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A Veteran's Review of HAU

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  • A Veteran's Review of HAU

    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 and chaotic). 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, again, for the wait to those who have been following me!

    Plot: In The Haunting of Castle Malloy, it's up to you as Nancy Drew in a wedding? What could possibly go wrong? Well, as we soon find out, just about everything! Upon her arrival in Bailor, Ireland, Nancy immediately wrecks her rental car (and her cell phone) after a strange, glowing figure darts out in front of her. After walking to Castle Malloy, Nancy is "greeted" by an absurdly unhelpful, ill-tempered Irishman, who tells her that the wedding has been cancelled and that she cannot stay there overnight. One (potentially) broken window later, and Nancy is granted entrance into Castle Malloy, where the bride-to-be, Kyler Mallory, tells her that her soon-to-be husband has completely disappeared, which she believes to be part of an elaborate prank. However, Matt's best friend, Kit Foley, thinks that Matt got cold feet and bailed. Thus, Nancy is tasked with finding Matt and carry out last-minute preparations for the wedding, all while keeping her eye out for the spooky figure that wrecked her car.

    Like The Phantom of Venice, this game was one that I absolutely adored when it came out, but my opinion of it has steadily decreased over time as I have noticed new issues. It's biggest flaw, besides sheer implausibility of some aspects of the plot, is definitely everything surrounding the wedding and, by extension, Matt's disappearance. Much of the game involves Nancy wandering aimlessly or fulfilling mindless chores because it is impossible to add much substance to an adult relationship in a game made for children. A major plot-point in the game is the reveal of some complex relationship drama between two characters, but Nancy doesn't even get to be a part of that conversation because it was probably deemed too mature for child audiences. For that reason, nearly all interactions with the characters, especially Kyler, are dull and only serve to drive the plot forward by introducing another puzzle to solve. The subplots involving what we later deem a banshee and Brendon Malloy's family are infinitely more interesting, but they are largely pushed to the wayside. We learn very little about Brendon Malloy's experiments or what caused the explosion in his home, which is a shame given the game's potential for a Penvellyn-type scenario. The banshee subplot ends up being slightly more fulfilling and allows for a lot of atmosphere-building and the inclusion of local folklore, but even it doesn't get nearly as much traction as I would have liked. All in all, I find the plot to be pretty disappointing in execution, though it certainly provides moments of tension, fear, sadness, and joy.

    Setting: Overall, I adore the setting of this game, though it definitely has some flaws. I'm a bit biased because of my lifelong love for Ireland and Irish culture, but I don't think that my bias had much influence on my perception of the game's setting. Since this is the first review I've worked on in a while, after leaving this one partially written over six months ago, I am going to indulge myself by talking about the setting at more length than I had originally intended. As such, I want to discuss my favorite environments at length as well as the overall atmosphere of the game, since I think it was executed especially well.

    The first environment to discuss is Castle Malloy itself. I actually have mixed feelings about Castle Malloy, which I will get into in a second, but I want to touch on the positives beforehand. To me, the most stunning section of Castle Malloy is easily the grand hall. The color palette may be rather flat--lots of greys, dark blues, and browns with the orange glow of the nearby fire--but the sheer size of the room and the stone masonry are enough to make up for it. It isn't even close to being the most beautiful environment in this game or any Nancy Drew game, but the room leaves an impression nonetheless. Here we have the clash of modernity and antiquity, a microcosm of the spaces (and Europe in general) wherein the fruits of our desire to preserve the old and embrace the new, inevitably, meet and intertwine. Austere cots are crammed together in a room where medieval banquets may have been served, and an, admittedly, archaic printer sits next to a suit of armor. The most eye-catching part of the room, however, is where the room ceases to be a room, namely: the missing wall. Seeing the decrepit chandelier and massive, cluttered table framed by the starlight sky and shrouded moon is easily what makes the grand hall so spectacular. The hauntingly erect knight's halberd and windowed wall remnant only add to the beautifully chilling scene. All of this leads us to one question: who lived here and what happened to them? The history of the place becomes all the more fascinating and apparent from that one angle, which is brilliant.

