TFG Discussion: Comparing the Nancy Drew and Carol Reed Mystery Game Series, Part 5

​​In this five-part series, Kathryn and Hayley discuss some of their favorite indie mystery games. You can find part 4, which was published last week, here. In part 5, our last installment of the series, Kathryn and Hayley discuss the music, puzzles, and characters in the Nancy Drew and Carol Reed games.

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

Cover image per Helen Capstick – Pinterest.


Hayley Garden 0:00 

Yeah, I’ve noticed that as well in the Nancy games versus the Carol games that we played. Nancy Drew games, for the most part (and I have enjoyed every single Nancy Drew game that we’ve played – we would not even be here if you didn’t sit me down and play one), especially compared to the two Carol Reed games, definitely drag. I think Carol Reed has much better pacing than Nancy Drew. Overall, I think Nancy Drew tends to pad its game out with a lot of puzzles, some of which are kind of there for the sake of being puzzles and not really enhancing the plot, or fleshing out the world as much as I would necessarily like, if that makes sense. There was, and I forget which game this was in, this obnoxious string puzzle that we had to do, where we had to make all the strings look a certain way, and all the strings were tangled off. And it was so confusing, and I don’t even remember why we had to do it.

Kathryn Cooperman 1:11

Oh, Shadow at the Water’s Edge, and when she was staying at the hotel in Japan and trying to figure out which ghost was haunting the hotel. Yeah, I remember that.

Hayley Garden 1:21

That string puzzle was so frustrating because it was difficult, and I didn’t really understand what purpose it was serving beyond “okay let’s make our brains hurt a little.” That, and that Bento Box puzzle that they made you do in Shadow at the Water’s Edge. It was Bento Sudoku essentially, where all the Bento had to be in the same place, and they were gatekeeping information from you until you solved those very specific Bento puzzles. I don’t know, I found that frustrating more than rewarding, compared to the Carol Reed puzzles. Those were easier, yes, but I think they were just the right amount of difficult where they made me think, but they didn’t make me think too hard. So that I think is another difference between the two is that Nancy Drew games tend to be more padded out and focused on the puzzles while Carol games are more about exploration, and engaging with environments, and talking to people, and seeing different locations. While Nancy is puzzles first – everything is secondary to the puzzles. That’s another difference that I find really interesting to think about, and I think it’s nothing wrong, it’s just different ideas for game design.

Kathryn Cooperman 2:50

Yeah, it’s just a different experience. I find in the Nancy games the conversations you can have with the characters go on many more tangents, so do the plots. But in the Carol Reed games you don’t have a conversation that doesn’t help further the plot, and it’s only to get information out of that person, but with the Nancy Drew conversations, the characters can just go into whatever backstories they want. They do feel more human in certain ways, and more fleshed out. You can see different character quirks or tics that are funny later and then maybe sometimes these characters recur and they come up in later games so it’s entertaining for the fans. But I think it’s also interesting – the use of the Junior versus Senior level in the Nancy games. If you choose Junior, the puzzles are easier, and you get through the story quicker if you’re more focused on the story, but then there’s the Senior detective level where everything’s really difficult. And in Carol Reed they don’t have that. It’s all kind of the same, you know, we’re all at the same level of solving different puzzles and things like that. And it’s more focused on the story, as you said.

Hayley Garden 4:07

Well, I do want to say that I agree that the characters in Nancy Drew are way more memorable than the ones in Carol Reed, even just the one offs that appear in one game, and never come back again. Like in Carol Reed, I remember Carol and I remember Jonas, but I can’t say I remember too much about all the different characters that we speak to, or even the culprits. Nancy Drew does a really fantastic job in every single one of its games, creating memorable characters with interesting designs. I always love to speculate who the culprit is in a Nancy Drew game, and I love it when Kathryn likes to neither confirm nor deny and sort of keep me on my toes. I think it’s because those characters in Nancy Drew are so memorable that I’m always second guessing whenever I get a piece of information that may be a little off key. I think Nancy does a really really great job of creating memorable characters and I think that’s definitely one of its strongest points. Even from games that I haven’t played in two years, I still remember the names of the characters, and I remember what purpose they serve for the story. Like, we played The Secret of Shadow Ranch in 2019, but Tex, Dave, Mary Yazzie, and Shorty are all memorable characters and I remember to this day exactly what they contributed to the narrative, each of their quirks, the highs and the lows of all the characters, and wondering who the culprit was just so it’s all a very memorable experience for me, and I think that’s a really high point for Nancy. 

Kathryn Cooperman 6:00

Yeah, no spoilers of course. But that’s also a really long game so there is a lot of time to flesh out the different personalities and the different locations; you can go visit the mystery locations that pop up as the game goes on. But yeah, lastly what I wanted to discuss is the role that music plays in both of these games. I love music – I think music in video games speaks to the unique storyline or mystery that each installment has to offer. And we do find the same theme cropping up in Nancy Drew; they adopt new songs for each game, but then for Carol Reed, we have the same theme song that has many variations. But I found in – I know we’re talking about this game so much but it’s a good example – in The Secret of Shadow Ranch, there are a lot pieces of music that tell you that we’re in the middle of the desert, the ruthless desert in Arizona and the Southwest. There’s this heavy rock song – do you know which one I’m talking about? – where you’re in the menu and you’re trying to navigate the desert and it gives you this sense that you’re just in the middle of nowhere. Nancy doesn’t even have cell service in certain locations and it underscores the fact that you’re alone and you’re trying to figure it out. But then we also have Native American music – one of the characters, Mary Yazzie, is Native American – and we learn a little bit about her culture, and they have that soundtrack there as well. And then you have the hearty, homey music when you’re on the ranch. Very guitar heavy, violin fiddle heavy, so yeah it does incorporate the music very appropriately for different circumstances and in different parts of the games.

Hayley Garden 8:11

Yeah I agree. I think both games use music very well. I think that Carol Reed theme is unforgettable, but maybe it’s because it’s a little bit fresher in my memory (Carol, as opposed to Nancy). Both of the games really have strong soundtracks and strong sound design. You really need that in a mystery game, you really need sound and music to create an ambience. And I think both of the games are very successful in doing that with their music and their sound design so yeah I agree. Very, very good, both of those.

Kathryn Cooperman 8:52

Both very memorable franchises, you can purchase all of these games online at the respective websites, and yeah you do get a curated experience based on which one you choose, but Hayley and I both agree that they are strong games that feature independent female characters, definitely very feminist games, and we really enjoy playing them. 

Hayley Garden 9:15

Yeah, I think the differences should not detract you from playing them both, and the similarities between the two are enough of a draw to check both of them out, despite there being some pretty baseline differences. So play them both! Yes, you will not regret it.

Kathryn Cooperman 9:35

No, no, they’re great. All right, thank you so much for joining us. We’ll be back later on with more discussions about our favorite video games.

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