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A Veteran's Review of TOT

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  • A Veteran's Review of TOT

    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: Nancy is called in by none other than P.G. Krolmeister to investigate a series of equipment malfunctions plaguing a team of storm researchers he sponsors. The malfunctions have led to a number of accidents, the latest resulting in a broken leg and destroyed car. Team leader, Scott Varnell, blames Krolmeister for saddling them with old, subpar equipment, but Krolmeister believes that the blame may actually lie with an saboteur. Either way, he wants Nancy to go undercover as his niece and work as the team's new intern. With a $100,000,000 research grant from the Green Skies competition in the mix, the stakes are high and tensions are higher. Can Nancy determine the cause of the accidents before the team loses their chances of winning? Is it really the equipment or is there something more sinister at work? It's up to you as Nancy Drew.

    It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone when I say that I dislike this game's plot. When I first saw the teaser trailer, I knew immediately that the game had little chance of being decent. Now, please understand that I have been fascinated by tornadoes and meteorology my entire life, so my lack of faith wasn't based on a lack of interest in tornadoes or meteorology. Nonetheless, I knew that the game would not be able to handle the material without it being boring or completely unrealistic. There's a reason why the only two "tornado movies" that come to mind are The Wizard of Oz and Twister (unless you count Sharknado...which I definitely do not). One is definitely more realistic than the other, but Twister definitely added some Hollywood magic to Twister to make it a more entertaining movie. Nancy Drew games are educational, so I knew that the likelihood of adding anything unrealistic for the sake of spectacle was unlikely. Plus, the E10+ rating and limitations on game design didn't allow for a lot, since tornadoes are inherently violent.

    Thus, what we were left with was something that only had the potential to be boring plot-wise. First of all, the teaser trailer talks about a string of equipment failures, but then reveals that there is a saboteur among the team. Where is the mystery in that? I feel like they were going for a MHM-type formula with the game, but then completed failed since any logical, natural explanation (i.e., not caused by human, animal, or supernatural interference) for meteorological equipment malfunctions would be boring and out of the writers' and most players' depths. Even worse, being told that a teammate is the saboteur leaves little room for doubt about the culprit choice. All you need to do is look for the most disgruntled person, and there you go. Case closed, mystery solved. Honestly, there isn't much else to say about the plot because this game really doesn't have a plot.

    If you are genuinely interested in tornadoes and storm chasers, I highly recommend you read about Tim Samaras' work and that of the TWISTEX team before the 2013 El Reno tornado. You can watch some really amazing footage from Dan Robinson, Reed Timmer, and Pecos Hank (be sure to check out footage of the 2016 Katie/Wynnewood tornado, the 2014 Twin Nebraska Tornadoes, and the 2016 Dodge City tornado), as well as listen to the terrifying sounds of the 2011 Joplin tornado. Given the nature of the content and the devastation tornadoes cause, just a warning that you may find some things upsetting.

    Setting: I don't have a lot to say about the setting, but I think it is extremely charming. I've never been to the Midwest (I know Oklahoma might not be considered Midwest, but to a South Carolinian, it's the Midwest), but the idea of flat land and unlittered skylines is as thrilling as it is bewildering. Wide, open plains and endless sky? Beautiful. Old farmhouses, plowed fields, and cow pastures? Lovely. Sure, I can see those in the South, but there really is something about a farmhouse on the plains that hits different. So charming. Anyway, I think the farmhouse in the game, while a little run-down, is really cute and very sunny inside, which I love. However, Ma and Pa's General Store is by far the cutest location in the game. It has that level of quirk, quaintness, and charm that is only achieved by small, family-owned businesses. Love it! I do wish there were more genuine places to go though.

    Characters: Not much to say about the characters because the game doesn't take the time to develop them at all, which is unfortunate. Still, I will do my usual breakdown.

    Scott Varnell - Canute Storm Chasers team leader, associate professor at Canute College

    1) Passionate about tornadoes...or at least used to be

    1) Redirects blame for everything

    2) Invalidates others' experiences

    3) Extremely pessimistic

    4) Hostile and rude

    5) Refuses to acknowledge success or positive attributes in teammates

    6) External locus of control

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Obviously disgruntled

    2) Resentful of his teammates, Krolmeister, and his place of employment

    3) Unmotivated to win the competition; seems to think it is over

    Other Notes:

    1) Scott has no redeemable qualities. I do not like him at all.

    Debbie Kircum - second-in-command of Canute team, recent PhD graduate from Canute College

    1) Extremely passionate about tornadoes and meteorology

    2) Hardworking

    3) Passionate about and involved in theatre

    4) Clearly wants to win the competition

    5) Smart


    1) Gives Nancy unending chores

    2) Yells all the time

    3) Doesn't believe Nancy about anything she says or notices

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Conspiring with Frosty about something

    2) Obvious irritation with Scott and his behavior

    Other Notes:

    1) I don't really mind Debbie at all, but I wish she didn't always yell at Nancy to go to bed. She only talks to you to give you more chores, which is awful. I think she would be a really cool, likable person if you could actually have a conversation with her.

