My husband has an ongoing project to learn more about the evolution of gaming by playing retro JRPGs in order of their release. He’s had an amazing time and has been blogging about the experience over at Logan Plays Games. This has inspired me to do a gaming project of my own.
I’ve decided to go back and play all of Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew mystery games in order of release. I played a lot of these games as a kid and am convinced they’re a big part of the reason I like gaming today. I’m not sure how they’ve held up with time, but I’m excited to try them out.
Secrets Can Kill threw me a bit of a curveball, right off the bat. Technically, it’s the first of the series, but Her Interactive recently released a remastered edition. I debated whether to move the game in my timeline to reflect its re-released date, but decided to go ahead and keep it first.
SCK is Nancy’s first case, and her darkest. While in Florida visiting her aunt, Nancy is asked to go undercover at the local high school to investigate the recent murder of a student. Now, my memory could be failing me, but I’m pretty sure this is the only Nancy Drew game that involves murder. The victim is never shown and there is no detail given about the crime itself, but murder is a gruesome cause for Nancy’s involvement. And worse, it’s the murder of a high school kid.
But the horror of the crime works for the game. After reaching a certain point in her investigation, Nancy receives threats from an unknown menace. These threats are genuinely threatening when viewed in the light of the recent crime. Whoever killed Jake Rogers knew him. If he/she was willing to kill a local high school student that they knew as a member of the community, they’re almost certainly going to be willing to kill an outsider the majority of the town doesn’t know.
But the most disturbing aspect of the case is the potential involvement of other students. It’s bad enough that there was a murder, but it’s so much worse to think another kid did it.
The characters in this game had completely slipped from my mind. All of them are decent suspects, but none are interesting enough to be “sticky” like some of the characters in later games. A big part of this comes from the lack of depth each possesses.
The first person I met was Hector “Hulk” Sanchez, the local football star. That one sentence tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Hulk is a shining example of the high school jock stereotype. He’s cocky, loud, and unapologetic. He doesn’t hide the fact that he didn’t like Jake because he was a “dweeb,” which suggests he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. He has zero sense of self-preservation, probably because he’s convinced the town is in love with him and he’s untouchable. Granted, he’s probably right.
Daryl Grey is another side of the popular kid coin. He works at the local hotspot, Maxine’s Diner, and has plenty of money from his internship with his father’s multi-million dollar company. He’s popular enough to be student body president and is quite proud of the fact. Daryl also considers himself a bit of a wizard with the ladies, if his flimsy attempts at flirtation are any indication. He puts a lot of faith in pick-up lines.
Daryl’s none-to-subtle approach works for Connie Watson, a hall monitor who considers him “the only guy worth dating.” When asking Connie about any of the other suspects, her opinion tends to revolve around their date-ability. She is a high school girl, so I guess that’s to be expected. I did appreciate that she practices Judo and has something defining her other than the fact that she’s the only girl (besides Nancy herself). All too often, games put in the token girl character and there’s nothing interesting about her besides her sex.
Hal Tanaka is the only boy Connie doesn’t seem interested in thinking about in terms of his relationship status, probably because he is nothing but stereotypes. I thought Hulk was an uninteresting stew of stereotypical portrayals, but he’s got nothing on Hal. Hal is an exchange student from Japan who has come to America to become a doctor. He is concerned with nothing but his studies and talks about nothing but his studies, except for some brief forays into talking about bringing honor to his family. Oh, God.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m sick to death of all foreign students in the media being Asian students whose lives are completely defined by their studies. First of all, not all foreign students are Asian. Secondly, not all Asian exchange students are only concerned with studies and their family’s honor. Ugh, let’s get some variety in here!
The only character Nancy interacts with who is not a student is Detective Beech, the undercover detective who hired her. Detective Beech doesn’t seem to be a very good undercover cop, since he doesn’t have a cover story prepared for talking to Nancy all the time, he’s completely unwilling to share details about the case with her, and does nothing except sit at the diner and drink coffee.
Aside from the lackluster characters, SCK is a pretty fun game. Rather than a number of smaller puzzles, there’s one very long, very involved puzzle that spans the entirety of the game that involves secret messages hidden by Jake before his death. These messages must be decoded and acted upon in order to advance the plot.
The intricacy of the puzzle was a lot of fun and involved a lot of handwritten notes, which I love taking. The only thing I didn’t really like was the lack of communication with other characters this created. The puzzle is very self-contained, and Nancy isn’t required to talk with other characters as much as in other games. Talking with others is my favorite thing about the Nancy Drew games, so this was a bit of a bummer for me. Totally valid, but still a bummer.
As far as controls go, the remastered version blows the original out of the water. I remember having to switch disks all the time with the old one, which is no longer an issue. In fact, I didn’t use a disk at all with this one: I bought a digital copy from Steam.
There’s also a lot less clicking with the remastered one, since they added in the auto-scroll features at the edges of the screen like the newer games have. Thank goodness. That little scroller is a blessing because it saves me from my obnoxiously loud mouse.
SCK is a solid game that fans of the Nancy Drew series will enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend it to those new to the series. There are a ton of other games to choose from that are more engaging and have much better characters than SCK.