Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice
First posted on 28 July 2008. Last updated on 21 November 2014.
Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice is the 18th title of the outstanding Nancy Drew series of point-and-click adventure games from Her Interactive. The series features Nancy Drew, perhaps the world's most famous teenage detective, first popularized in a famous line of novels of the same name in the 1930s. I have played all of the previous Nancy Drew games and have always been pleased by Her Interactive's high level of polish, wonderful voice acting, and engaging gameplay. While I have found the previous game, Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull, to be rather disappointing, I am excited to discover that Her Interactive has largely addressed the shortcomings of the last title to produce a sequel that is among the best the series has yet seen. The game is nearly perfect, with an engrossing storyline, fun characters, clever puzzles, amazing music, and great graphics. In short, Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice is a must try for all fans of the series, and also for anyone who enjoys a solid adventure game with a minimum of tedium.
The game is set in Venice, Italy. A masked thief has been stealing precious works of art, and Nancy has been called in to investigate the matter. The bulk of the Venetian police force is occupied with the approaching Carnevale, a major festival, and Nancy is recruited as a spy and double agent to nab the thief. Nancy is staying at an historic house in Venice, and it soon becomes apparent that her fellow occupants are suspects in the case. Colin is a mosaicist, a professional restorer of aged mosaics. At first Colin appears to be the stereotypical obsessive artist, but his odd behavior and a later discovery mark him as a likely suspect. There is also Helena, a German journalist who seems to know a great deal about an older but similar crime spree. Although Helena seems harmless, she certainly seems smart enough to perpetrate the crime. The last occupant is the owner, Margherita, whose selfish nature soon incriminates her as a blackmailer and desperate social climber. However, these are not the only suspects. The GDiF (the Italian police force) has also asked Nancy to spy on Antonio, a man living across the street from the house. Antonio is thought to be conveying messages to the other members of the crime ring, but the police are uncertain about his methods.
All of this adds up to a great deal of fun adventuring for Nancy, who must learn more about the suspects by interviewing them, searching for clues, and solving plenty of fun puzzles. The puzzles vary from inventory based, symbol matching, logical deduction, to a few timed action mini games. The game does a good job of keeping the player on the right track, generally limiting the number of available puzzles and items in the inventory. Nancy also keeps a notebook; her observations are very useful reading whenever the player gets stuck. A few of the puzzles really stand out. My favorites are a dancing game, in which Nancy dons a black cat costume and dances on stage. The player must listen for certain sounds in the music and select the appropriate dance move at just the right moment. Though challenging at first, the game is fun and original. There is also a Scopa game, which is also a highpoint of AnaCapri: The Dream. Scopa is a traditional Italian card game that is quite fun, and now that I have played it in the different digital adaptations, I am tempted to find my own deck. The most challenging puzzles occur near the end of the game. There is a complex water pipe puzzle that has Nancy traveling about a small maze lowering and raising water levels in different tanks. This puzzle is brilliantly designed and reminded me of Rhem 3: The Secret Library. The final puzzle is an action mini game based on the process of elimination and knowledge of some key Italian phrases. All in all, the puzzles and storyline are entertaining and even teach players some important facts about Venice and Italy.
Besides the great voice acting, my favorite part of the production is the wonderful singing the player hears when Nancy takes a gondola. There are 3 singing gondoliers to choose from, and each has a unique Italian song that plays during the trip, which amounts to panning shots of the beautiful city of Venice. Her Interactive have done a great job finding singers for these portions, and the sequences made me long to visit this interesting city. There are also options for earning money so that Nancy can buy new items for her wardrobe; I have found these side quests less interesting. Although the other characters occasionally comment about what Nancy has on, these factors seem to make little difference most of the time. The graphics are up to Her Interactive's usual high standards, with 3D graphics mixed with actual images of Venice. The characters' faces move realistically with their dialog, and the body language seems spot-on.
The only real complaint I can make about this game is the tedious "Tessera" puzzle, which is not so much a puzzle as a dull exercise. It involves matching small colored squares (tessera) to those in a photograph. What it really boils down to is lots of clicking and moving the mouse. Unfortunately, Nancy must repeat this exercise several times, which amounts to a great deal of tedium. I think the idea behind this puzzle is to give the player an idea of just how tedious Colin's profession can be, but I think it is unnecessary to include more than a single round of it in the gameplay. In any case, this is the only irritating part of the game. The rest of the game is fun and worthwhile.
Her Interactive's Nancy Drew: The Phantom of Venice is a wonderful game that is well worth the attention and dollars of anyone even remotely interested in modern point-and-click adventures. As I have said time and time again, do not be confused into thinking this and other Nancy Drew games are only good for children and young teens. They are quality entertainment for anyone who enjoys adventuring and puzzle solving. This latest installment is among the best of the bunch, and anyone who has been missing out on this great series must consider picking it up.