Title :Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion
Platforms :Game Boy Advance, Windows
Publisher :DreamCatcher
ESRB Rating :Everyone
Game Rating :6.9
Review by :Ken Gagne

This Victorian Mansion could make a lovely bed and breakfast — if only it wasn't haunted. But ghosts aren't real… are they? Or is the threat something more mundane, but no less sinister? Players can help solve the mansion's riddles in Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion, a Game Boy Advance and PC title developed by Her Interactive and published by DreamCatcher. [GBA version reviewed here] 

This handheld mystery takes the form of a point-and-click adventure, similar to older games such as Shadowgate or Deja Vu. Players are presented with a still image representing a room of the mansion. Using the 'L' and 'R' buttons, Nancy can turn around to view each room in its entirety, and pointing the cursor at doors or stairs will move to that location. Moving the cursor over the screen reveals parts of the room that can be investigated or manipulated. For example, place the cursor over the bedpost in the bedroom and you'll find it's loose; maybe something's hidden inside? The mansion is full of such secrets for young sleuths to discover. 

Nancy isn't above a bit of manual labor, though. She's there to help, after all, and some puzzles consist of paneling walls or stripping paint – not all which advance her investigation. 

There's more than bedknobs and paint chips with which for Nancy to interact. The house has its share of suspects, from the shifty handyman to the woman who holds seances. Gamers choose from lists of conversation topics, which may either reveal useful information or lead to an abrupt dismissal. 

Nancy can also use her cell phone to call friends, such as Hannah Gruen or Bess and George, familiar characters from the Nancy Drew stories. These off-site characters rarely offer meaningful advice, though. 

Once Nancy has explored enough of the mansion, a story event occurs, signaling the end of that "chapter". A password system allows players to resume play at the beginning of each chapter. The flaws in this system are many: progress cannot be saved directly to the game cartridge, nor can passwords be granted in mid-chapter. Should players do something wrong, they'll need to restart from the beginning of the chapter. And always when starting a new chapter, Nancy's inventory is emptied of items she's collected. 

The graphics are colorful, but small; were it not for the captions, it'd be difficult to determine what items a room holds. Expect to revisit rooms, looking for missed details. 

The music is persistent throughout each chapter, sounding as though it was lifted from an old computer version of the game "Clue". Sound effects are minimal; in fact, I didn't notice any, despite setting the volume high. 

Message in a Haunted Mansion doesn't quite capture the essence of either a Nancy Drew book or a Shadowgate adventure. It's a bit too mundane for a video game, and the bookish "chapter" and password systems just don't work. There's some minimal appeal — the method of talking to people in person or on the phone is innovative — but what long-term value gamers might find is a mystery.

This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Gamebits, 08-Dec-01