There’s one thing you can always rely on with Nancy Drew: If there’s a hidden puzzle or sticky conundrum somewhere about, she’s going to get right on it. And it doesn’t matter where it is, either. So in Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water’s Edge (game No. 23 in Her Interactive’s PC-based series) Nancy heads off to the cherry blossom-sprinkled land of Japan. She’s officially there to teach young Asian students a little bit about English. But we all know that simply means she’ll have plenty of nighttime hours to do more mystery solving.
Get Your Introductions Over With, Nance
The story centers on the Ryokan Hiei, a Japanese inn where Nancy is staying. This normally charming ryokan—a family-owned traveler’s lodge customarily passed from mother to eldest daughter—has become known as one of the creepiest places in the city. Ghostly sightings are sending guests running for the hills. In fact, almost from the moment Nancy checks in, she starts spotting shadowy images floating across her balcony and herky-jerky apparitions in a broken mirror.
But are these real poltergeist hauntings as some say? Or is there something else going on?
While trying to answer those questions, Nancy meets an intriguing cast of characters that includes sisters Yumi and Miwako; their grandmother, Takae; a spiritualist author named Savannah; and Miwako’s cute but goofy boyfriend, Rentaro. Oh, and a robot cat, too! Yumi and Miwako’s mother died in an unfortunate accident in the ryokan bathing pool a few years earlier and one of the girls is set to inherit the inn. Takae, who is tightly bound by the family’s heritage and traditions, spends her time shooing Nancy’s prying eyes away from her business. Rentaro wants Miwako to flee from the inn and live happily ever after with him, while Savannah has made the inn a hot spot for tours of ghost seekers.
Get Your Culture On, Nance
Like all the other Nancy Drew games, players slip into the first-person sensible loafers of the young supersleuth herself. Then they go about the task of asking questions, solving puzzles and piecing together clues on the way to a twisting and turning conclusion. Junior Detectives get a helpful checklist to keep them on track. Senior Detectives encounter a layer or two of extra toughness on some of the puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, they’re diverse and fun—including logic-, color-, shape- and maze-stumpers. But it’s number games that are this game’s forte. Traditional-style Japanese number puzzles include nonograms, sudoku and renograms, and some of the later challenges—such as a series of five overlapping sudoku puzzles—will leave all but the most stalwart number crunchers wishing they had a math wiz for a pal.
Speaking of pals, Nancy breaks out her cell phone on a regular basis to connect with friends Bess and George—who are enjoying themselves at a nearby convention but are never too busy to help out behind the scenes or offer up a crucial clue. Along the way, Nancy learns about tea ceremonies, origami and Japanese puzzle boxes. She studies the Japanese hiragana and katakana alphabets. And she visits a pachinko parlor and puts together bento box meals.
Get Your Flashlight Out, Nance
Her adventures do get a bit spooky at times. And there’s the possible specter of a deceased mother looming. Ghostly happenings can surprise, and one late-game attack puts Nancy’s life on the line. (If you fail to solve the ticking-clock puzzle, Nancy always gets another shot at it.)
The game also cracks open the door to discussions about superstitions, and it mentions Asian “balance of nature” beliefs. Nancy digs into ghost chasing and “spirit cleansing” as the eerie bumps in the night multiply.
That makes Shadow at the Water’s Edge feel a little darker than your average Nancy Drew mystery. At least for a while. So at the risk of spoiling the ending—but without giving away any of the clues—I’ll report here that the timeless clue-gathering gal gumshoe debunks all the paranormal goings-on and finds the culprit behind the creepiness. Leave it to Nancy to shine a bright light in the shadows and turn a scary vacation-gone-wrong into a fun mystery-done-right.
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.