The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft
First posted on 30 October 2008. Last updated on 10 August 2009.
XPEC Entertainment's The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft is an effort to do for the Hardy Boys what Her Interactive has been doing for Nancy Drew. While XPEC Entertainment's first adaptation may not be as fun as Her Interactive's competing titles, The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft is still a good game that bodes well for the future of the Hardy Boys franchise.
The Hardy Boys novels follow the action packed lives of a duo of young sleuths, Frank and Joe Hardy. Their father, Fenton Hardy, is an accomplished private detective himself, and he provides guidance and encouragement to his crime sleuthing sons. Much like the Nancy Drew series, the Hardy Boys novels seldom delve into romance, sticking instead to crime and mystery. The game does a good job of representing the atmosphere created by the novels, and most of the major characters are here, such as Aunt Gertrude, Chet, and Iolo. Frank and Joe are voiced by real life former teen pop star Jesse McCartney (of Dream Street fame) and teen television star Cody Linley (of Hannah Montana fame), though I wonder why XPEC Entertainment has bothered to recruit such talent. I can only assume they want to appeal to female gamers, particularly those already playing the Nancy Drew games. In any case, both McCartney and Linley do a good job with the dialog, and their character portrayals of Frank and Joe are quite likable.
The storyline has Frank and Joe investigating a major theft. A cranky old miser named Samuel claims that someone has broken into his safe and stolen 200 million dollars worth of bearer bonds. He accuses his nice brother, Thomas, who has been living at Samuel's residence with his wheelchair bound wife and pretty young daughter Lily. Naturally, Frank and Joe soon discover that the case is more complex, gradually unraveling an intriguing story involving an asylum that has burned to the ground. Frank and Joe spend most of their time in Bayport, a suburb of New York, but they also travel briefly to the city to find suspects and gather evidence. All in all, the plot seems well thought out and fits the game well. The only cheesy aspect is the secret organization that Frank and Joe belong to called American Teens Against Crime. Oddly, this anti-crime organization has no problem breaking the law itself, including impersonating police officers!
The game's graphics are outstanding, with smooth animation and well drawn scenery. While there are not many locations to visit, each location serves a real purpose. The players can also click on a map to instantly travel to certain locations, an important feature that saves a great deal of time and backtracking. The script and voice acting are adequate, though there are no sequences that really call for much passion from the actors. A real disappointment was the music, which is nice at first but fast becomes very repetitive. Long loading times between areas are frustrating as well.
The game's interface is good in some ways but flawed in others. Although it is easy enough to move the characters around (the player can take control of Frank or Joe, or control both simultaneously), the inventory system is problematic. There are too many objects that can be collected by the players; the inventory gets cluttered with items that ought to consistently disappear after being used. For some reason, some objects, such as a roll of gauze tape or a pitcher of milk, stick around even after they have served their only purpose.
At times, I was completely baffled by how objects were used or combined in the game. I was stuck in the first part of the game because I did not realize I had to double click on a package in my inventory to open it. However, most objects did not have to be double clicked or even clicked at all; simply initiating dialog with the object in the inventory would suffice. Other times, the setup for the puzzles seemed confusing. For instance, early in the game I found I could cut a hole in a car's antifreeze container without having any idea why such an action was necessary. Most of the time, it seemed, I was solving puzzles or using items at random; only later did I discover why such actions were useful. Another odd thing was that vital clues such as letters would only be accessible via the cell phone's "journal" feature. I was stumped for quite awhile before I realized that the answer to a puzzle was in the journal itself.
Another underutilized feature was the cell phone, which Frank and Joe were supposed to use to get hints from Nancy Drew. I was disappointed that the voice actor Lani Minella, who plays Nancy Drew in Her Interactive's games, was not the actor used here. I also did not like that none of the people Frank and Joe could call would ever give any useful advice. While I could usually figure out what I needed to do next, a little guidance from Nancy or Fenton (the Hardy Boys' father) would have been great. Frank and Joe themselves did not offer many hints or input either; I had spent hours trying to solve an astronomy puzzle without realizing that I did not have all the necessary components to solve it. It would be easy for Frank or Joe could have said something like, "I think we're missing something" to keep me on track.
Besides the inventory based puzzles, there are also some conventional logic puzzles. Most of these will be instantly familiar to fans of the genre, such as the ever popular and overused gear puzzle, a sliding puzzle box, a grid puzzle, and a matching puzzle. The puzzles range in difficulty from easy to hard; the puzzle box and the grid puzzle are particularly challenging.
Perhaps my key criticism of the game is its lack of action sequences. I really expect more action in a game of this kind: perhaps a motorcycle chase, fistfight, or at least a timed puzzle. The Hardy Boys novels always seem more action packed than those of Nancy Drew, with plenty of explosions and fast moving vehicles. Indeed, I think the developer may do better to have based the game on the Casefiles spinoff series, since those are intended for more mature audiences.
All in all, The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft is a decent but not outstanding game. I recommend it mostly for fans of the novels or, perhaps, young fans of McCartney and Linley. The puzzles, while varied and fun, are neither original nor particularly brilliant. Nonetheless, XPEC Entertainment obviously has laid a good foundation for future games in the series and more exciting adventures ahead for Frank and Joe.