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A Longtime Fan's Review

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  • A Longtime Fan's Review

    Disclaimer: I hated high school, although middle school was worse ("let's give the tomboy a makeover, tee-hee!"). This game dragged up a lot of bad memories for me the first time I played it in my sophomore year of undergrad. Now that I'm an attorney looking for work in the middle of a pandemic, I thought, let's play this one again for funsies! I remember this game being really lackluster back then... and that hasn't really changed, sadly.

    Plot: Nancy Drew goes undercover as Becca Sawyer at an elite, east coast boarding school in upstate New York to try and uncover who is menacing valedictorian candidates at Waverly Academy. This mysterious threat is known only as the Black Cat and beyond leaving threatening notes, the Black Cat is finding ways to make students leave the school at the most critical point of the high school year: mid-term study week.

    Setting: Upstate New York is so pretty and quiet. I love it to bits, but I do wish we could’ve seen more of the school beyond the senior dorm, Ramsey Hall. In particular, our sole access to Ramsey Hall involves the first floor and the floor where all the valedictorian candidates live (I’ll get to that later… as it’s such a stupid idea and I can’t wrap my head around it). I wish we could’ve explored more of the grounds. I didn’t mind the setting the way some people did (I found it fine to look at). I wasn’t ever tired of the setting per se; I just wanted more of it.

    Characters: There’s a lot of them. You’re on the floor with several other seniors, all of whom are in the running to be valedictorian: the goth outsider musician Mel; the obnoxious jock athlete Leela (whose eyes best even the Disney-ist of princesses and look ridiculous); the snobbish queen-bee Izzy who reminded me of the worst parts of high school; the bookish Corine, your roommate, whom no one likes because she tries too hard to be liked (oh, HER, you'll get more points from me if you just let bullies be terrible to nice people; the way it is in real life); and the flaky Rachel mathlete from Pittsburgh. They’re all quite shallow and stereotypical, though Mel and Rachel have some depth to them even on a replay.

    Graphics: Rachel’s shoulders seem off, and her entire torso looks really constrained in that blazer. However, her complexion, expressions, and gestures are easily the most believable of the bunch. Her hair has realistic movement (she pushes it behind her ear, y’all, and it looks natural!). The others are… blocky and awkward looking at the best of times. Mel, bless her soul (I love her pants, as I’d rock that), looks iffy, but she’d be passable in an older ND game than this one. Her expressions give me life. Corine looks pretty good too, as again, I love how rich her skin color is, how believable her expressions were, though I do wish I’d gotten to see her hair more as it kind of blends into the drapes behind her. I wanted to see how her hair moved, as she’s African-American with natural curls. Hair physics are a big deal for me, as I game outside ND. It’s one of the things I often judge other games for, to be frank. xD Izzy, another girl of color in this series, has static, short bobbed curls that don’t move despite her being one of the more expressive characters. Neither do those hoops she’s wearing. Leela is a mess. Her eyes are comically large for her head, and her mouth is too small, her ponytail/hairline just looks bizarre to me. The graphics here are iffy. I can tell which characters were given special care and attention, and which were clearly rushed. Not a good look, HER.

    Subplot: Yes, there is one here. I won’t go too into it, but if you like Edgar Allen Poe and gutsy Victorian female founders of all-girls schools, you’ll like this one. Rita Hallowell, a founder of the Waverly Academy from the 19th Century, may have left something beneath the school. Her mysterious death at the age of forty-one has led to speculation and rumor about her demise, alongside whether she ever truly left. These types of plots can be done well, as seen in TRT, and I call it the “stumbling into the mystery plot.” The problem here is that ND is already on a case, so some found it cheap that the subplot essentially takes over and supplants the main plot.

    Besides that issue, my biggest problem with this subplot is that you never really get to know who Rita was as a person, what she was like, what her interests were, if she liked her students, etc. All you know is that she adored Edgar Allen Poe’s writing, maybe a bit too much. I’m an eccentric, quiet type of person too (though that’s changed a lot since high school), but I just don’t believe half the things we learn about Ms. Hallowell in this game. Not just in a “really, we’re doing this again, HER” way, but also in a “that’s just not plausible.” That has to do with how large the school is, the role each founder would’ve played relative to the other founders in how the building was constructed (in terms of authority to build all those passages and whatnot), etc. I could believe this in TRT because it’s explained plausibly there, but here… I just couldn’t, probably because of how little we get to see of Waverly Academy to make the space plausible.

    Other things to note:

    Likeable characters: Rachel, when you get to know her, is quite endearing and friendly. Her standoffish and flaky demeanor is perfectly explained. She’s also quite kind, although we interact with her in very small doses due to how busy she is. Mel is quite likeable, as she was me in high school without a doubt (well, I was a mix between her and Rachel). The rest of the characters are reminders of why I just detest teens, or at least those in private boarding schools. Goodness, they’re so awful to each other!