    The rest of the castle is nice for much the same reason, particularly the terrifying nursery and eerily clean master bedroom. However, I feel like the castle is a bit on the small-side as far as exploration goes. There is nothing I would love more than to explore the castle's wreckage, which is the natural explanation for why the castle is so small, but I still have a hard time believing the castle is "livable" when there are no bathrooms, kitchens, or utilities to speak of in it. Given the attention the game gives to the Brendan Malloy subplot early on, I wish the environment provided more information about him, his family, his life, and the accident that destroyed his home, which could have been easily achieved by making the ruins accessible.

    Nonetheless, the castle grounds make for a suitable alternative, at least in terms of aesthetic and atmosphere. Of all the outside areas, none are quite as chilling and hauntingly beautiful as the garden. Perhaps the most notable thing about the garden is how unassuming and quaint it is, which makes its dark transformation all the more fantastic. It has all the staples: a gated trellis, a wooden bench under a tree, a cobblestone path, mixed flower beds. Its only quirk are the leprechauns in residence, rather than a congregation of kitsch garden gnomes. In the daytime, it would probably be as charming as ever, but under the moonlit fog, it takes on a haunted appearance. Nothing romantic or charming at all about when the ghostly shadows of its leprechauns greet you from the gate. Its a place of refuge that is altogether unsettling. Other areas in the castle grounds have a similarly eerie appearance and ambience--most notably the barn that looks like something out of a slasher film--but none pull off quite the same level of discomforting wrongness, except maybe the craggy tree. Regardless, the grounds are absolutely beautiful and I love exploring them in the middle of the night. I would be remiss if I didn't give a brief nod to the bog hut, which is executed so well and has so many lovely details. Even though it is supposed to be one of the more unusual, creepy places in the game, I find it to be so warm and charming, even more so than The Screaming Banshee.

    Characters: If I am being perfectly honest, the characters in this game fall a bit flat for me. I don't even know how to explain it. I don't dislike them, but I don't really connect to them. There's something about them that doesn't feel...real. Maybe the problem is that we don't know enough about them, so any depth they might have is lost on a lack of understanding. I realize that the relationships between Matt, Kit, and Kyler are complicated, and a game meant for both children and adults cannot really explore the complexities of those relationships without getting into territory that children would not understand or, possibly, even need to see. Anyway, I just wish we saw more depth or growth in this set of characters.

    Kyler Mallory - bride-to-be, lived with Nancy as a foreign exchange student for five months

    1) She is extremely kindhearted. In every interaction Nancy has with her, she comes across as a genuine and good person.

    2) Her love and concern for Matt's well-being is obvious. You can tell she is scared to death that something might be wrong, but she never loses her composure or her hope that he can be found. I admire her strength and resolve.

    1) I find it a bit disconcerting that she is not initially angry over Matt's disappearance, even though she believes it to be a prank at this point. If I was three days away from my wedding and my fiancé disappeared, I would be overwhelmed with grief, concern, and anger. If I thought he was playing a practical joke on me, I would absolutely outraged and want to have a serious conversation about the future of our relationship and how that behavior is not appropriate or appreciated at all. Can you imagine how awful it would be to go through all the stress that comes with planning a wedding only to have your future spouse decide that now, three days before the wedding, is an appropriate time to play a joke on you by completely vanishing? Maybe she is just telling herself that story at the beginning because she is so scared that something bad has happened to him, but I would be furious.

    2) Kyler obviously hates practical jokes and even proclaims that Matt will not be able to do them ever again once they are married. (Pretty sure that isn't how marriage works, but okay then. ) Since this behavior appears to be a sore spot in their relationship, I would think they should have had a serious conversation about it and reached a compromise before his antics could escalate to this level. Clearly, she and Matt have some issues to work out if they are going to make it.

