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A Veteran's Review of CAR

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  • A Veteran's Review of CAR

    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 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 got busy so excuse the four-month 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.
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    Plot: As I believe I have said in previous reviews, I am not fond of the era of ND games following the first five and prior to the first "golden era" (i.e., Secret of Shadow Ranch through Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon or Danger By Design). The games in this era all suffer from the same problems and excel in the same areas, which makes them frustrating to critique and to play. The Haunted Carousel is probably my second favorite in this era, behind Secret of the Scarlet Hand, but my opinion of its plot only differs marginally from its direct predecessor and successor. The premise of the game is quite intriguing from the start: a carousel starts running by itself in the middle of the night after a carousel horse is stolen and (possibly related?) a bizarre roller coaster accident leaves riders injured, leaving residents and park-goers to claim the park is haunted or cursed. I love theme parks, and I love ND games offering the promise of a spooky mystery, so my interest was piqued when I first played the game six or seven years ago. Unfortunately for me, and anyone else looking for a scary game, this game did not deliver. Now, that doesn't mean the plot is an automatic flop; in fact, I think that the plot would be even stronger had the slight diversion into "scary territory" and misinformed title not set up such expectations in the first place. What remains, at the heart of the mystery, is a story about the lost memories and lost joy of, ironically, Joy Trent and how the past and present circumstances surrounding the carousel figure into her life.

    Setting: You'd expect a theme park in a game to be pretty fun, right? Wrong. The setting of Captain's Cove is incredibly disappointing to me. Now, I understand that it would use too many resources and be too difficult to animate a fully operational, or even closed, amusement park given the circumstances. However, I'm not asking for animated bumper cars, swings, Tilt-a-Whirls, roller coasters, or any variant of pendulum rides. The few--and I reiterate few--rides and attractions we do see in the park are all fine and good, except that we never actually see them. I'm the kind of person that loves to see the behind-the-scenes stuff of pretty much anywhere I go; I just like to know how things work and what's behind the magic. It's fascinating stuff. We spend a lot of time in the park in those behind-the-scenes places, except they aren't very interesting...visually or conceptually. Elliott's office looks nothing like any art studio I have ever seen, Ingrid's workshop is bland, and Joy's office is downright depressing with that dark paneling and dark carpet. Then, the rides/attractions we can interact with are mostly the same, dark or bland with minimal interactions.

    The one room we can see in the haunted house isn't scary and the roller coaster is the antithesis of a thrill ride, but nothing suffers worse than the Midway. When I think of a midway at a county fair or any variety of theme parks, I think of bright colors, flashing lights, pinging bells and booming gongs, hundreds of stuffed animals, balloons, and the smell of popcorn, funnel cakes, cotton candy, candy apples, and cheese fries. Naturally, the game couldn't replicate some of these phenomena, but the point is that the midway is supposed to be the liveliest place, the heart of the fair/park. Even with the park closed, that sea-themed arcade looks like it would be lifeless and drab even with people there. Just a glimpse of those theme park staples in the background, like the double Ferris wheels seen from the carousel, would make the park feel more like a park and not an endless sea of offices and backrooms. The carousel, however, is the singular delight of the game in terms of artistry and amusement. It is the only ride in the park Nancy can ride, and it is animated beautifully. What the rest of the park lacks in color and beauty--come on, an anglerfish?--the carousel more than compensates. The floral and nature motifs on the horses and chariot nicely contrast the overwhelming sea theme of the park and hotel, and the band organ provides that classic, beloved sound to contrast the sea sounds and pirate voices (provided by the immensely talented, Lani) that dominate the rest of the park's soundscape (not including the brilliant soundtrack, of course).

    Lastly, there is nothing in the game that gives me an impression of what New Jersey is really like or convinces me that this park is in New Jersey, excepting one character with the most stereotypical and horrible Jersey accent I have ever heard, and I know people from New Jersey. I wish, like I said with the other games, that we were given a true and stronger sense of the location wherein the game takes place if the game is going to draw attention to that fact.

    Characters: Admittedly, the characters of The Haunted Carousel suffer from the same neglect as those in Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake. Ingrid Corey is basically the Jeff Akers of the game, which is a shame since she is the only POC in the game and the second black female character to ever appear in the ND games. Ingrid is the chief engineer of the park, which is awesome. An African-American woman is the chief engineer at an amusement park. You go, girl! So, here we have this brilliant woman of color who is into holistic medicine, New Age, and astrology, but she is given the third-degree by Nancy, only slightly less than Harlan, because she has money, aspirations, and good moral character (i.e., telling everyone she encounters about natural ways they can fix deficiencies and problems with their bodies). It makes me sad that such a powerful and awesome role model is shafted by the story and Nancy for no legitimate reason.

