What makes Nancy Drew: Lights, Camera, Curses! a girls’ game is the female protagonist. It’s not pink, it’s not cutesy, there are no magic animal friends, there is no shopping. Let me repeat that in case you were skimming. This game is not pink. I want to call up the developers at Her and make them all cookies. (Note to self: Consider revising “baking for feminism” stance.) I got the chance to beta-test Lights…, and I was so pleased to see that Her did not take an existing game, change the racecars into pink fluffy bunnies, and then call it a girls’ game.
Lights… has a solid storyline, amusing NPCs, engaging minigames and pretty cutscenes. Nancy’s on the set of Pharoah, a remake of a big-budget Silver Age Egyptian story, where mysterious accidents keep happening, and she has to figure out who’s behind it. Does a crew member have a grudge? Is the production cursed? Does it have anything to do with the tragic death on the set of the original Pharaoh? What’s with that cat?
Playing as Nancy, players have to use items around them to solve puzzles, a lot like an old Sierra game, only without an inventory. Every screen has the items for the puzzle on that screen, which keeps the game very linear, and eliminates wandering from location to location, wondering what you’ve missed. With the solution to each room in that room, it’s impossible to get stuck.
A few days ago, Her Interactive posted a preview screenshot of Lights… and a sharp-eyed forum member noticed a sign for a bar in the background, causing a bit of a ruckus over whether a world in which alcohol exists is an acceptable setting for an E rated game. I’m even more baffled by the worries about a minor alcohol reference because Nancy Drew solves murders, embezzlement, robbery, forgery, etc. Seems like if you’re worried about kids seeing a sign for a bar, they probably shouldn’t see chalk outlines or death threats either. The game maintains the same feel as the novels, there’s suspense and mystery, without gross blood and guts (or any underage drinking). Also no foul language or naked people, which should make parents happy. There was nothing that I found offensive or inappropriate, on the contrary I think a clever, independent crime-solver is exactly what tween girls should be seeing.
I loved all the puzzles in Lights…. One of my greatest gaming memories is playing 221B Baker St. with my dad when I was a kid, and using the clues to break codes. The Nancy Drew Dossier puzzles were just challenging enough to make you think, without crossing the line and becoming work.
The challenges in the story were a collection of minigames. They were so varied that they became a bit hit-or-miss. Lights… will be the first in the Dossier series, so Her can improve any snags for the next one in the series. One annoying minigame had users light candles by clicking the matchbook and then finding the candlestubs in a dark room. Only then the candles blow out, and it’s dark again. You have to keep trying until you’ve managed to find and light all the candles in the allotted time. Games that are essentially “hit buttons really fast” always take me out of the story and ruin my suspension of disbelief. Other minigames, like having Nancy make smoothies or play the piano, kept me entertained by introducing new rules and objectives for quick challenges.
The range of graphics styles for the minigames, like tropical cartoon fruit, a Matrixy green screen or pen-and-ink sketches, also kept things fun and light. Throughout the game, I was annoyed by the text choices. In my mind, PC adventure games are a safe place for zany behavior, and picking the “wrong” text choice in games like Monkey Island and more recently A Case Of The Crabs, is rewarding. Ask an NPC a zany question, get a zany answer. In Lights, Camera, Curses, I felt teased by seeing the goofy possible responses and being punished scorewise for choosing one. Even if I’m willing to take the points hit, the NPC doesn’t react to wrong responses. Why give me silly options if Nancy won’t say take them?
Overall, a solid game, finding a good balance between a fluffy game to play while you’re on the phone, and an all-encompassing game. The dossier series promises an entertaining casual game with a good mystery storyline, and they deliver.