TFG Discussion: Comparing the Nancy Drew and Carol Reed Mystery Game Series, Part 3

​​In this five-part series, Kathryn and Hayley discuss some of their favorite indie mystery games. Parts 1 and 2 were published last October. In part 3, Kathryn and Hayley continue where they left off. They discuss their personal experiences with both the Nancy Drew and Carol Reed mystery series, and start to explore both the similarities and differences in the games’ plotlines, themes, and user interfaces.

Created and edited by Kathryn Cooperman and Hayley Garden. Transcript edited for clarity.

Cover image per Helen Capstick – Pinterest.


Hayley Garden 0:00

So last time, we analyzed the first Carol Reed game, which is a series of murder mystery indie point and click games about solving all sorts of mysteries in scenic northern Sweden [Editor’s note – eastern Sweden]. The way that we came to Carol Reed was through the Nancy Drew games, so we thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two series – Nancy Drew and Carol. Kathryn, (who is the veteran, while I am the newbie) I would love to hear what you have to say about what the similarities are between the two games and how those similarities drew you from Nancy Drew to Carol Reed, and that journey that you made.

Kathryn Cooperman 0:53

Sure. So I grew up with the Nancy Drew mystery series. I was 10 when I started playing two of the games, but I personally found them very complicated when I was a child. I couldn’t really get through them. I found some of the plot lines to be a little grotesque, kind of creepy. So, I stopped playing them and then I revisited them in my early 20s, and I found them much more fun to play as an adult. These are still games meant for kids, so there was nothing gory, or anything directly having to do with murder. The themes are all supposed to be digestible for children to play, even though I found that some of the plot lines were a bit dark. But I find they are more fun to play as an adult, just because I have the cultural context a bit more, and just having gone to school, having learned more about certain themes and stories that these games center themselves around. That’s why I appreciate them more now. But I would say about a year ago, I got into the Carol Reed franchise. These two game series are very similar because they both feature a young woman, very smart, kind of independent in her own right, and the solving of mysteries that they come across, but I think the themes in Carol Reed are a bit more geared towards adults. There is a discussion of certain characters having drug addictions or issues with alcoholism, and that is woven into the plotline for some of the games. And then, for Nancy Drew, it’s more that the culprits have stolen something, or there’s a museum heist, or somebody is trying to find the treasure in a mansion and is causing accidents to make it look like the mansion is haunted. But there’s actually something larger at play. So I would call Carol Reed the “grown up Nancy Drew;” I mean, they are very similar. Women solving mysteries – these are role models that you could look up to. I certainly live vicariously through these characters, but maybe they are geared towards different audiences, though I do enjoy playing the Nancy Drew games as an adult.

A character struggling with substance abuse in Carol Reed “Remedy.” Image per Adventure Gamers.

Hayley Garden 3:35

Yeah, I can definitely agree that there are some very surface level baseline similarities between both Nancy Drew and Carol Reed that could make anyone go “Oh, you like Nancy Drew obviously you’ll love Carol Reed!” It’s having a female protagonist who is not tied down to anyone who is again – as you said – very independent, very assertive, very knowledgeable, and sure of herself out there solving mysteries, regardless of whether the theme is adult or a little more geared towards children. Just that having that female protagonist, having been able to play as that female protagonist, it is really easy to find that inspiring and relatable and a lot of fun, and if you’re looking for that feeling that you get from Nancy Drew you’re going to get it from Carol Reed. Even though thematically, you will be dealing with some different ideas and concepts and themes in Carol compared to Nancy. However, the baseline of, “Oh, I am a woman and I am playing as a female detective in a media landscape where 9 detectives out of 10 are male” is very appealing, and that similarity between the two connects them and makes it very easy to hop from one branch to the other. So I think having that baseline similarity almost makes the differences feel trivial because you’re still getting the same ultimate experience out of Carol that you’re getting out of Nancy, which is being able to step into the shoes of a female detective for 6 to 10 hours, or however long these games get.

Kathryn Cooperman 5:34

Definitely. I think the only plotline for the Nancy Drew games that could have also been a Carol Reed plotline is in one of their later games. It’s called The Silent Spy. And it’s about Nancy Drew – in this game, it’s introduced that her mom was an international spy, and she has died in Scotland. She was murdered by this mafia group there, and Nancy has to go and avenge her mother’s death; she has to go to Scotland to figure out what happened exactly. There are some very beautiful and sad flashbacks of her and her mom playing piano together in their home in America, and of her mom singing to her. I think that one hit home the most, and it’s one of the more mature themes that maybe an adult can relate to. I personally lost my dad seven years ago, and playing this game, I definitely related to what it’s like to lose a parent and to have those memories.

Picture of Nancy and her mom, found in The Silent Spy. Image per saveorquit.com.