    Elliott Chen is an unusual guy, to say nothing of his hair. His wish-washy behavior towards Nancy is exhausting. One minute he is screaming at Nancy for continuing to mess with his work and causing further delays, and the next he is thanking her for distracting him and calling her a "procrastinator's dream." For an art director of the park, I must say he has no vision, except those beautiful seahorses beside the bookcase in his office. I jest, but he is, when not in a foul mood, a pretty entertaining character and can be quite helpful to Nancy during the investigation.

    Harlan Bishop. Honestly, I don't have much to say about him because his accent drives me insane, so I limit my interaction with him as much as possible. He's simultaneously one of the nicest, peppiest characters in the game and the shadiest, mostly because he refuses to disclose his past to Nancy and gets angry when she has legitimate concerns about his motives for working as a security guard. I feel like he would be an incredibly irritating coworker as well. I don't know...there's no reason to vehemently dislike him, but he's basically a stereotypical Jersey accent with a stereotypical Jersey backstory.

    Joy Trent is probably my favorite character in the game, even though she is a "party-pooping stick in the mud" with a penchant for eating pencils during most of it. With her tragic backstory and sad, lonely life, I sympathize with her greatly and feel compelled to help her over anything and anyone else in the game. Thankfully, the direction the plot takes centers around her, allowing me to fulfill my duty in making her existence less bleak. The whole segment with her and Miles the Magnificent Memory Machine--best character, let's be real--is the best part of the game, and seeing her overcome her pain is such a magnificent reward for beating the game.

    There is an extensive cast of phone characters, but most of them, including Paula Santos, who I am honestly not a fan of even though Keri Healey does her voice, aren't significant enough in the game or at all to be worth mentioning at length.

    Music: I absolutely adore the music in this game! My personal favorite theme from the game, the "Ballroom" song, perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of the game. Firstly, the instrumentation is spot on, using a fairground organ (and maybe a calliope?), tuba, and snare to create that circus/carnival vibe. There is an dizzying effect on the music that makes the instruments sound like they are underwater, which is fitting for theme of the park (i.e., the ballroom went "under the sea" when it became a haunted house for the park) and gives it a spooky tone. Thirdly, it is in 3/4 time, the standard for any type of waltz, and the tempo is, I believe, more appropriate for a Viennese waltz. So fitting! Nonetheless, the whole soundtrack is equally superb and appropriate for its setting. "Midway" and its remix, "Carnival," another of my favorite tracks because of the haunting quality to it as all the fairground organs fade in and out, overlapping each other in a beautiful and disturbing manner. It automatically transports you to an actual midway, hearing all the rides, but has this eerie dark tone befitting the supposedly haunted amusement park. Among the darker themes is "Joy" and its remix "Darryl," both of which share the same beautiful and haunting melody with piano, though Joy's version has a flute and Darryl's version has creepy strings and synthesized vocals. The remainder of the songs, excepting the actual carousel music, sound more like sea-faring/pirate songs--the strong brass and plucky strings--than carnival songs, which befits the park's theme but doesn't bring particular delight to my ears. Still, they work as good atmospheric pieces and don't sound like Pirates of the Caribbean rip-offs, which is good enough for me.

    Puzzles: This game is one of the easiest by far in terms of puzzles. The only thing that can get me stuck still to this day is waiting for Tink's phone call before the carousel puzzles, but everything else is a breeze and requires trial and error or simple observance to overcome. The best puzzles by far involve Miles' riddles and creating the take-up rod, but even those are quite simple. The hardest puzzle is probably the one involving deciphering the shorthand letter, but that is more so because of the "website" used as reference than anything.

    Graphics: The graphics of this game are on par with Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, if not only marginally better in terms of character design with unique faces, postures, and body styles. The shoulders, arms, and necks are improving, but not quite there yet. The environmental graphics are beautiful as ever, especially the carousel.

    Ending: The ending of the game is pretty solid. The multiple discoveries Nancy makes in such quick succession, nearly all of which are related, that wrap up every mystery in the game are done flawlessly. There's the touching moment with the letter, the discovery of the secret location (no spoilers, okay), and the culprit reveal in the span of two or so minutes, but none of it feels rushed. Each moment must necessarily run into the other, and it is pulled off so well. The culprit reveal was not very surprising, which is a shame. I like to be shocked and stumped by the end, but it was pretty clear early on who the culprit had to be. Unfortunately, I think many ND games, including some of the best, fall victim to the ploy used in this game--to be as spoiler-free as possible, think about what the culprits in The Final Scene, Secret of Shadow Ranch, The Phantom of Venice, Shadow at the Water's Edge, and The Captive Curse, etc., have in common--and it is not as effective in this game as it is in some of the others, which admittedly blindsided me. (Again, I can't say it explicitly, but if you think about the way the culprits act towards Nancy in those games before they are revealed as the culprit, there is a commonality.) The way the culprit is initially foiled is absolutely hysterical, but the subsequent capture is a bit...silly. I also don't see how they are actually trapped given the other exit route, but that oversight can be overlooked, I guess.

