The Digital Detective: Nancy Drew Video Games

Ghost of Thornton Hall
Don’t give any spoilers!
She is the undisputed Queen of Girl Sleuths, the Uber-Goddess with a roadster, so it should be no surprise that the Nancy Drew Mystery Games by Her Interactive, truly truly have no peer in the realm.

And I have played all of them.

Every. Single. One. (Except #28, the most recent so NO SPOILERS)

And I am a grownass woman.

While these games are perfectly appropriate for younger people (I wouldn’t recommend them for small children—the narratives are too complex and the puzzles too sophisticated), it really is a game for everyone who values story and snooping above all else in gaming.

You choose between Junior and Senior Detective, and the key differences here is the absence of a Task List in Senior (you’d be surprised how handy this is, even for experienced gamers) and how hard the puzzles are. And the difference here, can be huge. Honestly, sometimes I start on Junior Detective in case of a dreaded slider puzzle.

Since their first title “Secrets Can Kill” in 1998, Her Interactive has consistently put out two titles a year. Usually the Fall title is a spookier mystery with lots of seasonally appropriate ambience (It’s a blizzard at the Boarding School! What’s that howling in the English Manor House? ), while the Spring/Summer title is more like a vacation (Welcome to a Deserted Island! How about a trip to Venice?)

These are completely immersive environments with graphics that become more sophisticated with each game. Each one starts the same way: Someone needs help, and only Nancy can help them. So she hops a plane to … (England, Arizona, Ireland, what have you). You play in first person as Nancy herself, sleuthing through the environments, talking to people, finding clues, solving puzzles. Here there are entire manor houses, entire castles to explore – drawers to rifle through, phone calls to eavesdrop on, secret passages to find, and finally … a culprit to face down and defeat.

Yeah, we'd karate chop her too...
Yeah, we’d karate chop her too…
But don’t worry! With the exception of the first game, there are no murders, and no real violence. So you don’t end up shooting anybody (which might be a bit of a disappointment to some). You DO however get to block a crazy French fashion designer’s fake karate until she tires out and collapses. So there’s that. (“Danger by Design”)

I like that I always learn something in a Nancy Drew game: In “Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake,” I learned about speakeasies and the start of the National Parks project. In “Secret of the Old Clock” we go Back in Time to Nancy’s beginnings (the very first ND book shares the same title), where I learned about Hobo Codes, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and how mentalists fool their audiences. It’s seamlessly integrated into the games and is completely central to solving the overarching problem.

Learning and Video Games are not mutually exclusive!
Learning and Video Games are not mutually exclusive!
I love that you never see her face. I’m pretty sure that if I ever saw the face of Nancy Drew I would burst into celestial flames. Once–only once, in the New Orleans themed “Legend of the Crystal Skull”–do you see only her long shadow, looking suspiciously like the famous icon silhouette that graced the spines of all my books.

I could write a separate write up of each one of these games but I’ll try to stick to the highlights of what makes the series great, as a whole.

The Nancy Drew games often share some great things:


Nancy knows you don’t get anything for free in this world. Girl’s gotta work hard for that money. You’ll often need money in these games, to do things to advance the plot, like get a key appraised, or to buy a decoder machine from a street vendor, as well as to get fun things, like gelato or toys from the vending machine. Some of my favorite ND jobs include delivering telegrams in “Secret of the Old Clock”. I delivered a telegram to Rebecca out at Sunnybrook Farm, and Miss Temple who taught at Lowood School. Second place goes to “Phantom of Venice” where Nancy dons a full body catsuit (complete with EARS) and dances in a nightclub (Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, you pervs. It’s a Dance Dance Revolution type game)


Food is everywhere in almost all the games. Eat snails in Paris in “Danger by Design”, gelato in Venice in “Phantom of Venice” and the ice cream in “Alibi in Ashes” was almost too much. You also have several opportunities to Make Food: make weird Mocktails in the Screaming Banshee Pub in “The Haunting of Castle Malloy”. And probably my favorite: eavesdrop on your classmates’ gossip while you work in the Snack Bar in “Warnings at Waverly Academy”.


Charleena Purcell
Of course there’s a writer in Nancy Drew!
These characters are more complex and well-developed than in any other game like this I’ve played. They’re funny and quirky, sometimes mean and sometimes Nancy misjudges or underestimates them, and we sometimes find that the Mean Girl has her own problems, and the Stick in the Mud might have a good reason to be overly cautious. Many of these character recur over the course of the series: Romance Novelist Charleena Purcell, and French History Expert Professor Beatrice Hotchkiss, and the ever-elusive Gender Neutral “Sonny Joon” (who seems to have JUST LEFT every job Nancy ever takes).

Moreover, from the very beginning Her Interactive has been committed to showing that the world Nancy lives in is not entirely White. There are people of color in ALL the Nancy Drew games, and it’s done in such a way that it just seems to reflect a picture of how the world is, rather than that Village People style that some media affects (“Look! A black guy! A nun! An Eskimo with a Harpoon!”)

Locked Doors.

EVERY SINGLE TIME Nancy encounters a locked door or drawer she utters the same phrase, with the EXACT same intonation. “It’s locked.” I don’t know why ND fans think this is the most hilarious thing ever. But we do.

If you want to get started, it doesn’t matter where in the series you begin (Unless you want to begin with “Stay Tuned for Danger”, which was discontinued in 2011). All available games played on my machine with few problems, although some of the older ones had *some* problems, but nothing that interferes with finishing the game.

Okay. Except this one thing. I didn’t finish my replay of “The Haunted Carousel” because of the fracking Pong Game. Something about the old version made the mini-game run slowly on my machine, and since I am the WORST at this kind of game at the best of times, I just gave up in tears. And I really needed that token, too.

The curse is looking pretty mysterious in that cape!
The curse is looking pretty mysterious in that cape!
My personal favorites are “The Curse of Blackmoor Manor” (The English Manor with midnight howling, a secret slide, and a ghost hunt), “The Warnings at Waverly Academy” (snowed in at boarding school, Edgar Allan Poe clues, and dealing with Mean Girls bullying you over your cell phone) and “Shadow at the Water’s Edge” (a haunted Ryokan in Osaka, make Bento boxes, and the straight up scariest ghost I’ve seen). Oh! And “Secret of the Old Clock”! Oh! And “The Captive Curse”! (A monster in a German castle! With German Board Games!)

You see my problem. All of these are available for sale (CD and download) at .

Become a fan. Know how hilarious it is when Nancy says, “It’s locked.” It’s great. But only after you hear it 875,935 times.


Amy Eller Lewis is a writer and Library Fairy in Southern New England. She works at one of the oldest libraries in the country, which is definately haunted. Follow her on Twitter @amyellerlewis or on Tumblr:

See all posts on Criminal Element by Amy Eller Lewis


  1. Tatiana deCarillion

    I love these games, as well. I think I have maybe six or eight of them, but I have to confess that I have gone to look for hints, now and again LOL

    The puzzles are interesting, some of them are hard (hint time, after I get tired of re-trying!), and the storylines and locales are interesting.

    I’m in the midst of two of them now–The Haunted Carousel and The Phantom of Venice and stuck on both 🙂

  2. Doreen Sheridan

    OMG, I’ve so wanted to try these titles but was afraid they’d be too easy! Thanks for the recommendations: I’ve recently gotten hooked on adventure games again and am quickly working my way through the ones that I know are worth playing.

    And yes, I, too, am a grown-ass woman, but I loooooove solving mysteries, even if they’re not real :).

  3. NDFan23

    This is so true!! Also, thanks to this game series I can no longer hear the phrase “It’s locked.” without laughing.

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