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) She may be having second-thoughts about her marriage.

    2) She and Kit have a romantic history.

    Other Notes:

    1) I hate that Nancy can't have a serious conversation with Kyler about anything we find or discover that isn't directly related to the search for Matt or Nancy's maid-of-honor duties. There is one item in particular (hint: you find it in the garden) that I would have really liked to ask her about. Also, we don't get to talk to her about her relationship with Kit at all. I'm pretty sure she never even tells Nancy about their history, and when Nancy asks about Kit not being in the wedding party, she either lies about what Matt said (or Matt lied to her) or decides that Nancy doesn't need to know this relevant piece of information about her and Kit.

    2) I really do not understand why she asks Nancy to be her maid-of-honor. It has been years since she saw Nancy, and it doesn't really sound like they keep in touch. Being chosen as a maid-of-honor is not just an honor reserved for a person closest to the bride, like a best friend or sister; it comes with serious duties and responsibilities relating to planning the wedding, bachelorette party, and bridal shower. The maid-of-honor is charged with ensuring everything goes right from start to finish at pre-wedding events and on the big day so the bride can relax and enjoy herself. It's not exactly like being a wedding planner, but comparable and equally stressful, if not more so. Even with a wedding as small as Kyler's seems to be, it's just not realistic to have your maid-of-honor do nothing but show up right before the wedding.

    Kit Foley - friend to Matt and Kyler, Kyler's ex-boyfriend, wedding guest, and landscaper


    1) Honestly, I've got nothing. He's kind of cute, I guess.

    1) Oh boy, where to begin?! I am really not keen on Kit at all, but my biggest problem with him is just how awful of a friend he is to both Kyler and Matt. While he and I share the same sentiments about Kyler and Matt's relationship, I have a hard time believing that his motivations for splitting them up are pure. As the player, we are only given a narrow view of Kyler and Matt's relationship, so it might actually be better and healthier than it looks. However, Kit bringing up his concerns about their relationship right before the wedding seems suspicious to me. If it has really been bad all this time, why didn't he say something before it got to this point? It really isn't his business, but if he was truly concerned about them, he should have said something earlier. The fact that he is very obviously still holding onto feelings for Kyler, who I believe is completely over him, would be lamentable if he wasn't going around trying to break them up. He may not be able to help that he still has feelings for her, but that's no excuse for him trying to ruin his friends' happiness or being happy about the circumstance Kyler is in during the course of the game.

    2) I don't want to say too much here, but that man is a compulsive liar and nothing could convince me otherwise.

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Lies. Lies all the time.

    2) Complicated history with Kyler.

    Donal Delaney - caretaker at Castle Malloy, folklore enthusiast, proud Irishman

    1) Good ol' Donal. Though he is certainly stubborn as a mule and can be a bit curmudgeonly, he is generally a helpful fellow and one of the more interesting conversationalists of the game.

    2) Knows some interesting Irish folklore and tells great stories.


    1) Complete chore-master. I'm not sure who would win in a contest between him and Kyler.

    2) He holds grudges against the English. If you know The Republic of Ireland's history, then it is not hard to see why, but it's still unfortunate that he clearly has such a distaste for English people that he would celebrate a possible Fae abduction.

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Obviously, he hates Matt and has had a lot of conflict with him.

    2) He wants Kyler to marry Kit.

    3) He knows Castle Malloy better than anyone else.

    Matt Simmons - bridegroom-to-be, English prankster


    1) There isn't a whole lot to be said about Matt, for reasons that shall not be named. He is portrayed in a rather one-note, two-dimensional way throughout the game, which doesn't give much to go on as far as his personality. He's a prankster, and that's about all we know. I do think he loves Kyler though, so that's one good thing about him.


    1) He enjoys pranks a little too much. It is disrespectful and rude to play a prank on your significant other right before your wedding. That's a high tension, stressful time for a bride, and he should have known better than to add to that stress.

