When I was a teenager, I was a huge Hardy Boys fan. I was a pretty avid reader, but I stuck to what I liked, so instead of pursuing the classics, I would seek out the latest volume of Frank and Joe's adventures, which usually came in a small, slick and illustrated paperback. These books were churned out on what seemed like a monthly basis, and I ate them up. Although my memory isn't too great and I can't tell you what I read over a decade ago, the Hardy Boy mysteries are certainly something that I remember with great fondness.
Even though I was devoted to these novels as a kid, it's odd that I haven't played a Hardy Boys game until now. I suppose that's due to the fact that there haven't really been too many of them. Developer Her Interactive has obviously taken steps to rectify this, and I've now had the chance to play my first adventure game starring the brothers, The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks on the DS. If that developer name strikes a chord with you, it's because they've been the driving force behind a series of Nancy Drew titles for the PC. She's the female counterpart to the Hardy Boys, and they even shared some crossover novels. It's safe to say that if any developer was going to bring the Hardy Boys to a video game format, it would be these guys.
Enough about my personal history with the fictional characters, though. How about the game? It's definitely a traditional point-and-click adventure, featuring both brothers as they explore the mystery of a golden train, its ties into the old czar of Russia, and some mysterious paintings that could hold the key to a mystery treasure. As the game begins, you arrive overseas and are introduced to the basic point-and-tap mechanics that drive the majority of the gameplay. With the DS' touch-screen, this is a pretty natural fit, and the gameplay is easy to figure out. Simply tap anything on the screen that looks particularly interesting, and you'll get some type of icon, depending on the item. Some will reveal a magnifying glass, which will allow you to view the object up close, or you'll be able to add the item to your inventory. Moving to new areas is controlled by various arrows, and those are the basics of the game.
As you progress, you'll encounter various puzzles, and each one resembles basic puzzles that we've encountered in other titles, thought they've been reworked to fit within the context of the stories. Some will have you exploring paintings and finding similar objects, while others will have you manipulating things to find hidden locks or disarming bombs laid on train tracks. There's a pretty good variety of stuff to do in the puzzles, and while you can't really fail or end the game, a few of them are timed and a little tricky to do at first. There's almost always a helpful guide present, so you can't really get too stuck.
If I have any complaint about the game at all, it's that I found it to be a little too easy and helpful at times. You come equipped with a cell phone/PDA accessory that displays info about what you've done, the ability to write notes, and a way of showing your current inventory. However, every time you bring it up, there's a default screen that shows you exactly what you need to do next. There's little guesswork involved, and the details aren't really vague; they'll literally tell you where to head to next or where to search. It takes some of the fun out of discovery, and to a certain degree, it ruins any possible sense of immersion that the game would've normally had. That's a real shame too because the story isn't half-bad, and while it's geared toward a younger audience, I was fairly interested in what was going on. Of course, this just could be a nod to nostalgia from me, but I think the game would be perfectly aimed at a teen audience that wouldn't typically get into this game style. There's enough hidden edutainment to make parents happy, but enough well-written dialogue to keep a kid's interest.
Visually, the art style isn't really my thing. It's a little amateurish, and I didn't think the character designs were too great. They serve their purpose for the game in giving you an easy way to tell the characters apart, but they're not really my cup of tea. Likewise, the music is awfully repetitive, and it plays almost constantly in the background. With no spoken dialogue present to back it up, it'll start to grate on your nerves quickly. My only real issue is that it was a little difficult to figure out where I needed to press on-screen to activate the correct icon, and this was primarily an issue when it came to moving around. After a while, you get used to the placement of the arrows and learn where to expect them, but at first, it's a little frustrating to the point where you'll randomly rub the stylus on-screen to get things to show up.
Aside from those few complaints, I actually enjoyed The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks for the DS. I had one issue with the cart freezing up on me, which I've never had happen with a DS title before. It happened about two hours in, and since I wasn't doing a good job of saving the game (there is apparently no auto-save), I lost a fair amount of time and had to replay some of it, which was annoying. It didn't happen again, but I suppose it's worth noting. Altogether, I think it's a pretty good value for $20, and while it's a budget title intended for kids, I think it would be a pretty solid game for any casual gamer. I certainly enjoyed it, and I would definitely suggest checking it out.Score: 8.0/10
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