Dust off your spyglass and get ready to snoop; Her Interactive has another Nancy Drew adventure game ready for the Mac. While the developer—known for producing games for girls and women—has nearly two dozen Nancy Drew games available for the Windows PC platform, Shadow at the Water’s Edge marks their third release for the Mac. Like other games in the series, Shadow at the Water’s Edge lets players play as Nancy and features several other familiar characters from the popular Carolyn Keene series as they find themselves solving a mystery, this time in Japan. Shadow at the Water’s Edge can feel slow due to the lengthy dialogue and challenging puzzles but the dynamic characters, beautiful graphics, and an enticing story ultimately make for a rich gaming experience.
The game begins when the well-loved teen detective journeys abroad to relax, visit some friends, and teach English in Japan. However, immediately upon arrival, Nancy gets wind of some strange goings-on in the traditional Japanese ryokan she’s staying at. While all of the characters seem to have their own take on the rumors that the inn is haunted, several encounters with things that go bump in the night lead Nancy to embark on one of her full-fledged investigations. The story unfolds nicely, and each clue offers its own piece of exposition, so there’s no need for lagging explanations at the start.
Visually, Shadow at the Water’s Edge is quite appealing. Characters are more life-like than HerInteractive’s last Nancy Drew game for Mac, Secrets Can Kill. The movements in Shadow at the Water’s Edge are both more fluid and natural; the characters have distinct mannerisms and postures, rendering them more realistic. What really stands out in the game is how clearly defined the spaces are. Each room is incredibly detailed and has a great sense of depth. The clues lead players through a number of spots in Kyoto, Japan. While the locales seen as you navigate through the train station or wander the halls of the ryokan are all sharp, the scene-stealer is absolutely the gorgeous Japanese garden. The garden is complete with lanterns and a cherry blossom tree, and light reflects realistically off of the dark surface of the water in the pond. No matter what point in the game, I always felt well oriented and familiar with my surroundings. Most of the game takes place at night, so some scenes were a bit too dark, but overall the graphics are more than satisfactory.
As with other games in the series, Shadow at the Water’s Edge offers players the option to play as a junior or senior detective, which affects the level of difficulty. To maneuver through the game, players must point and click to explore their surroundings and zoom in on potential clues. You must also guide Nancy through interactions with other characters, and can choose her responses and questions. Careful, though, too harsh of an interrogation can lead to a game over. Nancy has several useful tools at her disposal; a camera cell phone, backpack for storing clues, and a to-do list are all accessible via icons at the bottom of the screen. These and other aspects of the game play are thoroughly explained during an in-depth tutorial at the start of the mystery.
One of my favorite aspects of the game takes place in the “culture room” where the grandmother character of the inn assigns various challenges related to Japanese traditions. Here, players not only learn skills like the art of Japanese katakana, but also find books and pamphlets explaining the importance of these traditions in Japan. Puzzles and challenges pop up at other places in the game as well, and while they aren’t exclusively cultural games, Japanese culture is a theme woven throughout Shadow at the Water’s Edge.
Several components in Shadow at the Water’s Edge do make for a slow game, though. The interactions with characters is both spoken and displayed in a text box, and after reading ahead, there’s no option to skip the game further along in the conversation, so players are forced to wait for the (often long-winded) characters to finish their lectures. On a similar note, some of the puzzles that pop up along the way are mandatory and challenging; this can be frustrating as there is no way to move around the mini game until it is completed. It seems I’m not along in this opinion, as when I was stuck on a matching game of sorts, the Bento Box challenge, and went to HerInteractive’s website seeking help, I found message boards to be full of pleas for help in solving the puzzle. Not all of the mini games posed this problem, however, and games like the Nanogram and Sudoku book were a welcome break from clue hunting.
Overall, I was impressed with the quick transitions between scenes, and the coherence of the story as whole. Above all, the visual appeal of Shadow at the Water’s Edge is its strongest asset, but the game combines an interesting plot, distinctive characters and challenging mini games to create a strong, well-rounded game.
[Stephanie Kent is an editorial intern for Macworld.]