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A Veteran's Review of CRE

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  • A Veteran's Review of CRE

    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 2018/2019 marathon (things have been very busy). 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!

    As I said in my previous review, things are going to a bit different from here on out in the reviews, at least for now. Since my reviews were getting so time-consuming that I repeatedly had to halt production, I am going to try to substantially cut back on what I talk about in each section. I don't want the quality to decrease, as I have tried to talk about each game as thoroughly as I wanted and time would allow, but these aren't getting a lot of traction anymore, so I don't want to waste my time talking about obscure things in the games that interest me if no one is learning or interested in that content. Anyway, if you're new to my reviews, welcome aboard, and if you happen to have read any of my other reviews in the past, this is why things are different now, and I hope you still like my reviews.

    I must admit that I chose not to replay this game before writing this review. I have played it enough times that I am confident in my ability to review it, but in all honesty, I do not like this game at all. Every annual marathon, I give myself an out on one game that I don't want to replay--though I think this time I might give myself a few outs--and more often than not, I choose this one for reasons that will be understood very shortly. This might be the shortest review I write if I don't start ranting, not because of my new method, but because I don't have much to say about the game and even less to say that's positive. This review is just going to be a big departure from all of my reviews, much like the game itself. Anyway, please pardon me for not writing this review with the game fresh in my mind, but it might be better that way.

    Plot: I have a confession to make, and I might as well start here. This is my least favorite game in the series. It might be the worst game I've ever played, except one that shall not be named here. However, the plot is not the absolute worst part of the game (though it's close). In fact, I think there was real potential, as evidenced by the teaser trailer for the game. When I saw that as a preteen, I was actually really intrigued, and I think that the biggest pitfall of this game is how much that idea was built up only to be the most obvious and anticlimactic reveal in the game that serves almost no contribution to the actual plot. So, with that in mind, let's back up for just a second so I can identify the two/three plots in the game:

    1. Kāne 'Ōkala and the weird whispering (I didn't realize this was a Harry Potter/Series of Unfortunate Events crossover )

    2. Quigley and the Hilihili

    3. Big Island Mike

    I theorize that the story originally only had two components, namely doing research with Quigley and investigating what's going on at the Hilihili. Both of these mysteries involve scientific research, and they could have easily incorporated Kāne 'Ōkala (and Pele) into that story because of his alleged outrage over what was going on at Hilihili. The opening of the game thrusts us into Kāne 'Ōkala immediately, so it is disappointing when that aspect of the game becomes a minor, uninteresting plot point that is essentially glanced over after so much fuss. It would have been better to exclude it entirely than to handle it the way they did. Since Kāne 'Ōkala fell through, I believe HerInteractive thought the game was too short, easy, and see-through, and they weren't sure their fans would be into a game with a scientific mystery. Thus, they decided to bring in Frank and Joe Hardy to investigate Pua and Big Island Mike, but everything is unclear on their end since the player doesn't get entirely briefed on their mission. Knowing everything had to be tied together somehow, they slapped together an ending and culprit motive that was really unsatisfying and called it day. Thus, the resulting game feels incredibly disjointed with pieces that only connect because they are extremely contrived. That's just a theory, but it is the nicest way I can explain the jumbled mess that is the plot of this game without getting into spoilers. Anyway, the resulting plot is largely boring or confusing, but there are elements that had real potential and could have been implemented in interesting ways.

    Setting: It's pretty bad when a game manages to make Hawaii feel like the most unrelaxing, uninteresting place in the universe. Every environment from Camp Quigley to Big Island Mike's scream nothing but tedium and chores. The only place that is remotely interesting, visually and intellectually, is Hilihili, but even it doesn't have much to look at or much to do. However, this game achieves even more than that; it also makes Hawaii hideous. Truly, this game commits a crime when it comes to the setting. For the sake of my sanity, I am not even going to begin on the color palette of the rainforest, but this game rebukes the idea that Hawaii is known for its beautiful flora. I honestly cannot think of anything positive about any of the environments in this game, and I don't want to keep bashing it, so I will leave it at that.