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) He's missing and has been so for days. Unless he is at fault for his disappearance, then there isn't any reason to suspect him for making himself vanish.

    Music: Anyone who has read my previous reviews can attest to the fact that I care deeply about the music in these games, whether I think it is remarkable, horrible, or somewhere in between. I wouldn't say that music can make or break a game the way plot and characters can, but, no matter what I play, what tends to sway my judgment of a game is how much I loved (or at least noticed) the music while playing. Again, a bad game cannot be saved by good music anymore than a great game can be irreparably damaged by it, but video game music is a big deal to me. I will think about and appreciate a game more if it has a stellar soundtrack or score, and The Haunting of Castle Malloy is one of those games. As I've already said in this review, I grew up with an intense admiration of Irish culture and music, which manifested itself in a variety of ways from requesting music lessons for the low whistle and penny whistle to taking Irish step dance classes for six years. As such, Irish and Irish-sounding music stirs up a lot of nostalgic feelings and positive memories beyond my general aesthetic appreciation of it. Naturally, that makes me a tough critic as well, but I love every single composition in the soundtrack. It is one of my all-time favorites soundtracks from the games.

    Since it would take me an eternity to talk about what I love in every piece, I will discuss my absolute favorite track, "Nursery." "Nursery" is easily my favorite piece and also the most dynamic in the soundtrack. It starts with the haunting sound of a xylophone--giving a distinct music-box sound that is so unsettling in the context of the nursery itself--over sustained strings playing a truly dissonant chord. Everything about it is so gentle and yet it makes you feel so deeply unsettled and uncomfortable. Then, Fiona's sweeping, somber theme takes over the melody with the uilleann pipes and low whistle, accompanied by the xylophone and perhaps plucked strings or harp (it's hard to tell). It's such a beautiful melody anyway, which we hear again in the track "Fiona," but this version of it is a little softer and less grand, which is why I prefer it.

    One last thing worth noting about this game's soundtrack is how it is perfectly balanced. There are tracks that are more lighthearted, like "Grand" and "Brendan," and tracks that are haunting and sad, like "Fiona" and "Past." Even the eeriest tracks, like "Bog" and "Map," are as beautiful as they are unsettling, which perfectly encapsulates the sense of mournfulness and longing found in traditional Irish music, especially the ballads. Of course, there are some traditional Irish tunes in the game as well, including "Drops of Brandy" (which I have danced a slip jig to before), that are featured in the drum mini-game. (It should go without saying that I love them all.) Truly, I don't think Kevin Manthei could have done a more spectacular job capturing that Celtic sound and did so without it sounding clichéd. Brilliant, beautiful soundtrack!

    Puzzles: For a game that is seriously puzzle-heavy, I am happy to say that it has many excellent puzzles, but it, unfortunately, suffers from one of the worst and most despised puzzles in the series as well. As always, I have sorted each puzzle into five categories and will provide a short explanation for why I feel they belong in those categories.

    Great: Dollhouse puzzle, leprechaun puzzle, seating chart puzzle, bog crossing puzzle

    The dollhouse puzzle is one of my favorites in the game. I'm a sucker for a good logic puzzle, hence why every puzzle in this category fits that description, but this one is so creative and, frankly, adorable. It's challenging without being too difficult to understand or solve. The leprechaun puzzle is much easier, but I still think it's pretty fun and creative. The seating chart puzzle is another really fun one, but the fact that the "guests" are all named after past characters is a cool Easter Egg. My favorite puzzle in the game is easily the bog crossing puzzle. As I've said before, I like puzzles that don't hold your hand, and I think the bog puzzle is the perfect example of that. The game gives you a tool to determine the solution, but it doesn't tell you the trick, which isn't apparent to everyone immediately (or ever, in some cases). I like the puzzle's length too.

