rick "obviously-a-scumbag" Arlen. Yes, she seemed a bit mean at first, but by the end you will definitely feel for her. Another excellent motive by the way.

    What an odd lady. Yet refreshing, and you have to love her rules about accessing the prop room. Millie is quirky, entertaining, and rather absent for most of the game. She doesn't have much dialogue, and I was left so wishing that she did. Nancy does learn about her through other people And of course through some good old snooping. But I'm left feeling that this was a character with some amazing unrealized potential. Overall disappointing.

    DWAYNE POWERS: (3/10)
    Dwayne is by far the least appealing character of the bunch. And by that, what I mean is that I tended to care about him the least. Nancy interacts with him only briefly. Perhaps he has as much dialogue as a character like Millie, but it doesn't feel like it because the number of times you can interact with him is so limited. Like with Millie, you do learn more about him in other ways. But I never really felt for him as a character like I did for some of the others.

    RICK ARLEN: (6/10)
    Oh Rick. What is there to even say about Rick Arlen? Well. Rick Arlen seems to be a scumbag. Ned really ought to go on these trips with Nancy because men keep hitting on her every time she steps outside of River Heights. Notice she never mentions that to him on the phone. Rick Arlen is a ladies man who comes on to every female he sees. He's also a horrible, spoiled rotten celebrity who expects to get everything he wants in exactly the way he wants it, the moment he asks. No wonder he's getting so many death threats. He's a horrible person. Luckily, that also makes him a great character. While Nancy doesn't have a ton of dialogue with Rick, the entire plot resides around him and so we're given a lot of information about him. My only complaint: there are points where it's implied that there is more to Rick than this awful, mysogynistic man... and then nothing. Is he really just a terrible person, or is there more to him than meets the eye? I may never know, and that makes his story feel incomplete.

    RALPH (SECURITY): (100/100)
    Yes, I'm aware that Ralph is a minor character. But he's always so pleasant to Nancy when she needs to get into the studio, and he is super dedicated to his job, so he gets an A+ from me.

    PHONE CONTACTS: (4/10)
    So much better than SCK remastered. SO. MUCH. BETTER. But overall, I'd say the phone dialogue was just okay.

    NED: (5/10)
    Ned is so sweet, all he wants is for Nancy to come home so he can give her a big hug and fend off any men that try to woo her. But she just keeps flying about the world, acting like she's too important to return to River Heights. Okay, that last part isn't true. She obviously loves Ned, because who wouldn't. He's so nice and helpful to her, even if he can be a bit boring (especially in comparison to the Hardy Boys, who are the opposite of boring). In any case, his dialogue was solid in STFD.

    GEORGE: (1/10)
    Okay, so... I have to say it. George was awful. Or should I say, the voice acting for George was awful. I honestly can't even tell you if the dialogue was any good because the voice acting was so bad that it was distracting. Yes. It was really that bad. Which is unfortunate because I really like George. I mean, I know it's only the second game, but this was just really honestly bad and has no place in a game that people pay real money for.

    BESS: (5/10)
    Thank goodness Bess was around to save the day. This is the first and probably only time that I'm glad that Bess and George were separate. Normally I like them together, but no. Not this time. While Bess wasn't perfect by any means, she at least sounded natural and had that typical Bess personality that we all know and love. Bess's dialogue was nice and quirky, and we got to have a decent amount of conversation with her. I enjoyed her in general.
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    GAMEPLAY: (2.5/10)

    ENDGAME: (3/10)
    The ending of this game was decent. The culprit, though it wasn't who I personally expected, made sense and had a decent motive for his/her actions. (Didn't they all?) Where to go and what to do actually seemed incredibly obvious to me, as there was one thing that I noticed in the game that had yet to require any interaction up until that point. Underwhelming in my opinion compared to the rest of the game.