    Characters: Unfortunately, this review is not going to take a positive turn here either. Usually, I can find at least one about these games that I really like, whether it be the plot, characters, or puzzles. This game, however, is not one of those that redeems itself with its characters. Not a single one of them is even likeable, and they suffer from severe lack of development on top of it. Quigley is just plain rude and annoying, Big Island Mike is a self-interested jerk, Dr. Craven is an egotistical jerk with anger issues, and Pua is...boring, one-note, and a jerk. In case you don't remember, she basically said she was okay with her mother dying because her mom wouldn't have been happy with her dad running his own business and wasn't okay with her surfing. Yeah, go back and check out that dialogue right after Joe meets her. Yikes. Anyway, the only thing I have ever enjoyed regarding these characters are Big Island Mike memes, if that says anything.

    Music: *sigh* It really hurts to write such an awful review, especially after a long hiatus between my other reviews and this one, so at least I can say something that isn't completely negative about this game. To be completely fair, I think Kevin Manthei did a good job with the music for this game, but I don't particularly enjoy most of it. It isn't Lilo & Stitch, but it fits the atmosphere and location of the game pretty well, so he did his job in that capacity. "Discovery" is my favorite composition on the soundtrack by far. I find the guitar/ukulele/steel guitar combination to be really soothing, but the drums (perhaps pahu?) and woodwind instrument make me feel like I am on an expedition through a rainforest. I envision myself wading through foliage or paddling down a river when I listen to it. My other favorite is easily "Canopy." It is the composition which sounds the most like traditional Hawaiian music, and I absolutely love it. The different drums playing together make me want to get up and dance immediately. I'm not especially fond of the rest of the soundtrack, but I enjoy listening to those two compositions.

    Puzzles: This game is one of a few that has more chores than puzzles, and those chores are so tedious they almost drove me to quitting the game before beating it the very first time I played it. For the sake of fairness, of which there hasn't been much, admittedly, I will discuss two puzzles that I like to counterbalance my discussion of the chores that I dislike immensely. This might be a surprise to everyone, but the puzzle that I enjoy most in the game is actually sorting the frass. I have heard endless complaints about this puzzle, but I think it is quite fun and one of the more complicated (but doable) puzzles in the game. The fact that you have to figure out so many different things for each sample makes the data feel more meaningful to me, especially when you are translating it into numbers for that machine to analyze for you. My other favorite puzzle is fertilizing the flowers. I know, you're probably thinking I'm insane right now, but I actually like that one. I can't say that I fully understand it, but the flowers are pretty and for a game largely void of pretty things, I appreciate that momentary reprieve for my eyes. The GPS puzzles are not bad either, but they are demoted because of how much time is lost just waiting for that thing to boot up and "whisk" you away to your next destination (like molasses).

    Now that I think about it, and I think I hinted at this earlier, if the game had given more tasks and puzzles relating to entomology and botany, I think it would have been cleaner. Boring, perhaps, but cleaner. I know the game still takes this path for the most part, but there is one component that made things a lot weaker, namely the culprit choice and motive (so, the ending in general). The game's focus was all over the place, and not a single part of any mystery was gripping or interesting because not much attention was given to it. There were times when I really forgot what mystery I was supposed to be solving, and it wasn't because I was "relaxed" from being so "busy." There was too much going on that was unrelated to the main mystery. Sure, not everyone is into bugs and plants and solving the mystery of the "fritillated flag beetles" might not be interesting to great many people, including myself, but if they had thrown more incident into the sabotage subplot and drummed up more lore about Kāne 'Ōkala, maybe even had a "sighting," think of how much cleaner (and less frustrating) the game could have been. I cannot stress enough how much I think playing up that lore could have benefited the game, much like how The Captive Curse operates. I think including Frank and Joe was a big mistake as well, as their mystery was the messiest and some of that content was a red herring. Maybe then we could have avoided all those chore puzzles too.