    Other points of interest: The voice-acting in this game isn't remarkable, but it is solid, except that Jersey accent (sorry, Jonah, I like you in other roles). Lani and Jonah do half of the voices in the game, which is impressive. Nancy's laptop is just as irritating as it is in Secret of the Scarlet Hand, but there isn't as much reason to use it, so it is not a huge issue.

    The Takeaway: It's worth noting that the first time I played this game was around Christmas in 2012, at which point I had played games 1-5, 10-14, SCK Remastered, and 17-27. I had been unsuccessful at finding physical copies of some Nancy Drew games (specifically games 6-9, 15, and 16) for years, but I finally got the last few games I was missing from my collection between 2012 and 2014. Thus, I had played the majority of the Nancy Drew games--and all the stellar ones, in my opinion--hundreds of times before I got to these games, meaning that the nostalgia factor was missing and I had learned how to distinguish between a good and not-so-good Nancy Drew game. The first time I played it, I was overwhelmingly excited to finally be playing the first of the few ND games I had been hunting for so long, but it was easy enough that I didn't even get stumped like I did on the first five games as a kid. The lack of a scare factor, despite the title, was disappointing to say the least. If the amusement park had been more interactive, or at least more attractive, and the "scary" elements removed from the story, the game would be much stronger, though the puzzles were still too easy. With that being said and with those caveats in mind, I would give this game a rating of five stars out of ten.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. Again, it depends. If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, even the really bad ones, then you should go for it; it's not the worst game in the series 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, I'd advise you to give this one a hard pass and go for one of the classic titles or fan favorites, unless you are looking for an extremely easy game in the bunch. Of the classics, I would recommend Treasure in the Royal Tower and The Final Scene (both in my top ten), and I would recommend the legendary fan favorites (also in my top ten): Curse of Blackmoor Manor, Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon, and Secret of Shadow Ranch. 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).

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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 Danger on Deception Island sometime over the next few days, and I will continue to post them as I complete my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon...it's not a deception to say the next review will be out soon.

    Previous review: Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake
    Next review: Danger on Deception Island

    Other reviews: SCK STFD MHM TRT FIN SSH SHA CUR CLK TRN DAN CRE ICE CRY VEN HAU RAN WAC TOT SCK2 SAW CAP ASH TMB DED
    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; December 12, 2019, 02:21 AM.

  • #2
    Great job!!! I felt like this game was particularly difficult to review because it's just kind of... there. At least for me. It flies very under the radar and I don't find it very memorable, so I definitely struggled with objectivity while reviewing this one. For that reason I also don't feel as though I have as much commentary as I normally do in response to this review. We basically agree about this game.

    What remains, at the heart of the mystery, is a story about the lost memories and lost joy of, ironically, Joy Trent and how the past and present circumstances surrounding the carousel figure into her life.
    ^^^ This comment sounds WAY more poetic than I think this plot deserves - yet also sums up the story pretty much perfectly. I still struggle with whether or not I enjoyed the plot of this game. I think it's well done, but only in retrospect, and I always wish that I cared more about it while I was playing.

    Now, I understand that it would use too many resources and be too difficult to animate a fully operational, or even closed, amusement park given the circumstances. However, I'm not asking for animated bumper cars, swings, Tilt-a-Whirls, roller coasters, or any variant of pendulum rides. The few--and I reiterate few--rides and attractions we do see in the park are all fine and good, except that we never actually see them.
    THIS EXACTLY. Ugh. I don't actually think it would have been that difficult to give us more of the park, as it really didn't need to be animated being that the park is shut down. I also hate that we don't get the full experience of the rides we DO get to see. I mean, don't tell me there's a haunted house and then not let me go through it!!! Such a missed opportunity!

