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A Longtime Fan's Review of a Favorite

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  • A Longtime Fan's Review of a Favorite

    Disclaimer: this was my first ND game, so it’s my favorite, even all these years later. Nostalgia has a strong pull for me. Even with a degree in history, I just can't fault this game for its inaccuracies.

    Plot: Nancy’s Wisconsin ski-vacation is derailed by a blizzard that’s snowed her and the other inhabitants of Wickford Castle in. Wickford Castle is notable for the dead ends built into the halls, and the French tower imported eighty years ago and rebuilt onto the castle. The tower was one where the late Queen Marie Antoinette used to visit prior to her execution during the French Revolution. Unfortunately, not only is the tower closed, but the castle’s library has been vandalized and the caretaker suspects one of the castle’s guests! Nancy’s investigations lead her down a wild rabbit hole full of intrigue, historical drama, and danger as she chases after a vandal that left no trace.

    History: I have an undergrad degree in history, and I focused on women’s history. I was fascinated with royal women in my girlhood (as I stupidly thought those were the only women in history who ever said/did anything). There’s no chance in the world that a French tower Marie Antoinette used to visit would ever be shipped off to an obscure Wisconsin castle to serve the whims of a bizarre, wealthy American. Nor would such a tower ever be capable of reconstruction. I like the idea, however, and some of the history is made-up, but a lot of it is probably quite feasible (like Marie Antoinette probably didn’t actually say “let them eat cake” when she learned of her citizens starving). Someone else joked about National Treasure, and I agree: a little bit of historical fiction is fine, provided you don’t take it as the whole truth and nothing but the truth (I'm officially a lawyer on Monday, so I'm owed some jokes I think).

    Characters: My favorite cast so far. They’re all relatively likeable (except for Mr. Egan, the caretaker, who is rather rude until later in the game) at first. Lisa Ostrum is a young photojournalist a mere ten (?) years older than our Nancy and seems to be an interesting, worldly woman. (I don’t quite buy Nancy being sixteen in this game. I’m thinking early twenties/nineteen at the youngest, so Lisa’s twenty-six years would be a mere seven years older than Nancy in my head-canon.) Professor Beatrice Hotchkiss is an eccentric historian (like me!) who specializes in French history and believes Queen Marie Antoinette was wronged by historians (just as I do), so she’s out here to ski and uncover the truth. Jacques Brunais is the handsome French ski instructor hiding from a sordid past out here in Wisconsin. Dexter Egan is the cranky, older man looking after Wickford Castle since the actual owner, Christi Lane, is out of town. Is his crankiness hiding something else?

    Voice Acting and Other Character “Things”: Mr. Egan’s VA mispronounces “library” and I flinch every time. Some of Nancy’s lines are spoken with a bizarre girlish naivete that makes me wonder about the direction. Lisa sometimes sounds way too young, but I suppose that could have to do with her background. Jacques’ French accent sounds organic, and I would be very surprised if he wasn’t voiced by a Frenchman or at least someone fluent in the language. Hotchkiss, whoever was voicing her, was having fun as every line is just spot-on in terms of tone, inflection, and mood. The voice and gesticulation of her character make her so charming! Indeed, all of what I just listed makes Hotchkiss my favorite character in any ND game as it all contributes to her unapologetic assertion of self that makes her so endearing as a character.

    Graphics: I feel like I need to address this… the game was released in 2001. Things look older. You even have to use special instructions to install this game and get past a known file error. However, I found that even by modern standards this game isn’t too bad graphically. It holds up better than other games made in the same timeframe from my childhood of both gaming and reading (some of which have served as ample meme material thanks to the internet). The castle is opulent and detailed down the wooden textures in the library, the detail on the castle’s stonework, the detail on characters like Hotchkiss who are meant to be older and wear their years so well. Lisa also has the youthful enthusiasm of a younger reporter fresh to her profession but looks her age. I loved her hair, as a short-haired lady myself (represent!).

    Puzzles: There’s quite a few in this game. Some of these puzzles I felt should’ve been disbanded with after you get to a certain point in the game, given what a specific character tells you. However, as my sister told me, programming that in at this point may have been difficult or delayed things further (this game took a whole year to develop). The other puzzles are simple to figure out, which I liked, if you looked hard enough and paid attention. Some of them just required instinctual fiddling (you know, the ones where you enter a trance and eventually the puzzle just clicks, Nancy goes “a-ha,” or you trigger a cutscene) even with a hint.

    Culprit/Ending: It’s obvious. You’ll know who it is early in the game. I didn’t notice the culprit much as a kid because I was a child, among other reasons, or maybe I did and I’m really discrediting my young self? In any case, I don’t think the obviousness of the ending detracts from the journey to get there in any way. I love the atmosphere of this game and the other characters too much to let the ending get me down. I don’t think catching the culprit was too easy or too hard, but I did find some of the culprit’s ending lines… hilarious now, I guess? They’re a bit cheesy… to the point of “who would actually say this, even in 2001?” Oh, and the weapon the culprit uses on Nancy is ridiculous. I didn’t quite “buy” how Nancy was incapacitated. I get that these games were for kids (I got my copy through a Scholastic book order), but… come on, now. Kids can handle a bit maturity and tension as, again, that raises stakes and also makes them feel like they’re being treated seriously. You could still keep the tone of the game serious and maintain a young audience if the weapon was something more believable or dangerous; some of the other games in this series have managed it, after all. Still, the animation of that scene is impressive.

    Final thoughts: Professor Hotchkiss remains one of my favorite characters to this day. She reminds me of my advisor in undergrad, whom everyone thought of as a crotchety old woman that hated us all. That advisor became one of my favorite professors, as I came to love her bluntness and wit. It’s the same way with Hotchkiss, although Hotchkiss has a better sense of humor (admittedly, my professor had seen a lifetime of sexism from her tenure in history). Hotchkiss also returns in a later game to offer advice, so it’s worth seeing and speaking with her in person, as she’s only a phone buddy later on. The puzzles also aren’t too difficult, making this game a good one for those who dislike tension and racing against a clock. If you can get past the utter fiction of transporting a French tower (secrets and all) to an obscure part of the midwestern United States for the whims of an American man with too much money, then this is definitely the game for you. There is also a lot of interesting character depth to each of the cast that make this such a memorable game to play. I hope you give this one a chance, installation woes and all, because it’s my favorite and so many other fans’ favorites for a reason. Adieu!

    Rating: 10/10 (But we all knew that.)
    "Rock and roll, dear!" - Professor Hotchkiss, Treasure in the Royal Tower