    Good: Jet pack instructions puzzle, mixed drinks puzzle, Bug Bane puzzle, Standing Stones puzzle, sheep shearing puzzle

    The puzzles in this category were either creative, fun, or both, but not as much as those I put in the previous category. In terms of difficulty, they are all easier, excepting the Standing Stones puzzle, than the great puzzles as well, which is probably why I put them here instead. Of these puzzles, my favorite is the sheep shearing, though I honestly like botching the shearing sometimes because Nancy's reaction is so hilarious. The sheep are absolutely adorable, too, so not doing the math means I can look at more sheep (i.e., a bad shearing job nets you half the wool as a normal/good result).

    Mediocre: Window puzzle, otter puzzle, Difference Detective, Darts Away, gem puzzle, Celtic crosses and wall puzzle, bouquet puzzle, sheep collecting puzzle, wires puzzle, rocket puzzle

    All of the puzzles in this category are mediocre in my opinion. They don't really stand out one way or another, but they add something to the game. Of them, my favorite is probably Difference Detective or the bouquet puzzle, simply because gathering flowers is a lovely activity and Kyler's choices are beautiful.

    Bad: Stacked rings puzzle, scale puzzle, slider puzzle, gear puzzle, stairs puzzle

    It should go without saying that the reason these puzzles are bad is that they are all reused or variations of puzzles in previous games. None of them provide anything fun or positive to the game at all, and the reward for solving them, beyond progressing in the game, is generally not exciting either.

    Horrible: Bodhrلn puzzle, desk code puzzle, CHEMICAL PUZZLE

    I'll get to the absolute worst puzzle momentarily, but I want to explain why the drum and desk code puzzles are in this category first. The drum puzzle would actually be really fun if the drum beats were connected to the music at all. Unless I am just awful at that game--and I don't think I am--the rhythm does not match the tempo of the music if played within the circle as intended. I love hearing the traditional Irish songs, but I cannot stand how poorly the bodhrلn drum matches. Furthermore, the desk code puzzle is just unnecessarily difficult and its solutions are vague. If that puzzle was placed within CRY, I would be primed to think about those kind of answers, but I really had no idea what I was supposed to do and could not easily refer to the list either while gallivanting about the castle and its grounds. It's so annoying. Nonetheless, the most annoying puzzle award goes to the infamous chemical puzzle. Words cannot accurately describe my hatred for this puzzle, which is made worse by the unskippable explosion, Good News/Bad News, and fatal error screens. Now, I have made it through that puzzle without dying, but I have also died around twenty times as well. I think my great dislike of it has only grown with time. It is too long and has the worst controls ever. It should NOT exist.

    Graphics: Like its predecessor, this game's graphics seem to be going through a bit of an awkward phase as they refine things. The environmental graphics are on par with the games in this era, if not marginally better than The Phantom of Venice's graphics, but the "map" graphics and Nancy's overhead model are pretty hideous in comparison. The character graphics, however, range from mildly hideous to genuinely terrifying, though their textures are better than The Phantom of Venice's models as well. There is one character in particular that is animated worse than the rest, which I will not name for sake of spoilers, but I can understand not putting as much time into this character given their limited appearance in the game. The banshee is probably the most impressive--that hair!--but Kyler is somehow scarier to me, especially in her wedding portrait. I think it's her eye makeup that I find the most disturbing, but something about her looks so off to me. Her nose is unnaturally long as well, which is something shared by all of the character models in this era. Still, all of them are quite expressive, which is wonderful.

    Ending: Altogether, I think the ending of this game is poorly handled, though certain aspects of it certainly hold merit. Everything that leads up to the culprit reveal is splendidly done, though I still wish a slightly larger portion of the game's plot was dedicated to that subject, as I have stated already. I remember being absolutely shocked when the culprit reveal happened, even though I had already come to the same conclusion long before the actual reveal. Still, after feeling a small bit of dread every time I was in the specific location of the reveal, I was terrified when the confrontation actually happened, especially when Nancy went on a little trip. I could not believe Nancy fell for that one.