    Speaking of chores, I could write an essay on how many puzzles I don't like in this game, but I will restrain myself to the ones that annoy me the most, namely: Big Island Mike's chores. Man, if there was ever a character that pushed my buttons, it's that guy. Between the god-awful shell collecting, fishing, and snow-cone making that players must do MULTIPLE TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF THE GAME IN ORDER TO PROGRESS, I am not sure how I or anyone else could possibly make it through this game without losing their sanity at least once. It's truly the most annoying part of the game, and it isn't even optional. You have to do it REPEATEDLY, and it's really just filler. Without those screeching-brakes, grinding-the game-to-a-halt moments, you could beat it in half the time, instead of waiting literal hours trying to catch certain fish or find certain shells or guess shave ice flavor combinations with NINE flavors with three spaces to put flavors. He doesn't even tell you if there are three flavors in his favorite combination or if order matters, so the number of possible combinations is insane (we're talking well over 700). Thankfully, the internet exists, so like everyone else, I just looked up the solution after a couple tries, but I cannot believe this puzzle was actually cleared for the game. I don't think there is anything in the game to help you figure it out either, so imagine those poor souls who refuse to cheat and had to try out hundreds of combinations (and pay for them by reloading or doing MORE chores) before getting it right. Truly, out of all of the undeniable problems this game has, the single most annoying and problematic thing to me is these chores. They sucked all the enjoyment out of it for me from the start. (Oh, and it really annoys me that there is all this Hawaiian lore in the game that you can only access if you pay for it, which is massive shame since we should be able to learn more about Hawaiian culture in a game that takes place there.)

    Graphics: This is the point where we say "rest in peace" to the graphics in Nancy Drew games for a little while, though none of them are as bad off as this game. I have tried to find an explanation for what happened with this game, but all of my speculations came up empty (i.e., I thought that perhaps development for Danger by Design fell behind schedule and left less time for this game, but the release dates are consistent with all post-MHM releases before and after the game up until the new May/October release schedule in 2012). I just don't know what went wrong, but the graphics for this game took a massive hit.

    The first obvious problem is the character design, though I must admit that not everything about it is bad. The biggest offender in this game is Joe Hardy without a doubt. (For some reason, he reminds me of young Bill Fagerbakke, which I mean in the most unoffensive way possible. Joe also looks like he came from the Neolithic era, as I'm sure everyone agrees.) I honestly don't understand what happened here. He has such a prominent brow and deep-set eyes, and his hairstyle is extremely unflattering. Not to mention they made him look like a surfer dude, which really doesn't fit Joe's personality at all. They were much kinder to Frank, though he looks like he could be Dwayne Power's child in this game. Everyone else is par for course in this game, with my biggest complaint being the textures used for their clothes, skin, and hair (especially Pua). Still, I have to give them kudos on continuing to diversify the appearances of their characters--everyone in this game looks extremely distinct and unlike any other characters--though there are definitely some problems they haven't worked out with the inside of mouths (Big Island Mike being the worst here).

    This is one game that actually doesn't meet the standard of previous games in terms of environmental graphics. Usually, the environmental graphics of these games are beautiful--the benefit of being pre-rendered--but this game suffers. I don't want to get on a rant about it--especially since I have been holding myself back on the color palette all this time--but I'm extremely disappointed in most of the environments in the game. They don't look as polished or well-textured/skinned. However, they did a VERY commendable job on the water--animating water realistically is extremely hard--and I think Kapu Cave is quite impressive (if they had approached the whole game like that segment, it would have been great) and the Hilihili looks pretty cool.

    Ending: Oh, the ending. If you thought I didn't like other aspects of this game, fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen, because I think the ending is the probably worst in the series and definitely the game's biggest fault. Tragically, the actual build-up to the ending made me really excited, and I was, for once, enjoying the game. I know I said earlier that sorting the frass jars is my favorite puzzle--and I am confident that all of you think I am crazy now--but the whole segment in Kapu Cave, while easy, was really fun as well. I thought it was too easy, which is why it isn't my favorite puzzle in a game full of easy puzzles, but it was a unique use of the environment in order to solve the puzzles and heightened the sense of adventure. That whole segment was animated really well too, so it felt like I had stepped out of the horror I had been playing all afternoon into a new Nancy Drew game. I wasn't as fond of Frank's diving portion of the endgame build-up, but it was at least something new and different at least. For once, I didn't know what to expect, and it was thrilling. So, once the actual culprit reveal happened, it was like a slap to the face. I was brought back to the reality that is this awful game, and everything that had happened in the few minutes beforehand became nullified. The culprit choice? Obvious. The motive? Bored me to tears, and I had no reason to care. That's the problem when everyone in the game is unlikable. To add insult to injury, the final puzzle was boring and awful, so I was even more depressed with what should have been the climax of the game. (Bonus points for the awkward and hilarious animation. You know what I'm talking about.) Even the ending letter didn't make sense of the mess that was this game. Half of the content in it should have actually been in the game instead. There are no words for it except bitter disappointment and poor writing.