    DIFFICULTY: (2/10)
    Not very. One of the easier and shorter games of the series. It took me approximately four hours to get through the whole thing. The puzzles, though enjoyable enough, aren't very hard and there aren't many of them. There were bits that required a bit of thinking to put two and two together, and I'd say it's definitely trickier than it's prelude, SCK. The most difficult thing about this game, if I'm being completely honest, was the clunky interface. There were several times when I could not figure out how to proceed, only to realize that I had to click on that exact spot to get into something. It took me literally ages to figure out how to actually open the chest in the prop room. It was literally just a matter of clicking on the latch, then the lid. Yes, I had to look that up online. It seems so easy, but in the moment when you're playing it really is easy to miss things like that. And this game just doesn't make it any easier. I prefer to spend my energy actually working on furthering the game, not trying to figure out how to get Nancy to walk from one corner of a room to the other. On a similar note, I spent AGES trying to get the sound levels on the audio tape to “click” when I put it on the mixer, only to find out that it isn’t a puzzle and isn’t supposed to be “solved.” Not cool.

    SCARE FACTOR: (2/10)
    Not very scary. There are a couple of tense moments, but there are no jump scares and the game has more of an urgent feel than a frightening one.

    Again, this seems to be before the time when HER included educational or themed information in their games. There are plenty of magazines to pick up concerning the TV show and the actors, and lots of letters to read. But nothing else really.

    EXTRAS: (1/10)
    This also seems to be before the time when there are extra things to keep us busy beside the main plot. No awards, no mini games. I tried to call a few extra phone numbers lying about, but they were “out of service.” To be honest, I’m not sure when this sort of thing started to be included off the top of my head. Obviously not in this game. If you’re looking for fun extra stuff, you won’t find it here.

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    FINAL SCORE: (5.5/10)

    Overall, I found this game enjoyable. I certainly wouldn’t call it the best game that the series has to offer, but they did a good job of creating a story and characters that I cared about. It does have its cons, such as the clunky interface, an underwhelming sized area to explore, and a storyline with a bit of unrealized potential. I was generally left a bit disappointed, but primarily because I wanted more and never really got it.

    For the sake of comparing all games on an even playing field, I have to be honest and say that all together the experience was just a little better than average. It was solid, and it was a good game. But it wasn’t incredibly challenging. The frustration when I had to look up something online to find that there wasn’t a solution, or there wasn’t a key, etc, were very immersion breaking for me. Additionally, I found myself incredibly annoyed by the “number codes” all over the place. Although I’m now fluent in translating numbers into their letter counterparts, it was incredibly frustrating to spend extra time solving these when most of them didn’t have any real importance. But that one time, they did, so I had to solve all of them just to be sure. And though the plot was good, there have definitely been more intriguing plots across the franchise.

    HOWEVER, don’t let the final score deter you because the truth is that I would highly recommend playing this game if you haven’t before. Because when we take into consideration this game’s age and newness, it's got great characters and it really is a stellar piece of work. It’s also really interesting to see the game at its beginning if you haven’t already, and it will most definitely make you appreciate how much this series has grown and improved over the years. In fact, if this game hadn’t been outdone a handful of times by now HER would be doing a disservice to it, because I feel that THIS as opposed to SCK was the game that put them on the right path. So if you’re a fan of the series, you definitely want to play STFD.

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    SCK | STFD | MHM | TRT | FIN | SSH | DOG | CAR | DDI | SHA | CUR | CLK | TRN | DAN | CRE | ICE

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    Last edited by Jett; April 15, 2022, 11:02 AM.

  • #2
    Another great review! That's awesome that you got to play this game for the first time; that's got to be a fun experience.

    Generally I agree with a lot of the points you make, although your review of the setting got me thinking. I agree that the locations, even the studio, aren't that big, and so they can feel a bit underwhelming. Whenever I play though, it doesn't quite feel so small because we do get to see so much of all the rooms. It feels like there's no limit to what we can see, and there's such a variety (fan letters, props, newspapers, etc.) that it keeps my interest. You're right-on with the snoop factor. In fact, I'm thinking that this game may have the most snooping of any game in the series!

