The Secret of Shadow Ranch is a unique Nancy Drew game because of its setting. No other game in the Nancy Drew series resembles the ranch, desert, ghost town backdrop created in this mystery and for that reason I enjoy the Secret of Shadow Ranch. However the plot itself is not unique and sort of resembles that of Message in a Haunted Mansion, as they both involve the culprit staging accidents in order to find hidden treasure.

With that being said, this game isn’t really as much of a mystery as much as it is Nancy going on a treasure hunt. Most of the game progresses from following clues left behind by the infamous Dirk Valentine. While this is fun and all, it is a little disappointing that Nancy does only a little investigating about the actual accidents that take place on the ranch. I did love the elaborate history that was incorporated into this game about Frances Humber and her outlaw boyfriend, Dirk Valentine. What enhanced the game was that voice actors were hired for the roles of Dirk, Frances, and Frances’ father Merrill to read those characters’ respective notes (you are also able to skip the readings if you don’t care to listen to them). It made the history come to live, and I really wish that this story-telling technique could have been utilized in other Nancy Drew games.

I enjoyed all of the characters in this game. Tex has an intimidating personality but his character development deepens throughout the game, and there’s a likeableness to the straight-forward way that he speaks. Dave is a little bland but he’s nice to Nancy, and he also develops throughout the game. The one farmhand that I disliked was Shorty. I think that he was meant to provide comic relief during the game he comes across as more obnoxious than funny. There’s also Mary Yazzie who operates the store near Shadow Ranch. I like that she has an interesting connection with the ranch and wasn’t just placed in the game as a fourth character.

Nancy completes a lot of chores in this game, which takes some time away from solving the mystery, but they’re pretty easy to complete. She picks vegetables, collects eggs, picks up firewood (my favorite is when she chops up the bigger pieces), bakes a cake, and feeds the horses and chickens. There’s quite a few puzzles in this game but none of them are time-consuming, unlike in the later Nancy Drew games that have a habit of throwing in a lot of long puzzles. The gameplay in that respect is very enjoyable.

As mentioned before, the setting is unique. The main part of the setting is the Rawley’s property. Their house, though lacking bedrooms and bathrooms, does resemble someone’s actual house. There are all the homey touches of decoration and the majority of the books on the bookshelf do not look alike. Next is Mary’s store. Though small, there’s a lot to look around in. The sound department also nailed the creak of the floor when Nancy walks around—it is so perfect! The trail stop and the cliffs aren’t super excited, but the ghost town makes up for that. The ghost town is deliciously creepy and has two buildings that can be explored.

There are other fun parts in this game. First is that Nancy rides a horse and can do barrel-racing. She also uses a lasso during various parts of the game. In the ghost town, there’s a fun slot machine-like game where you want to create a gang of Wild West villains. It should also be mentioned that this is the first Nancy Drew game with the updated interface—a huge improvement. I like that it maintains the old menu screen but has improved the inventory and conversation panel.

Though the Secret of Shadow Ranch has an unoriginal plot that lacks a substantial mystery, it does contain a unique setting and enjoyable gameplay. For that reason, I would rank this game to be an average Nancy Drew game.