Treasure in the Royal Tower is where Her Interactive really hits its stride. Though the previous Nancy Drew games have been fairly solid in their own right, Treasure in the Royal Tower is clearly on another level. Widely considered — even 14(!) years later — to be one of the greatest games of the series, TitRT has a lot going for it.
After her last three cases, Nancy is ready for some much-needed R&R. To unwind, she decides to visit Wickford Castle Ski Resort in Wisconsin. But before she can hit the slopes, a blizzard snows her and a few others into the castle.
Shortly after getting trapped inside by the weather, strange things begin happening in the castle. The historical library is vandalized and an eccentric woman’s room is robbed. And there’s talk that Marie Antionette’s tower — added to the castle by its original millionaire owner — harbors a valuable secret.
Gameplay & Atmosphere
Immediately apparent is the beauty of the game. Wickford Castle is a gorgeous setting and Her Interactive did a great job making the castle rich in detail. Though the game takes place completely in the castle and the immediate grounds, it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as Message in a Haunted Mansion. Part of this is due to the castle’s much larger size, but another big part of this is the decadence of the surroundings. It’s fun to go around and look at all the paintings, the tapestries, and to examine the intricate work on the furnishings.
Just to top off the pleasant, atmospheric experience is the background music. The background music isn’t particularly interesting in the first three games, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Background music is supposed to fade into the background and avoid distracting the player, especially in puzzle games, which require acute mental focus. TitRT manages to create a soundtrack that is never distracting, but also quite pleasant to listen to. It’s perfect for the visually lovely setting, and I found myself pausing to simply enjoy it while wandering the halls to get to my next destination.
The real core of the game, the puzzles that actually make TitRT a game, are top-notch as well. I often found myself challenged, but never felt as though I would be stuck forever. Re-playing the game reminded me just how many puzzles I think of when I think about Nancy Drew come from this title.
TitRT also offers much more visually pleasing character models. Despite the excellent voice work in all of the Nancy Drew games, the jerky movements and over-expressive faces of previous character models are just a little too far in the uncanny valley for comfort. But talking with others in TitRT is a much more pleasant experience.
It’s not just the improved models that make this so nice, but the bang-up job Her Interactive did with characterization. The various suspects are each interesting in their own right.
Dexter — or, as Nancy calls him, Mr. Egan — is the caretaker of the castle. He does everything from cleaning to cooking, and has neither time nor patience for socialization. He’s gruff, but in a “I’m-kind-of-mean-to-everybody-not-just-you” kind of way. He doesn’t like to talk about his past, or the mysterious tower. Of course in a Nancy Drew game, this makes him instantly suspicious.
Jacques is the resort’s ski instructor. Once an Olympic-level athlete, Jacques came to the states after choking in competition and shaming his mother-country of France. He is fascinated by the tower because of its deep connection to French history, but is he desperate enough to restore his name that he’d be willing to spirit the treasure within back home?
Lisa is a photojournalist covering Wickford Castle as part of her beat. She’s curious about the tower and desperate to find a way in, but is it to add excitement to her story, or receive personal financial gain?
Professor Beatrice Hotchkiss
Professor Hotchkiss is a historian working on a book about Marie Antoinette. She came to Wickford Castle to be near the tower and see if any secrets about the infamous queen could be unearthed by examining it. Her eccentric nature makes her suspicious, since she refuses to leave her room, and won’t tell anyone what was stolen from within it.
On a personal note, I must say that Professor Hotchkiss is one of my favorite characters in the entire Nancy Drew franchise, if not my absolute favorite. She’s just so much fun! And I’m not alone in this by a long shot.
Whether you’re new to the series or a Senior Detective, Treasure in the Royal Tower is worth your time. It is solid enough to withstand a playing without a golden layer of nostalgia coloring it, so new players will have a good time. Older players will see some tropes that are used in later games coming up for the first time. Not to mention a certain recurring character…