Time to dive in with another Nancy Drew game. This time we are looking at The Haunted Carousel, which is loosely based on the book… The Haunted Carousel. The book is from the 1980s, so not part of the original Nancy Drew stories that began in the 1930s. It is actually one of the highest-rated Nancy Drew games. So it begs the question of if I agree with that, or have I enjoyed others more.
The Haunted Carousel follows Nancy as she takes a job investigating some strange goings-on at an amusement park. A Carousel horse was stolen, and a “curse” has supposedly been released on the park. After the horse went missing, the rollercoaster ride messed up, causing one injury. The game plays out like most of them. Nancy can wander around the case area, in this one an amusement park as mentioned. She meets a handful of people, must find clues, solve puzzles, and work out who the culprit might be.
As with the other games I have played, this one is non-linear. There are certain events, dialogue, etc., that won’t trigger until you do something specific, but otherwise, you have a lot of freedom to pick your path and the order you do things. This aspect of these games is nice; while a lot of point and clicks did have this freedom, games geared towards a younger audience were the ones most likely to sacrifice it. The problem with Nancy Drew and other games in the same genre is you can get caught meandering because you might not have direction. The problem with The Haunted Carousel specifically is events just not triggering.
When I play games like this, I usually find guides just in case I get stuck. I didn’t need it much for this game, but I did notice a problem. About two hours into the game, several events that were supposed to have happened, according to the guide, still hadn’t. Everything I needed to actually progress in the game did eventually trigger, but a lot of it was in a weird order. I missed some dialogue options or ways to solve various problems, and it just felt… off. It went against the natural flow of solving the mystery and having to work things out. It also notably hurt the “non-linear” aspect of the game. Getting to choose what quests you focus on and in what order only works if events are actually triggering. If only one does at a time, then it’s not really non-linear? I don’t know if I did something wrong, or if this is a problem with the game. Either way, it really dampened the experience.
The other issue I had was that mystery itself was weak in comparison to other games. One of the great things about these games is that while you have access to only a limited number of characters, all of them could be the person causing the issues. The thing about good mysteries is you are always going to have some type of reaction to the big reveal. Be it that you were able to sort through clues and stuff to figure it out or being completely caught off guard. My reaction to this reveal was… a bit flat?
I think this might be another result of things not triggering, but most people’s motives were established, but then they were cleared rather quickly. There was really only one person it could be. It didn’t impact me as much as the other two games I played.
Alright, so that’s a whole lot of complaining, did I like this game at all? Yes, actually, kind of a lot. The setting is really cool. The amusement park is a great idea, and I love the nautical theme of it all too. The puzzles and gameplay are decent. I also like that in this game, when you fail, instead of “fade out to death then reload,” you get a scene where the person that hired you scolds and then fires you.
Also, for all I felt the mystery wasn’t fleshed out enough, there is one character whose story is really tragic and bittersweet but well worth the time and effort to see it unfold. She lost her mother at a young age, like Nancy, and is bitter towards the park and life. Nancy connects with her and helps her through a lot of her pain, anger, and sadness. It’s actually a really lovely part of this game.
And while the mystery again could have used more detail, there is something cool there. An old robbery, bitter employees, a potential curse, and oh boy, did I learn a lot about carousel horses, which was actually pretty cool.
The game also looks pretty decent and has solid voice acting. A step up from Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake but a mix between tied with and a little worse than Shadow at the Water’s Edge. However, again solid gameplay overall. There is a decent variety of puzzles and not a whole lot of moon logic. I also like that most of the puzzles are directly related to what you are doing. I remember highlighting in Shadow at the Water’s Edge disliking that a lot of puzzles weren’t actually directly involved in what you were doing. This game does have a few of those but not nearly as many.
I actually really get why this game was well-received. It’s fun and looks cool, I mean, for a 2003 game. The voice acting is also solid.
I am just surprised that it remains one of the best received. While this game is a step forward from ones that came before, it is also clear, in my opinion, that games that came after built on that. It’s also simply put just not the most developed mystery in the series, which the mystery really matters.
So bottom line. I am a fan of these games, I think it’s pretty clear. With age and the fact that they are kids’ games, they are not the best point and clicks out there, I get that. They are solidly fun, though, and have interesting plots and stories. I get why this one is so well-liked in the series, though I would argue against it being the best. I also don’t know how much the event triggering being messed up colors that. It’s decently priced, often is in bundles that go on sale, and a fun quick game overall. If you like Nancy Drew and early 2000s to late 2000s games, I would recommend this. They aren’t the greatest point and clicks out there, but they are enjoyable and fairly easy to play through, and affordable.