    Chase Relerford - Canute team handyman, (former?) student at Canute College

    1) Hardworking

    2) Kind

    3) Humble

    4) Friendly

    1) Gets a little sassy with Nancy sometimes (this isn't really a con; I had a hard time trying to find something since we don't talk to him that much and he is really nice)

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Potentially looking for oil

    2) Working as a mechanic and handyman gives him unlimited access to the equipment, which he could easily sabotage

    Other Notes:

    1) This guy reminds me so much of Trip from Star Trek: Enterprise for some reason. Trip is a way better character though.

    Tobias "Frosty" Harlow - Canute team photographer, Canute College grad student, nature photographer


    1) Nice

    2) Friendly

    3) Complimentary

    4) Looks out for Nancy and warns her about Scott's tirades

    5) Helps with her photographing
    1) Insults Nancy when mad

    2) Places unnecessary blame on Nancy with the video camera
    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) Up to something with Debbie

    2) Might be a liar
    Other Notes:

    1) Like Chase, there really aren't a lot of opportunities to talk to Frosty, so I don't have much to say about him. It's a shame he isn't fleshed out more. His scream and fear of mice is absolutely adorable. I'm unsure of his ethnicity, but I'm certain he is a POC. Yay for more diversity! (Also, can we talk about how Nancy is always suspicious of people of color if they want or have a car or expensive object that she thinks is above their pay grade? Jeez, Nancy...)

    2) When the incident with the video camera happens, I legitimately take stills with Nancy's phone. Any good photographer would have a backup camera or two just in case something went wrong, as well as dashcam footage. Plus, Nancy was there and could have been a second shooter. Unnecessary drama.

    "Pa" Ochs - owner of Ma and Pa's General Store, theatre enthusiast, precious grandpa to all he meets

    1) Precious

    2) Adorable

    3) Extremely kindhearted

    4) Cares about the safety and well-being of others

    5) Loving

    6) Doesn't like to gossip

    7) Loves theatre but gets stage fright

    7) Cares about his community

    1) None

    Reasons for Suspicion:

    1) He hates tornadoes and doesn't like that people go recklessly chasing after them, which he believes can only mean trouble.
    Other Notes:

    1) I do wish we could have a conversation with him about Ma once Nancy learns the truth, but I respect that it isn't our place to pry. I get him lying was his was of protecting himself and almost living in denial, but I wish he had come clean later, even if he didn't want to talk about it at length.

    2) It's insane how much Pa looks like one of my grandfathers. That makes me like him even more.

    Music: I'm not really a country or bluegrass person at all, but I have to say that this soundtrack gets my feet tapping without fail. That being said, I actually really like this soundtrack and how well it fits the atmosphere. There are sunny, happy pieces that make me think about driving down a dirt road in a red pickup with the windows down, like "Bluegrass" and "Dance," and the lazy compositions "Country" and "Tension" and that make me want to sit in a rocking chair out on the front porch with a glass of sweet tea. Then, there are epic, tense pieces like "Chase," "Storm," and "Danger" that truly sound like they came straight out of a movie score. I find "Chase" and "Storm" to be particularly impressive, and the instrumentation (not sure if it is a full-scale orchestra) is perfect to represent the power of a tornado and the terror of being confronted by one. "Prairie" is a bit of an oddball on the soundtrack, but I like that it pays homage to Indigenous music, especially given the history of the location. "Plains" is another unusual one, in that there are no composition quite like it, but I love how it starts off really sweet and simple and then crescendos and builds onto the music. I feel like Kevin Manthei was envisioning a sunrise on the plains, and I think he nailed it. Anyway, it isn't my favorite soundtrack, but I really don't have anything bad to say about it either.

    Puzzles: Well, if there is one thing in this game that isn't in short supply, it's the puzzles. There are so many puzzles. TOO many puzzles, honestly, compared to things in the game that would have made it better and more substantial plot-wise. As usual, I have broken the puzzles down into five categories.

    Great: Video camera programming

    I love this puzzle. I would legitimately solve this kind of puzzle for hours on end if I could. (Hence why I always finish the entire Renograms book every time I play SAW and am still not satisfied. ) Even though it has nothing to do with programming a video camera, I love it so much.

