Impressions: Nancy Drew: Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake

The Nancy Drew games are a series of point and click adventure games developed by Her Interactive that started in 1998 and ran all the way to 2019 – the most recent, and I could not find confirmation if it is the last or not – Most of them released on PC, although there have been some ports to handhelds and consoles. In the future, my Impressions will be focusing on the PC point and click adventures. Some of the games are directly based on books, some take inspiration from the books, and some are their own adventure. Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake was released in 2002 and is partially based on both Nancy Drew Ghost Stories: Ghost Dogs of Whispering Oaks and Nancy Drew Mystery by Moonlight.

In it, Nancy is going to visit Sally McDonald in her new house on Moon Lake; however, Sally flees the home the night that Nancy arrives. Nancy also gets stuck as a tree falls, blocking the one road leading to the house. Nancy gets in touch with Sally who apologizes, but says that she was unable to handle another night and that she was being haunted. Nancy, ever curious, goes outside to investigate, only to be confronted by a bird watcher who then tells her to hurry inside. After she does, she sees the same ghost dogs that were tormenting Sally.

From there on, Nancy has to discover the mystery of the house, once owned by a Prohibition-era bad guy named Mickey, who ran a speakeasy and supposedly buried gold somewhere near the house. She must also discover who of the local characters would have a reason for wanting to drive Sally out.

Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake plays fairly similarly to point and clicks of the time. There aren’t the typical “push, pull,” etc., buttons, but rather, you just interact with things directly and pull stuff from your inventory, but other than that is a pretty standard fare. Of course, gameplay is mostly puzzle-based, although there are a few movement-based puzzles.

Puzzle types range in variety. You will have to do things like fix a boat and work out how tight or loose screws need to be, reorganize a bunch of files dated in Roman Numerals, use a poem to help you position things, and all sorts of different things. You will also have to do a lot of walking around the woods and searching for various things, a location, bugs, birds, etc. This was, by far, for me the worst part of the game. Getting around the forest is not impossible. In fact, nothing in this game is; there are plenty of markers and ways to work your way around it. Just if you have as poor sense of direction as I do, that is somehow made even worse in games… good luck. I needed it, and you will too.

I needed a guide to find the cemetery in the woods and then leaned heavily on that same guide every time I was in there. I would just wander around looking for whatever I was searching for, then hope to stumble upon the cemetery and then work my way backward to get out. Every. Single. Time. I am really good at getting lost in games is the moral of the story.

Puzzles do range as far as how they work. Some of them are pretty straightforward and logical. Case in point, you will need the date of a “bad day” to get into Mickey’s safe. You will have also sorted files that included his arrest date before, so the logic is there. Some are trial and error puzzles, and some are moon logic.

Moon logic puzzles refer to puzzles where you don’t have a logical explanation for how they work. There isn’t an a connects to b, which connects to c sort of logic to them, but rather just guessing, luck, or just trying a whole lot of everything until you stumble on the solution. It’s something that shows up in a lot of point and clicks and had… let’s say, mixed results for the genre.

There is also the problem that some puzzles that suffer due to age rather than poor design. For instance, there was a puzzle where I needed to keep moving forward but didn’t realize I could because my mouse was not aligned just so. This is a HUGE problem with older point and clicks, and it’s an example of this game showing its age. It is not a bad puzzle design, just something we have moved beyond the issues of.

Despite all that, for the most part, I really liked the puzzles in the game. Even when I found myself a little frustrated, I was able to find guides or just work through things via trial and error. The game got a little irksome at times but never felt bad or not fun.

I also like that there was a bit of risk involved with it. You can die in this game, although you will be able to load right away, so there is actual punishment for not being able to work things out quickly or doing things wrong without being overly so. I also like that you have to go out during the night, because after that first night being chased by the dogs, it adds a bit of fear every time you venture out when it’s dark after. You are even given have a decent amount of freedom in the order you can do various things.

Graphically the game has aged. It looks decent enough for the time and has some nice details to it. The voice acting is not great but pretty solid, again, especially for its age. The story is also solid, and it is worth going through and exhausting all the dialogue options and exploring as much as you want. There are some cool things here and a decent mystery.

All of the characters that could be involved have a decent motive, although the solution is not surprising. But again, Nancy Drew is for teens and young adults, not necessarily people my age, so while the mystery feels slightly lacking, it’s completely age-appropriate.

Bottom line, I mostly picked this game up for nostalgia. I love point and click games, and had I had more access to them when this game came out, I likely would have played it or others in the series. I was never as devoted to Nancy Drew as my sister, but I enjoyed the books and enjoy the overall idea of the series. A mystery series led by a young, intelligent, curious woman/teen. The game is fairly short but also cheap, and you will find on Steam they offer a variety of bundles and sales. If you like mysteries and point and clicks, while it shows its age, I would still recommend this game. If you like Nancy Drew but are less sure about gaming, you may actually enjoy this one. Again it’s fairly short, decently written, and there are some good guides for it, so it may be worth giving it a go and see if it’ll make a gamer out of you.

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