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Game Review

The never-aging teen sleuth Nancy Drew is bringing more than just her trusty magnifying glass on this adventure. She's tossing sunscreen and a pair of flip-flops in her bag of essentials, too, as she heads off to a tropical resort.

The result is a friend-rescuing, clue-deciphering, puzzle-solving, shipwreck-exploring PC video game.

Never heard of Nancy Drew? Well, this bright, young, courageous private eye has been around since—oh, you're just pulling my leg. Everybody knows who Nancy Drew is. So let's skip past the preamble and dig up a few clues about her latest:

Sun, Surf and Stranded!
In Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, Nancy's best friend Bess has won a free vacation to a Bahamian eco-tourist resort called Dread Isle. Bess invites her cousin George and, of course, Nancy, to join her for some well-deserved R and R. At last, the girl detective can bury her feet in the sand and soak up some sun, right? Don't you believe it.

With a name like Dread Isle, something, uh, fishy has got to be going on. And when a delayed Nancy finally arrives, she finds that the resort owners are nowhere to be found (!), her BFF has been kidnapped (!!) and the island is cut off from communication to the outside world (!!!). In fact, the whole palm tree-covered place appears to be deserted except for George and a left-behind ransom note demanding that Nancy find an ancient treasure if she ever wants to see Bess alive again.

Nancy responds by having a good cry and then timidly sneaking off the island and heading back home to the safety of her bedroom. No, no, no. Nobody could imagine Nancy Drew doing that. What she really does is start piecing together clues that will lead her to the long-lost treasure of a long-dead Spanish captain.

Take a Deep Breath
While we're on the subject of hidden fortunes, let me say that Ransom of the Seven Ships is a puzzle lover's treasure trove. Along with a wealth of mysterious clues, minigames and quests, this title is overflowing with timed and color-coded puzzles, cryptograms, reflex challenges, matchstick manipulations and logic tests. And all of these intelligent stumpers are very believably woven into the game's story. Each helps to move you closer and closer to Nancy's final solution.

Three examples: Early on, you need to make your way around the sizable island and must put your math skills to the test to get a golf cart running and fill its batteries with the proper amount of distilled water. Later, you retrieve key objects from a game-happy—and very dexterous—monkey in a coconut toss. In another challenge you work out the proper combination of pulleys to lift a heavy object.

Fair warning, though: As easy as those challenges may sound, there are some pretty tough ones here, too. One quest that'd even make the real Nancy Drew (if she were real) grimace and let loose an "oh my!" or two, involves deep-sea diving to find a treasure chest near a sunken galleon. After locating the buried chest with a metal detector, you must solve its locking combination—consisting of a three-tiered, colored-tile Sudoku puzzle—while Nancy's air supply quickly drains away. This toughie will not only repeatedly send gamers swimming up to the surface for new air tanks, it'll send anyone under the age of 43 running for Mom's help.

I should point out here that Nancy can "drown" if she's left underwater too long. But when that happens, the narration informs us that at the last second she's rescued by a passing helicopter and somehow rushed to a nearby hospital. The game is lost, but Nancy survives.

A Little Help Here?
If (when) you do get stumped, you're offered a little help in the form of a wisecracking parrot named Coucou. He'll dole out some simple advice if you toss a piece of fruit in his food cup. But, to be honest, I found his cryptic clues to rarely be of much use. Besides, he seems more interested in exercising his wit than his wisdom: "Nancy Drew belongs in a zoo," he caws.

More helpful (to those who log in as Junior Detectives) is a task-list clipboard.

Most helpful, as I've already hinted, will be moms and dads everywhere. And that's especially true for all those 9-year-old Nancy Drew fans out there who can't get enough of her fun, but just won't be able to make it through this puzzler alone. Sights and sounds feel as fresh as a South Seas breeze—Nancy's most ticked-off exclamations are "darn" and "rats." But sleuthing can be tough. And you need a little backup when the baddies barge in. Nancy's got George and Bess. Your kids have ... you.

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Bob Hoose

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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