    Good: Filing chore, tornado quiz, county siren chart, LED display, weather balloon boards, Land Rush, cloud spotting/pictures, prairie dog vacuum, Fujita Scale puzzle, mice catching, phone jack repair, TV repair, wire crossing puzzle, chasing the culprit

    As you can see by the high volume of puzzles in this category, I think most of the puzzles in this game are pretty good. The ones I listed here have varying degrees of difficulty, but I like them all. The Fujita/Enhanced Fujita Scale puzzle, cloud spotting puzzle, and tornado quiz are all educational and fun. (Since I have been a cloud nerd since elementary school and tornado enthusiast forever, I aced those puzzles without any in-game help.) My favorite puzzles are probably the mice catching and prairie dog vacuum puzzles, and obviously Land Rush since it is so fun to play.

    Mediocre: Sprinkler system, sensor alignment, snack display, antennae reconstruction, transmission gears, Grange key puzzle

    All of the puzzles in this category are pretty standard. Variations of them have been across many of the games, and I didn't really find them all too enjoyable or inspired. The Grange key puzzle was like the one in FIN, but I think the situation with FIN is infinitely more tense. Debbie not having her Grange keys was just irresponsible, and I don't think that fits her character at all.

    Bad: Disaster kit shopping puzzle, Doppler machine

    Shopping for the disaster skit supplies is actually super creative. I wouldn't hate this puzzle if it wasn't so hard. Maybe it's just me and I overthink it, but I remember failing at the puzzle so many times because I thought the order the items were picked up in mattered as part of the discount. I'm sure I could have solved it easily if I had sat there and done the math each time, but I never feel like putting that much effort into saving a dollar. The Doppler machine has confusing, unclear instructions and Scott only says them one time, so I always forget that I'm supposed to press the green button after flipping three switches.

    Horrible: Meeting location puzzle

    Honestly, I still have no clue how to solve this one. I think there must be an item in the game that I never looked at to get the dates for the dew points and stuff, but it's just a whole lot of work and confusing. Again, with clearer instructions, I am sure I could solve it, but I always look up the solution to that one because I don't care enough and am ready to be done with the game by that point.

    Graphics: The environmental graphics for this game are beautiful. I know I have sang praises for them in almost every game thus far, but I remember seeing this game for the first time and thinking, "Wow. That's gorgeous." The lighting, the textures, EVERYTHING about the environmental graphics is superb in this game. Now, the small driving locations aren't quite as polished, but I'm honestly okay with that given how great the main locations look. By contrast, the character graphics are okay. I think they are a definite improvement from WAC--way less cartoonish and really nice facial expressions/maneuverability--but there's still something about them that Regardless, I think they are infinitely better designed in this game than the direct ancestors, so there's that.

    The only thing that I don't like as much is the animation for the driving segments. As I've said before, I'm not super keen on the third-person, bird's-eye views, but I know that saves on animation. Still, I would have loved to see more storm segments and tornadoes in the first-person view instead of from above. The endgame tornado--which I don't even know that I saw the first time I did that segment--is...something. Part of me thinks it is hilarious, and the other is somewhat impressed by it. The tornado that Nancy sees if she takes too long--which I also don't think I saw the first time I played the game--is much more terrifying. I can't imagine what it must be like to try and animate a tornado, so I'm pretty pleased with what they accomplished, though I would have liked to see way more tornadoes in the game than we did. More variety in the appearance of the tornadoes would have nice, like multiple-vortex tornadoes, satellite tornadoes, rain-wrapped tornadoes, wedge tornadoes, rope tornadoes, and cone tornadoes. (Those spindly rope tornadoes give me chills when I see them for whatever reason. *shudders*)

    Ending: Ugh, the ending. Like all the Nancy Drew games of this era, this game's ending gets a one-word description: meh. First of all, we have the culprit confrontation. When Nancy arrives to confront the culprit, I am certain that not a single, solitary person felt like this: . It was an obvious choice from the very beginning, and the choice was poor. The culprit goes on this long-winded rant that has about a 2% connection to the rest of the game (i.e., one thing you can read), so you can't even verify the claims. Not to invalidate the culprit's experiences or anything, but I am not certain how grounded they are in reality. I can say that some of them are definitely not true though. I would LOVE to rant in this section, but I cannot for the sake of spoilers, so...just know that I think the culprit is full of it.

    Moving on, the culprit decides to ramp up the jerk factor by 1000% and knocks Nancy out in the middle of a field when a major tornado is forming. Wow, let's escalate our crimes to include battery and, dare I say, attempted murder! Great job! When Nancy comes to, she is told to drive to the Grange to unlock the storm shelter, which is padlocked for some reason in the middle of tornado season. After that puzzle is solved, Nancy decides to go after the culprit, even though there is a tornado on the ground and she has no way of tracking its location while driving. Dangerous much? Even if the culprit "got away" during the storm, they could easily put out an APB for them and let the authorities catch them after the storm had passed. You know, like you would do in real life! Ughhhhh. So, after having a talk with another character that really comes out of left-field (you know, since there was only one thing in the game that indicated anything relating to that topic), Nancy sets off to chase down the culprit using a tracker on the vehicle, and we have the most exciting driving segment of the game, complete with epic music, debris, and, yes, a tornado tearing across the ground moving NE. I have absolutely no idea why the culprit would be driving like a maniac during a storm, much less directly into the path of the tornado, but they do. Following a wreck that really doesn't make sense between the cutscene and what follows it, Nancy saves the unconscious culprit by hunkering down in the springhouse. (By the way, the animation on that tornado in the cutscene is really nice!)

