Developer: Her Interactive
Release Date: December 2, 2008
The Nancy Drew series of adventure/mystery games has been pretty successful on the PC up to this point, and they're well noted for being accessible to all players. Even on the DS, we've seen a couple of titles pop up at a budget-sized price that have been pretty popular as well, and obviously the touch-screen controls lend themselves well to the point-and-click mechanics of the PC games. It should come as little surprise then that we're finally getting a Wii Nancy Drew title with Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, a game that I was initially down on for some tedious mechanics, but it eventually grew on me and I found myself enjoying it despite a few annoying flaws. It's not the adventure game that I'm still hoping to see on the Wii hardware, but it's definitely worth checking out, regardless of how you feel about the Nancy Drew license being used here.
Like the other titles in the series on the PC, you'll take on the role of Nancy Drew herself, as she becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a series of accidents surrounding a small vacation lodge. These accidents are causing business to go sour for the lodge owner, a young woman who has been placed in charge by her father, who owns a series of these establishments across the world. She decides to call on Nancy Drew to help her investigate what's going on here, and she places Nancy Drew at the lodge as a maid to give her a bit of cover while she questions the various patrons who are currently staying there.
It's the maid bit of the game that had me struggling early on, as I couldn't find the fun in having to take care of the residents' laundry and food needs within a certain schedule. Sure, picking up the laundry from the room and straightening the beds gives you the opportunity to search the rooms and look for clues, but I was instantly annoyed that I had to travel downstairs, get the laundry bag, head back up, go to each room and pick up the towels, and then go into the hall to drop the bag into the chute. Why I couldn't just start with the bag I'm not sure, but it wasn't a good sign that I would end up enjoying the game. However, as the story progressed and I was able to go outside and do a few more activities in addition to the actual sleuthing, I managed to come to terms with the stuff I didn't enjoy.
The scheduling stuff isn't particularly challenging, since time moves at a leisurely pace and you're able to advance it by manipulating the alarm clock inside Nancy's room. If you need to be someplace at a particular time or you want to explore the lodge during a certain period, just move the clock hands around a bit, and you'll be ready to go. It's a good addition to the game that allows you to adjust the pace to your liking, and it's definitely something I couldn't see playing the game without.
The controls for the Wii work well enough, and while the Wiimote isn't a proper replacement for the standard mouse setup of the PC titles, it's precise enough that it works. There are certain mechanics at play that feel like they're tailor-made for the controls, but at the same time, certain things, like cooking, don't seem to work all that well or feel as precise as they should.
Navigating the lodge and the exterior of the lodge is done entirely with the Wiimote, and you simply move the pointer along the edges of the screen to figure out which direction you can move within a room or hallway. Investigating is mostly carried out by searching through various objects or locations, and you'll notice points of interest when your pointer turns into a magnifying glass. Pressing the A button will give you a closer look at potential clues, and the game will automatically give you an idea of what you need from anything you find. There are a few menus to navigate, but most of them prove to be pretty useful. There's a contact book with different names and numbers (occasionally you'll need to call outside help), along with a notepad to jot down points or persons of interests. There's also your standard inventory screens that will lay out everything you've collected with a short description to let you know what you'll be using it for, and just about everything you find in the game has some use to it.
There's a small weather mechanic at play too, so that you can only go outside during certain times due to the extreme cold. Even when you're able to go out, there's always a meter running that lets you know how long you've got until you'll freeze (game over), so you need to be mindful of how much time you can spend exposed to the cold as you're outside exploring. It's easy to get lost while looking around for clues and wandering around a bit, so it is a fairly important thing to be mindful of, and it does add a little bit of realism to the world around you.
The plot of White Wolf is pretty solid, and while it's not the greatest mystery story out there, you'll find a surprising amount of twists along the way that keep the main story entertaining. The list of possible suspects is short, but it helps to keep the story focused on a few main players. There are only four patrons at the lodge, and then there's the manager, owner, a local cop and Nancy herself. The four patrons are the ones you'll interact with the most, and outside of a somewhat stereotypical Canadian who sounds like a South Park version of our neighbors to the north, they're all voiced well enough and are definitely distinct. When you engage them in conversation, there are multiple options to pick from, something that fans of Bioware dialogue paths will probably enjoy.
Visually, the game isn't too impressive, especially when you're greeted with some low-resolution cut scenes that seem like they've been ripped out of PC titles from early 2000. The in-game stuff isn't a whole lot better, and while it's easy to make out objects of interest when you're investigating, everything looks a bit dated compared to what the Wii is able to do, and I can't help but feel like I'm playing a budget title (although to be fair, this is a budget game). Still, I'd have liked to see things spruced up a bit more, especially when the characters have animations that feel really robotic, most notably when they're talking.
Despite the flaws, I enjoyed a lot of Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, and I think it's worth a rental for people who enjoy point-and-click adventure titles. It's not going to be a favorite for most folks, but it's definitely playable, and while I'm not sure I'd suggest that you run out and buy it, it's definitely something to check out if you get the chance. The beginning will probably put you off a bit, but if you're able to make it past that, there's some genuinely fun gameplay here that's worth checking out.