    Anyway, after the culprit reveal, I think the ending starts on a downward trend. The area Nancy finds herself in is extremely fascinating and not totally unrealistic, but things really get bogged down by the number of awful puzzles in that one area. Plus, the other exciting discovery that occurs in said location is cut short for no reason. For the sake of spoilers, I cannot go into the level of detail required to make any argument about why this was done, but I found it extremely disappointing that I only had one genuine opportunity to interact with said discovery. (Also, how could Nancy have missed seeing said discovery before pulling that switch? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.) Instead, our time is filled with ridiculous, awful puzzles that culminate in one specific incident that is completely outlandish.

    This, naturally, takes us to an interesting cutscene--what WERE those two characters talking about--and concludes with the ending letter. As I cannot discuss the specifics of the ending without getting into massive spoiler territory, I just want to say that the ending, especially this section, felt way too expository. Given the nature of the culprit, I understand why the ending had so much exposition, but for it to come from the specific discovery post-culprit-reveal and then again in the ending letter was excessive. There should have been more clues and in-game content that could lead the player to such a conclusion, especially on the culprit's fate. Everything about that scenario seems a little outlandish to me. Not impossible, but certainly unlikely. For the sake of spoilers, my hands are tied, but I will say that it would be nearly impossible for no one to notice a specific, unusual presence (or at least lack of total absence when...investigating). Therefore, I think the ending is, at best, unrealistic and poorly executed.

    Other points of interest: The voice acting in this game is as good as any other game in the series, but none of the performances really stood out to me. Their performances suffer from bad accents--not Tom Cruise in Far and Away bad, but bad all the same--and there aren't a lot of opportunities to talk to characters either, which could be why none of the lines stick out in my mind. The lines that comes immediately to mind is "You have a lead?" and "Dibs on the potatoes," if that says anything. I think Donal's performance was probably the most convincing and entertaining.

    The only thing of note in this game that I can talk about in this section is the overhead "map" and jet pack feature. Seeing Nancy is something fans have been dreaming of for a long, long time, so I remember being thrilled with the bird's-eye view of Nancy when the game first came out. However, I thought Nancy's body looked a little awkward, and it was obvious to me later that she "walked" while the "map" moved instead of her. The perspective on the map is a little weird too. Honestly, I am not that crazy about it, and I am glad that it didn't carry over into other games beyond Ransom of the Seven Ships. I think HeR found more clever, albeit awkward and hilarious, ways for us to get a glimpse of Nancy later.

    The Takeaway: The Haunting of Castle Malloy has a lot of major problems in its plot and characters, which are, to me, the most important factors in game design. Nonetheless, the game has beautiful music, fun puzzles, gorgeous environmental visuals, and a captivating, memorable atmosphere that continuously bring me back. It may not be the best entry in the series by a long shot, but it still makes for a largely enjoyable time. For those reasons, I give this game five and a half stars out of ten.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. My answer depends on what you find most important in a Nancy Drew game or video game in general. This game suffers from a cast of pretty dull characters and has some plot issues, but it has an incredible atmosphere, lovely music, and great puzzles. Even with its issues, I still find it fun to play and I never skip over it in my marathons. So, think about what you like about a game personally, make your decision based on that, but I would definitely say to still give this one a chance. If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, I don't think you will completely regret this one. If you've got a good many games under your belt and you're looking for another game to play, I would recommend looking at something else first, unless you are charmed by the superb music and atmosphere. If you are new to the ND games, I would recommend choosing another game with a strong plot that also has significantly better characters. If you're in the mood for a scary game, this is definitely not among the scariest of the scary games, but it has great atmosphere and some spooky moments. If you would like to play one of my favorite Nancy Drew games, try out 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 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 Ransom of the Seven Ships within the next week, barring any more real-life events that cause delays, and I will continue to post them as I try to finish up my 2018 Nancy Drew Marathon before 2019 need to pay ransom for this next review.

    Previous review: The Phantom of Venice
    Next review: Ransom of the Seven Ships

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; November 19, 2021, 05:41 PM.