    This takes us to the ending letter, which is just as confusing as everything else in this game's ending. The culprit receives community service for crimes that I didn't even know were committed. The other punishment they receive makes infinitely more sense. It looks like things aren't going to go well for the teams, but everything seems to work out nicely for everyone, which is good, I guess. Given some of the things that were said by one character earlier in the ending, I am not sure that that person didn't also deserve some kind of warning or censure or...something. Then again, it is unclear whether that person did anything beyond just...pester the culprit. Who knows?! Nothing makes sense in this game. Oh well.

    Other points of interest: The voice acting in this game was fine. I'm not a huge fan of Scott's voice acting. Some of the line deliveries to me. Otherwise, that performance is fine. None of them are super memorable to me, but Debbie's is pleasant, when she isn't yelling at Nancy. Frosty has a really attractive voice; we just don't get to talk to him that much. Chase's voice acting is fine too, but I can tell the actor isn't completely comfortable with the accent. Pa's voice acting, on the other hand, is really nice. It helps that Pa has some of the best lines in the game, which I'm quite certain were written by Nik Blahunka. Still, I think Pa's voice actor nails the delivery The accent is realistic and consistent, the timbre suits a man of Pa's age, and the emotional expression in his voice is perfect.

    There isn't much to say about the driving. I like it way more than I did in RAN. It's more like the driving in CLK, honestly, and I like how the three different cars have different handling. Having to deal with other cars is also pretty entertaining, especially when there's a pile-up. I think my record for most cars in one wreck is seven, plus mine as the eighth. (I left the game running after leaving the pull-off area and sat there for about ten minutes doing something else while the cars piled up. )

    The Takeaway: As I wrap up my thoughts on this game, I just wanted to say that I really wish this game had been stronger. I don't feel like there is a lot to get from it--even educationally--which is sad, given how much opportunity there is to learn about tornadoes, storm chasing, and meteorology. I said at the beginning that approaching this topic could only lead to a boring game, but it didn't have to be. Even if we couldn't spend every second barreling down the highway chasing a tornado, I still think the game could have been exciting in how it portrayed the reality of storm chasing and studying the weather. We barely got to look at a Doppler radar! Anyway, all that being said, I think this game seriously suffers from a lack of plot and character development. I'm not sure if there were delays or what exactly happened there, but this game is easily one of the worst in those departments. Still, the game has fun puzzles, pretty graphics, and great music, so it isn't a total flop. For these reasons, I give this game two stars out of ten.

    So the final question is obviously whether I think you should play this game. If you are a dedicated fan who wants to play all of the games, then I give you my blessing and wish you luck. 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 basically anything else. Even if you love tornadoes like me, you are much better off avoiding this game. If you are new to the ND games, I would recommend giving this one a hard pass. Your introduction needs to be with a much better game. 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 look at this game through fresh eyes or feel validated in their opinion of it, whatever that opinion may be. I should be posting a review of Secrets Can Kill Remastered 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 ends...hope the next one doesn't kill your opinion of these reviews.

    Previous review: Warnings at Waverly Academy
    Next review: Secrets Can Kill Remastered

    Last edited by yukixiaomeimei; November 19, 2021, 02:56 PM.

  • #2
    I completely agree! I just finished this mystery and wanted to play it again because I couldn't remember much about it, and now I know why. Overall, it really isn't a very memorable game (excepting Pa, of course!). I listened to the Unlocked podcast episode with the actor who voiced Pa and it was interesting to hear his perspective on the character. I hope to hear him in another game!


    • #3
      Originally posted by Tri_Sleuths View Post
      I completely agree! I just finished this mystery and wanted to play it again because I couldn't remember much about it, and now I know why. Overall, it really isn't a very memorable game (excepting Pa, of course!). I listened to the Unlocked podcast episode with the actor who voiced Pa and it was interesting to hear his perspective on the character. I hope to hear him in another game!
      Thanks for your reply! I didn't realize there was an interview with Pa's voice actor! I've listened to some of the Unlocked podcasts, but I'll have to make a point of listening to that one! I'm interested to hear what he has to say about his characterization.


      • #4
        This is an amazing review. As a beginner in this game, I learned a lot of new information for myself. As a journalist and author of Orbit news articles, I can say for sure that even we don't write such reviews I wish you success.