Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy
First posted on 17 November 2009. Last updated on 21 November 2014.
Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy is the 21st installment of the flagship point-and-click adventure game series from Her Interactive. The series is based on the Nancy Drew books, a celebrated franchise of mystery and adventure novels for young readers. This time, the game takes players into the snooty society of an exclusive private academy for girls, where the protagonist (Nancy Drew) must go undercover to learn who has been sending threatening letters to the candidates for valedictorian. During the adventure, players will interact with a great cast of characters, solve challenging puzzles, learn about Edgar Allen Poe, and play fun mini-games. All in all, the game is another great installment for the series, but it will probably appeal more to girls than boys.
The adventure begins when Nancy is summoned to a prestigious girls' boarding school named Waverly Academy, where she must pose as a new student to uncover the identity of "The Black Cat". The Black Cat has been trying to terrorize the candidates for valedictorian, sending them ominous letters. Nancy is called to the scene after a claustrophobic student is locked in her closet overnight. As the "new girl", Nancy must try to gain the other girls' confidence while scrutinizing their stories for clues. There are 5 suspects, each with a distinctive personality and motivation for eliminating the competition by any means necessary. These snobby girls are a treacherous and petty bunch, always eager to stir up drama. Naturally, there is more to each of them than they appear, and a great part of the game's appeal is discovering their secrets by stealth and subtlety. In addition to learning about the suspects, Nancy must also learn about the history of the school and a former teacher from there. Eventually, she even learns of a relationship with the famous mystery and horror author, Edgar Allen Poe.
Several of the game's best puzzles are inspired by Poe's works, such as "The Pit and the Pendulum" in which Nancy must solve a complex puzzle before a huge swinging scythe slices her in half. There are many different types of puzzles in this game, ranging from intense mini-games (air hockey and darts) to logic puzzles that may even pass as college admissions tests. Nancy must also take digital photographs of each of the girls for the finicky Rachel Hubbard. Since Rachel is so picky about the pan and zoom of each shot, players will likely do quite a few reshoots to get past this difficult challenge. Other puzzles require finding and studying books from the library. My favorite such puzzle is the puzzle that involves Victorian silverware and table etiquette. Fans of the previous games will recognize what has now become a staple of the series: the snack bar. Nancy's daily task is to fix snacks for the students, occasionally receiving a timed order from a teacher. These timed challenges are surprisingly difficult and require careful coordination and planning to get right. Perhaps the second most difficult puzzle in the game has Nancy following a squirrel up a tree. Players must watch memorize which branches the squirrel chooses in its ascent and then select the correct paths.
Whereas the previous game, Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, focuses mostly on physical exploration and action mini-games, this game is more concerned with characters and dialog. Indeed, the game is set entirely in an old dormitory named Ramsey Hall, which, while lovely to look at, is quite small. However, the advantage is that players will not waste lots of times backtracking across a huge map and can focus instead on the story and puzzles. A nice touch is that the scenes are shown in different conditions; in addition to night and day, there are scenes showing what the school looks like after a heavy snow. The characters are animated and voiced quite well. The sound effects and music are also good and appropriate. As always, the interface is simple and easy to control.
All in all, Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy is a fun game. Most gamers will probably finish it between 12-18 hours, making it ideal for impatient gamers. Despite this, I have a hard time imagining most male or older female gamers caring much for the gossipy and immature personalities of these suspects in the game. Rather, the emphasis on the social lives of teenage girls here makes this game best suited for young girls.