Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes
First posted on 18 November 2011. Last updated on 23 November 2013.
Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes is the 25th game in Her Interactive's long-running series of point-and-click adventure games based on the Nancy Drew franchise. Though billed by the company as the "Special 25th Edition" release, this landmark title does not inspire the series' earlier nostalgic entries such as Nancy Drew: Secret of the Old Clock; instead, the game is a fairly typical entry for the series with only a singular major innovation—the ability in the early parts of the game to switch among 4 different characters: Bess, George, Ned, and (of course) Nancy Drew. Overall, Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes is a good adventure game that will likely appeal to existing fans of the series, even though it feels smaller and shorter than previous Nancy Drew games.
The game begins with a great premise—Nancy Drew, in the course of completing the "Clues Challenge" contest, finds herself in the city's old town hall when the structure catches fire. After a frantic escape, she is shocked to discover that she herself is the primary suspect in the arson case. For the first time in the series, Nancy is locked up in the city jail and cannot conduct the investigation herself. Fortunately, her best friends George and Bess as well as her boyfriend Ned are ready and eager to help the sassy detective vindicate herself and bring the real perpetrators to justice.
As always, the case offers up a variety of suspects, each with his or her own motives and incriminating evidence. Alexei Markovic is an elderly gentleman, once an amateur detective in his youth, who has been ostracized by the community after being accused of stealing a valuable magnifying glass. Deirdre Shannon is a bitter rival of Nancy and is jealous of Ned's affection for her. Antonia Scallari is on the city council and seems to regard Nancy as a public nuisance rather than a heroine. Brenda Carlton is an ambitious broadcast journalist who is as desperate for a scoop as she is angry at Nancy for exposing one of her biggest news stories as a hoax. It is up to George, Bess, and Ned to interview these suspects, search for clues, and bring items to Nancy for analysis. All of these characters are interesting and fun to interact with.
The audiovisuals in this game are up to the series' usual standards, with excellent character animations and superb voice acting. A nice feature is a colorful map that displays the city of River Heights and shows the characters' vehicles traveling to and from the various locations. The music is adequate but not especially noteworthy—I greatly miss the superior scores in earlier Nancy Drew games such as Nancy Drew: Danger on Deception Island and Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch.
Despite being a competent game, I feel that this game is a bit too short and underdeveloped. It seems as though Her Interactive has plans for the Clues Challenge to be part of the game but is unable to include it in the end due to a rushed development cycle. Instead, the game ends abruptly after a relatively brief adventure. There are many locations on the map that seem important, yet clicking on them only results in a brief sound effect or a bit of canned dialog. In short, the game feels incomplete, with significant unrealized potential. There is a buildup to Ned going on a date with Deirdre, for instance, but the date is skipped over and is only described after the fact.
There are also fewer puzzles in this game than previous Nancy Drew games. None of the puzzles are particularly creative—just common staples such as a wire puzzle and a numbers game. Nonetheless, you can play several fun mini-games from earlier games in the series by using the characters' cell phones. Lastly, while the voice acting and writing are good, there is a tendency for each interaction to end with a chirpy "Good bye!" or "See you again soon!" type of remark that seldom fits the context. It is odd to hear a character who has just finished berating you to suddenly sound so friendly.
Novice sleuths are forewarned that there is a critical object hidden in a corner of one of the rooms that is particularly difficult to find. Alas, the game cannot be completed without finding this object.
Overall, Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes is a good game but definitely not among the best games in the series. The game is short in puzzles, especially puzzles that fit the game's theme or the Clues Challenge. There are also not enough locations for Nancy and her friends to visit. Despite these shortcomings, I am already looking forward to Nancy's next adventure.