    Other points of interest: If there is one thing I can compliment the game on, it's the voice-acting, as usual. Even though I am not fond of the characters in this game, the voice actors do a great job in bringing them to life. Quigley is easily the quirkiest character in the game, and I love how nasally her voice sounds and how she just rambles. Her voice just suits her so well. The same goes for Dr. Malachi Craven, who sounds angry even when he isn't, and Big Island Mike whose big voice matches his personality. I can't say that the voice acting is the best in the series or that there are any standout performances, but it is completely solid.

    As for other topics that would fit into this section, I think I kind of scattered them across my review, so I won't say anymore here. Oh, but I also really liked how they change the game interface between Nancy, Joe, and Frank. It was a neat and unexpected touch. Okay, that's all for this one.

    The Takeaway: If you've read my previous reviews, you know that I hold these games in high regard, and for me to essentially bash one this hard means that it really failed to meet my expectations and the standards set by the other games. I played this game for the first time in June of 2014 when I finally got the last couple games I was missing from my collection, largely because I could never find them in stores as a kid after 2007. There was no nostalgia or juvenile taste/interest to influence my opinion of the game. I was legitimately sad that this game that I had looked forward to playing for eight years was worse than I could have even imagined. I'd heard fans talk about this game, but I wasn't even remotely expecting what I got. I almost felt betrayed. It was true and bitter disappointment. With that being said, I give this game half a star out of ten stars, only because I won't give anything zero stars, even if they deserve it.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. For the most part, I would say absolutely not and to steer clear, but not always. You might be shocked, but this is why I can't give a flat-out "no." There are fans out there that love this game and regard it higher than games that I think are brilliant, and they probably won't like this review at all. They are entitled to their opinions, and so am I. I am writing about this game from a unique perspective that is based on my knowledge of writing as a craft, game design, etc., but an undeniable component of my opinion is based in taste. As a philosopher, I've thought a lot about taste, what makes something art, and who has the power to decide what makes something art (and how they gain that power), and I'm of the opinion that all of that doesn't really matter at the end of the day, at least when it comes to enjoying art. There are things in the world that are not considered art--and maybe they are objectively NOT art, if you subscribe to the idea that there is objectivity in beauty and art--but I don't think that we should always limit ourselves to enjoying things only if someone says they are important or says they are art. If you like something, go ahead and like it. If you like this game, go ahead and like it. It doesn't matter what I say at the end of the day because you like this game and you think it's important. It brings you joy, it makes you feel something, it teaches you something, and no one should be able take that away from you, least of all me.

    So, with that being said, if you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, then go ahead and play it. I think there's a high chance you won't like it and will feel exactly as I and so many other fans do, but you might surprise yourself. I have certainly been surprised by the number of people who think positively of this game. 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, I'd advise you to give this one a hard pass, especially for now, unless you think it could be your cup of tea. As I've said, there isn't a lot going for it, and it really doesn't fit into any of the categories of Nancy Drew games in terms of "scary" or "adventure" games. To me, this the beginning of the dark ages, so I think that anyone who reads this would be better off looking at some other games. I personally love Treasure in the Royal Tower, The Final Scene, Curse of Blackmoor Manor, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, and Secret of Shadow Ranch out of the older games. If a new(er) game is more your speed, and especially if you have already played the aforementioned titles, then I highly recommend Shadow at the Water's Edge, The Deadly Device, Ghost of Thornton Hall, and The Silent Spy (again, all in my top ten).

    Thank you for reading my review! I hope that my perspectives and ramblings inspire someone to look at this game through fresh eyes or feel validated in their opinion of it, whatever that opinion may be. This review took a bit of a different approach than the others for several reasons, and I got a bit philosophical at the end. I should be posting a review of The White Wolf of Icicle Creek within the next day or so, and I will continue to post them as I continue my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon into 2019...I'll try not to sound so much like a wolf in this next one.

    Previous review: Danger By Design
    Next review: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; November 19, 2021, 07:03 PM.