    I like your breakdown of the characters. I can see Dwayne not being as interesting as the others, but I think he had a cool perspective, which got my attention. And I agree with you on Millie; whenever I play, it never feels like I talked to her enough. Apparently there's some scrapped audio of her. I really wish it made its way in, because she has a fun personality, and it's fun just trying to figure her out. (Also, I love Ralph's score. He rocks. )

    There's one other point you brought up that I really like, and that's the...well, it's sort of a mix of things, but basically the lack of clarity sometimes. It is a shame that there's no comment Nancy can make on the tape puzzle. I've played this game for so long that I don't think about that fact so much, but for a new player, that must be confusing, searching for a solution that isn't there. That interphase can certainly get in the way at a few points, too, like you said. For me, it's the package that I struggled to see.

    Like I said, great review! You make good points and explained things well. I personally quite like this game, and it often has me coming back to it because the plot I feel is really strong and there's a great extent to which we can explore with what's provided. I'd probably rank this game a little higher, but this was still an excellent read. I'm glad that you got to check this game out!
    .........I think Earth is a pretty great place.....¸.·°¨¯¨°·¸
    ...........That's saying something....¸.·`.......`·-·`
    ...¸·°¨¯¨°·.¸ 'cause I've been through outer space!
    ...`·-·`.......` · . , ¸ _ ¸ , . · `(_¸ , . · `

    Hope everyone's having a great summer!


    • #3
      Thanks again for the response!!! Oh yes, I agree that there's plenty to look at! I absolutely LOVED reading all of the mail in Rick's dressing room. It was a really great way to make the space interesting as well as back up the plot. And I loved the way that his room only got more chilling as the game went on, and acted as a reminder that the situation was urgent. Also, I didn't include that in my review, but that package got me too. I missed it a dozen times while running around trying to figure out what to do next. Still, it's really great to see where the series started!!

      On a side note, a quick question to anyone who knows. I attempted to post my review for MHM, but it needs to be approved by a moderator. I'm thinking that it's because I attempted to link my prior two reviews in the post, but I assumed the rule about not posting links applied to outside sites as I'm sure I've seen others link their other reviews before. Is that not the case? Also, does this site still have active moderators?

      Edit: Nevermind, it seems to have gone up
      Last edited by Jett; January 10, 2018, 12:05 PM.


      • #4
        Okay, I laughed so hard during this review, especially when you pointed out the horror that is the CGI faces plastered onto real photos. Those cracked me up and, not gonna lie, slightly disturbed as a kid. It's so refreshing to read a review from the perspective of a long-time fan that actually hadn't played this game as a child. I got the first five games together in this 75th anniversary bundle back in 2005, so I always assumed that most fans my age (usually Nancy Drew veterans) had played it before it basically disappeared off the market.

        Truly, what you said was spot on, and I cannot imagine how unusual this game is for long-time players that didn't experience it early on. Like SCK, there are so many little things that you can never solve (like that tape puzzle that I spent forever trying to solve as a child before I gave up) or are just around for the sake of adding flavor to the game. I personally miss those little touches, but I don't miss having puzzles that you can't solve or drawers/doors that you can't ever find a key to open. Last thing, your rating for Ralph was perfection. I'm so glad that I'm not the only one with a bizarre fondness for precious, precious Ralph. Fantastic review!

        On a side note, a quick question to anyone who knows. I attempted to post my review for MHM, but it needs to be approved by a moderator. I'm thinking that it's because I attempted to link my prior two reviews in the post, but I assumed the rule about not posting links applied to outside sites as I'm sure I've seen others link their other reviews before. Is that not the case? Also, does this site still have active moderators?
        Yeah, when I started writing my reviews, my posts always went into moderation whenever I added a link, and sometimes they went into moderation right after I posted them the first time without adding links. Some posts, like reviews, don't count towards your counted posts, meaning that you are still considered a newb on the site and they want to make sure you know and are following the forum rules. Once you get your count to ten--either on the MBQ or Hints and Tips boards--your posts won't go into moderation anymore, though the moderators will certainly read over them to make sure everything checks out. Just make sure not to answer on a MBQ/H&T thread considered old, or you'll get a spamming warning.