Hayley Garden 6:45

Yeah, I mean, kids’ media exploring darker and more mature themes is definitely more prevalent these days than it used to be and while I have not personally played this game, I have heard about it and I really want to. I hope we can play it soon, but it sounds like it does a very good job of executing this darker theme while still sticking to that more age appropriate baseline that the Nancy Drew games tend to stick towards. And re: Nancy going a bit more mature, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all. I commend them for having the hutzpah, as we say, to explore such a mature theme in a game that is meant to be for children and people of all ages as opposed to Carol which is definitely geared towards adults. It’s very admirable, and I can’t wait to play it! I hope to play it soon.

Kathryn Cooperman 7:53

Yeah, we will, and Hayley, you had noted as somebody that’s very interested in game design, just the fundamental differences between the two franchises, did you want to talk more about that?

Hayley Garden 8:04

Oh yeah, there is a, there’s definitely a lot to unpack there. I made a joke that Nancy Drew practically felt like a triple A game compared to Carol Reed, because Nancy Drew…I mean, Nancy Drew has a bigger development team and I can definitely tell even if the development team is just a few 3D artists, and a few scenario writers, Carol Reed is definitely a game made by one guy [Editor’s note – it is not just one person – a small team, but arguably much smaller than the Nancy Drew team] and you can definitely tell. I mean, Nancy Drew has a whole very complex interface – a menu, a loading screen that looks like it was designed and iterated and iterated over, and all the environments are 3D modeled, which is a lot of work that takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and energy. It requires a village to build those kinds of assets. And even back at the start in the 2000s, when I’m sure the team was even smaller, and it was even more Indie, and even if they look not as polished as they look now in 2020-2021, just the fact that they have such a big team, and everything is animated and everything is built from scratch, definitely sets it apart from Carol Reed. But as I – and I talked about this in the last discussion a little bit – I find that Carol Reed leaning more towards photography to be one of its charm points. One of the aspects of that game that really makes it charming and really makes it stand out to me is its use of real life photography, as opposed to Nancy’s 3D models and 3D characters and environments. I think the photography really adds a lot to the experience and to the game and really makes it stand out because it’s real, it’s really well shot, it’s really lush, and I even think that when they edit it to make it look like an impressionist painting that’s, that’s memorable. You don’t forget that. And I think not having the environments be 3D modeled the way Nancy is isn’t a detraction at all for Carol Reed. In fact, I think it really works in its favor, and it really makes that game be as good as it is. I think it adds a lot to the charm, and it doesn’t look cheap. It doesn’t look very low budget, it’s integrated well, and instead it’s immersive and it’s memorable. They really make use of the budget that they have and they are able to execute everything in a way that feels inventive. You’re not like, “oh, this is an indie game where it’s super cheap.” Everything feels purposeful, everything feels meaningful. And I think while they are very different, and you can tell that Nancy has a bigger team, it’s not a point against Carol Reed. I think Carol Reed makes everything work really well. 

Rudimentary modeling in an earlier Nancy Drew game, “Stay Tuned for Danger.” Image per Nancy Drew Games Wiki.

Kathryn Cooperman 11:33

I agree, yes, and the team working on the Carol Reed games is much smaller. I would say, as the games progress – I know we didn’t play some of the later games together, only one – but they do get a bit more complicated with the still photographs. The images no longer look like Impressionist paintings, they are actual (mostly unedited) photographs after a certain point, and the menu does get a little more complicated, as well as the interactions in the game environment, but it doesn’t bother me. I think it’s just a different experience from the Nancy Drew franchise where there is a lot more modeling, maybe more of a degree of interaction with specific items in the interface, and in some of the Nancy Drew games you can pick up a lot of different clues and the environments move more, I would say, than the ones in Carol Reed, but I also like how the Nancy Drew games have progressed. While I do appreciate the more simple storylines of the early games, the modeling was very old and rudimentary. In one of the older games that’s set in New York (Stay Tuned for Danger), the people look like bobbleheads and you can see – I mean, it’s very old; it’s from the late 90s – it’s charming and it’s fun to revisit, but you can see the limitations that they were working with, but I do really appreciate the effort and I like that game a lot. It’s very interesting. Actually, that game does have more of a mature storyline, because the premise is that she’s visiting a big TV set, and she’s staying with a celebrity, and one of the lead actors in this fictional show is getting death threats from somebody else, we’re not sure who, somebody that’s jealous of him, and she has to figure out who is sending these death threats, and she does get into danger throughout the game until we finally find out who it is. But I suppose it is more digestible for kids. The Carol Reed themes are maybe a bit more advanced, but this one, I think along with Nancy Drew The Silent Spy, went into more of a mature territory.

Join us next week for part 4!

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