Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy

Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy

Written by Marissa Meli on 12/18/2009 for PC  
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To understand Warnings at Waverly Academy, you must understand that this is a distinctively “casual” game. Now, I am as much in favor of ridding our lives of the casual/hardcore dichotomy as anyone, but HER Interactive is aiming at a specific group of gamers here and it’s important to understand that. Were NDWWA a full-priced console title, it wouldn’t have a Metacritic average in the mid-80’s. So don’t take a look at the scores and think that this is a title on-par with the similarly-scored Borderlands. You won’t get what you’re used to in games: the (often lame) dialogue is unskippable, the graphics are crummy (although if you took this game back in time to 1995 it would be a trendsetter) and the action takes place in and around one building. This is a budget/casual PC game, and for $19.99, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re willing to keep an open mind.

Our girl Nan is undercover at an exclusive boarding school with a bunch of teenage bitches. Beneath one of their tartan uniforms lies the heart of a jealous, violent brat. Okay, they’re all like that, but one of them is hurting people. Someone is leaving threatening notes for valedictorian candidates. Get two notes, and something bad happens. By something bad, I’m talking being locked in a closet for a couple of hours or being slipped a food you’re allergic to. For serious, if all I had to do to get to go home from boarding school was get a bad case of hives, I’d be popping penicillin like these kids pop Adderall. But good ol’ Nance is on the case regardless.

After move-in, you’ll start to interview the girls on your floor to find out more about the mysterious Black Cat behind all of the threats. Although the setting and character types are sure to be appealing to the girls HER Interactive is targeting, after a few conversations with your dorm-mates it becomes painfully clear that this game was not written by someone who has much contact with teenage girls. Nance’s roommate announces that something is “hinky.” To put this in context for you, I had to ask my fifty year-old father what that word meant.

These girls will help you dig deeper into the case, but they’ll often request favors from you. More often than not these favors include doing their homework. What is appealing about doing work in games? These homework assignments, which come in puzzle form, range between painstakingly monotonous (typing in number strings) to less so (solving DNA strings). The fun puzzles are to be found around the hall as you learn some of Waverly’s secrets. I was happy to be brought back to the days of text adventures and mapping out paths on graph paper when I realized that I’d actually need a pad and paper next to me to record information and solve puzzles. I can’t remember the last time a game didn’t file away everything I learned for me to access at will, and whether this blast from the past results from charming or lazy design I’m happy to say I enjoyed it.

You’ll also need to keep up your duties as a student while investigating the case, which mysteriously never includes attending class. Nancy works a shift every day at the Snack Shop, assembling orders from a counter of ingredients. Paige, the obnoxious RA, is awake twenty-four hours a day to make sure you follow the rules. Break one, like staying out of your room past curfew, and she’ll issue you demerits. Rack up enough demerits, and you’ll get expelled. Since you can never fail in the game, expulsion merely means having to go back a few seconds in the game and decide not to do whatever it was that got you busted. There really is no incentive to get merits or avoid demerits, so if you can sneak past Paige you can have a grand time breaking into other girls’ rooms and jumping out of your window at 2 a.m.

Besides doing homework and toasting bagels for girls that will just throw them up five minutes later, you’ll spend a lot of time grabbing snapshots with your camera to upload to the school’s website. For some reason, the girl in charge of maintaining the site makes you do all of the work for none of the credit. You’ll find some minigames on the site as well as in the rec room, where you can challenge one of the girls to air hockey or darts.

There’s enough here to keep you busy in between bouts of puzzle-solving and lead-chasing, but the story is interesting enough that you’ll want to get back to the action quickly. At times, you may find yourself stuck on a long puzzle and heading to the internet for solutions just so you can solve the mystery quicker. Without revealing too much now, some of the puzzles have subtle nuances that you may not catch right away. One had me wondering if the game had a glitch that prevented it from accepting (what I thought was) the correct answer, until a few minutes of squinting enlightened me.

While I may not pick it up immediately, I can’t say that I’m not interested in the next Nancy Drew title, which Waverly’s credits inform me is about tornado chasers. Considering what twenty bucks gets you in terms of XBLA or PSN games, this is a pretty decent deal and a worthwhile title.

Warnings at Waverly Academy proves that Nancy Drew has come a long way since she made bobby socks hot in 1930. As a value point-and-click adventure/puzzle title, it may not be the valedictorian, but it’s good enough for honor roll.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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