    So, here we have this brilliant woman of color who is into holistic medicine, New Age, and astrology, but she is given the third-degree by Nancy, only slightly less than Harlan, because she has money, aspirations, and good moral character (i.e., telling everyone she encounters about natural ways they can fix deficiencies and problems with their bodies). It makes me sad that such a powerful and awesome role model is shafted by the story and Nancy for no legitimate reason.
    You know I agree with you entirely about this lady! My only comment about her that I don't think I mentioned in my own review is that while it is most certainly not a crime to have expensive taste, THAT WATCH WAS LITERALLY LIKE $19,000!!! And this game was made in like 2003 It's like the game knew this was a terrible motive so they were like "we'll just put a COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS price tag on this thing, that'll make it better." I am not judging the woman, I'm just saying that if I had that much money to throw around I think I would buy something more exciting than a watch.

    The way the culprit is initially foiled is absolutely hysterical, but the subsequent capture is a bit...silly. I also don't see how they are actually trapped given the other exit route, but that oversight can be overlooked, I guess.
    So, I was going to put this in my review but then I decided it didn't actually matter. BUT ACTUALLY THOUGH, I was super confused about the way I got in and out of the final room once the endgame finished up. Like, confused enough to be bothered, but not confused enough to go back and do it all over again lol. I think I just don't understand because they make it seem like the radiator door goes nowhere when you investigate that area, yet somehow we come out that way? Also, the door to the OUTSIDE just RANDOMLY closes on its own and locks despite the culprit being nowhere near it and that just does not make sense.

    ANYWAYS, awesome review!! Great job!

    Comment


    • #3
      Thank you so much for the comment! I was looking forward to your thoughts on my review after I read yours the other day. It still amazes me sometimes how similarly we view certain things, especially when I go back and read my own reviews that I wrote two years ago after reading yours. No worries about not having as much to say. There really isn't a lot to say about this game in general.

      I felt like this game was particularly difficult to review because it's just kind of... there.
      I do believe you have just summed up my entire feelings about the game in one sentence. Brava!

      ^^^ This comment sounds WAY more poetic than I think this plot deserves - yet also sums up the story pretty much perfectly. I still struggle with whether or not I enjoyed the plot of this game. I think it's well done, but only in retrospect, and I always wish that I cared more about it while I was playing.]
      You're not wrong, but, hey, I tried. I feel the same way. I never really enjoy the plot as much when I am playing as I do when I think about it later without all of the other...stuff. If I just focus on the Joy plot and try to minimize the flaws how its delivered, I like it. It's poignant. However, in the actual game, I'm mostly bored, annoyed, or some combination of the two.

      THIS EXACTLY. Ugh. I don't actually think it would have been that difficult to give us more of the park, as it really didn't need to be animated being that the park is shut down. I also hate that we don't get the full experience of the rides we DO get to see. I mean, don't tell me there's a haunted house and then not let me go through it!!! Such a missed opportunity!
      I really don't think it would have been that hard. Even making the Midway bigger and flashier would have helped. The only rides you can actually see are those near the carousel, and all I remember are two--count 'em, TWO--Ferris wheels. The roller coaster is a joke, and the haunted house is...not. SAME. I wanted to walk through the haunted house so badly. It's not even scary at all in the one room we can actually enter.

      You know I agree with you entirely about this lady! My only comment about her that I don't think I mentioned in my own review is that while it is most certainly not a crime to have expensive taste, THAT WATCH WAS LITERALLY LIKE $19,000!!! And this game was made in like 2003 It's like the game knew this was a terrible motive so they were like "we'll just put a COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS price tag on this thing, that'll make it better." I am not judging the woman, I'm just saying that if I had that much money to throw around I think I would buy something more exciting than a watch.
      ...I did not recall the price of that watch, but oof. There is no way I would spend that much money on a watch, even if I did make bank enough to throw down $19,000 in one sitting. Am I remembering correctly, or did that receipt say she paid in cash? That's WILD. Maybe she has expensive taste, but it's also bad taste.

      So, I was going to put this in my review but then I decided it didn't actually matter. BUT ACTUALLY THOUGH, I was super confused about the way I got in and out of the final room once the endgame finished up. Like, confused enough to be bothered, but not confused enough to go back and do it all over again lol. I think I just don't understand because they make it seem like the radiator door goes nowhere when you investigate that area, yet somehow we come out that way? Also, the door to the OUTSIDE just RANDOMLY closes on its own and locks despite the culprit being nowhere near it and that just does not make sense.
      I still have absolutely no idea how that building is supposed to work. I feel like I have tried on repeated occasions to figure out what exactly is going on there, but it makes no sense to me. It's also been a minute since I played it; however, I do think you're right about the radiator. I'll have to pay more attention the next time I play and see if I can figure this building out. Otherwise, it might just be the House on Ash Tree Lane.

      As usual, your commentary is appreciated and meaningful! I'm so glad you're enjoying my reviews! Can't wait to read your thoughts on the next one!

      Comment

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