    Mini-game Militancy: I hate mini-games. I really don’t get why they ever had to be added and why they were made mandatory, except to pad out threadbare games that barely last 5 hours. Nancy is snack-shop boss because, to be fair, Waverly Academy needs some way to teach its snobbish, smug students some humbleness. Every student at Waverly has a job, or at least every senior does, and Nancy’s is to serve up snacks and some of the orders are timed… so you can get demerits if you’re not quick enough on the teacher’s orders. A demerit is a negative point, and if you get enough of them, you’re expelled and it’s game over. I remembered to do this each day, but oh, I hated this mini-game.

    What else did I hate? Leela, our resident jock with bug-eyes, requires you to play a game with her each time you want something. You can play a terrible air-hockey game where your mallet never does what you want and the puck randomly decides to sweep into your goal, or you can play a game of darts with her (there’s multiple rounds!) where Nancy’s hand wobbles for no reason beyond making the game “difficult” and “realistic” (I support realism in games to an extent, as in, not to this extent, HER). Every time you need something from Leela, you’re stuck playing one of these two terrible games. I found more control with the darts, as I could predict the rotations in the pixels (I’m a freak of nature, don’t mind me), but air hockey was infuriating and up to RNG.

    Puzzles: High school, as Smash Mouth famously sang, never ends. Essentially, you’re doing people’s homework. You get credits for helping Rachel with the school website, as all you’re doing is taking photos and her class is a design class. That made sense, as it’s logical. Some of the other girls literally ask you to do their assignments for them. That’s cheating. I don’t care what your school’s honor code is, that’s cheating. Anyone asking for ND to do their homework should’ve been disqualified from the valedictorian candidacy in my mind.

    The other puzzles are okay. I found the piano trying this time and I just looked up a solution. Same for the Roman Numerals (it was also like midnight, so I wasn't going to run around searching for it, but yes, the solution is in-game). I was off by a spoon on the silverware, but that one’s really not too punishing except for the solution materials making me hungry! The last one is timed, but at least it’s one you can solve without the frustration of multiple failures. On the other hand, compared to other timed puzzles in recent games, it’s maybe lacking? I felt ND didn’t even need to solve the puzzle to catch the culprit. In that sense, the ending puzzle seemed like filler to me.

    Terminology: You get to talk to Ned in the game (yay!), and he and Nancy discuss her staying on the floor with valedictorian candidates. For some reason, Ned asks her if she’s posing as “a valedictorian” and that made me wince. No, Ned, no one is posing as a valedictorian because there’s no valedictorian yet as the valedictorian hasn’t been picked yet! That’s what this whole mess is about: everyone up here wants to be the valedictorian and get a full-ride scholarship to the university of her choice (which… no, no private school could afford that, unless they had a trillionaire donate or something).

    Ending/Culprit: Not very obvious. I still thought it should’ve been someone else as that motive is laughable in a place of learning. HER can do better than this, particularly since this outcome really made me question whether I’ve been wrong about HER’s message to girls all these years. Suffice it to say, from a certain standpoint, I understand and empathize with the culprit quite a bit.

    Some people have said the culprit deserved more than just being expelled. However, no one is killed. At most, she’d be liable for some criminal penalties for assault, maybe battery as well, and that would all depend on the parents/students pressing charges and/or seeking damages against her in a lawsuit. I will say that no parent in her right mind would not sue the school over this whole endeavor (duty of care, much? Sorry, I’m a lawyer and I just… what is this logic?). Any talk at the end of parents dropping their suits and letting their child return for the duration of her senior year is nonsense (unless that student’s over eighteen, in which case, it’s her decision). The culprit probably couldn’t be sued for multiple reasons, but the school absolutely could and should be for this mess.

    Aside from the holes with the ending… it arrives so quickly. There’s just so little to see/do here. I know the older games take us all a little less time because we’re older, smarter, better educated, less easily frightened, what have you, than our younger selves, but this one took me about 4 hours. I feel like even with properly squinting at all those spoons in that display case, I’d not even come close to the old advertisement of 20+ hours of gameplay. It’s a short one. I used a guide for some puzzles, namely the silverware (I was off by a spoon!) and the piano (as I was not about that life, even with a childhood spent occasionally playing the keyboard). The ending arrives very abruptly, and it seems so sudden. The Black Cat mess is jammed in alongside the Rita Hallowell storyline rather awkwardly, too. I didn’t mind it much when I last played this because it was okay, but now I just don’t like how that was done at all because, again, it makes the culprit’s motive incredibly weak.

    Final Verdict: If you want to relive your high school horror days (or enjoyed making them horrible for someone else), you’ll love it. If you’re like the rest of us and are content letting high school rest, skip this one. It’s short, the cast borders on unmemorable, the mini-games are abhorrent, and there’s really nothing here to hold it together as the few likeable and interesting characters out there fade into the background of grey, unmemorable ones. Try the original SCK if you're after a high school thriller.

    Total rating: 4/10
    Last edited by lady_knight13; May 5, 2020, 11:52 PM.
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