After 75 years, hundreds of books, 14 games, and a handful of movies and TV shows, Nancy Drew is still a teenager and going undercover once again in the video game Nancy Drew: Danger by Design. This time she’s off to Paris, to ostensibly take a summer job as a secretary/receptionist for the famous fashion designer Minette.
Her real mission? Minette’s financial backers want to know why this exciting newcomer to the designing world is falling behind schedule for her spring fashion show. They also want the inside scoop on her odd behavior. It seems that the haute couture artiste is coming apart at the seams (going from a screaming rage to laughing fits in a heartbeat) and has taken to wearing a white mask … all the time.
When Nancy lands in Paris and meets her brusque boss—”Well, you’re here, we’ve met, so get to work”—she starts her job, and her case. The first clue comes to light: Minette has been receiving threatening anonymous letters. Who could the menacing letter writer be? Is it Minette’s assistant, Heather, a budding fashion designer herself, who has to work with the constant temper tantrums? Could it be Dieter Von Schwesterkrank, the German photographer who used to date Minette? How about Jing Jing Ling, a model who Minette tricked into a contract?
To answer these questions, and more, you make Nancy travel around Paris finding and solving puzzles, which range from easy (making a particular type of Sundae in just the right way) to difficult (decoding a message from clues hidden all over the city). And like any good detective, you’ll need a notebook and pencil to keep track of everything. Then maybe you’ll even discover lost art, hidden from the Nazis. And speaking of which, along the way, you learn a little French and some WWII history, too.
The first-person, mouse-controlled Danger is a relatively fun PC puzzle game that has a pretty wide variety of challenges. However, its mechanics aren’t always so bon chic. The story line is geared down for junior players, but has a number of “figure out what you need to do next” moments (you have to search through drawers, make phone calls, find special items, etc.) that may leave them scratching their heads and calling for Mom’s or Dad’s help. On the other hand, if you’re old enough to figure out that you might need to go back to Dieter Von Schwesterkrank’s photo studio and stick that fancy clock into a hole in his wall, then you’ll probably find many of the other puzzles too simple. For example, one challenge is to catch nine cockroaches that scurry around Minette’s studio. Ho-hum.
But there’s nothing in here that will make Grandma blush or encourage kids to karate chop the dog, either. Nancy is polite, always asks permission and remembers Dad’s instructions (“Dad made me promise not to go anywhere by myself after dark”). The worst language heard is “omigosh.” And although Nancy can cause a fatal explosion when spilling photo developing chemicals, the game gives you a low key “boom” and a quick return to the main menu for another try. The only other violence is a fight near the end where Nancy blocks an assailant’s blows until the attacker wears out.
Danger by Design probably won’t win any awards as a great mystery story, or for its not-so stirring character renditions. But families that are into logic and memory puzzles should have several sessions’ worth of fun (learning) challenges. While you’re at that, I’m going to go find someone to thank for never letting Nancy Drew grow up.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.