Nancy Drew and the Labyrinth of Lies is a point-and-click adventure game based on, you guessed it, the Nancy Drew series. You are Nancy herself, wandering around a museum in Greece, trying to solve several mysteries at once—namely, a series of art thefts. It becomes clear as you speak to the characters (actors in a play and a museum curator) that there’s something sinister going on. Meanwhile, you must solve a lot of complicated puzzles and uncover keys, notes, invoices, secret doors, and trinkets.
First of all, this game is hard. Or maybe I’m just not built for sleuthing. Some of the puzzles took me far longer to solve than I would’ve liked, and I often had to reach for hints. Most of the time it came down to my lack of patience—I tend to get burnt out on puzzles pretty quickly, especially when I’m not sure what the next step is. Put me in front of a puzzle where I know all the rules, and I’ll tinker with it for hours. Put me in front of a puzzle where half the problem is figuring out what to do with it? I’ll last…maybe 10 minutes. That’s where Nancy Drew fell apart for me; most of the game involves running around trying to figure out the solution to the solution. I wasn’t confident enough to ever know that I was doing the right thing, and the idea that I could be wasting time trying to solve something that I didn’t have the key to yet was infuriating. (And boy, did I waste a lot of time.) There are difficulty settings (amateur and master) and I was playing on amateur, to give you a sense of the difficulty level. When playing master sleuth, no hints are available, and the puzzles are even harder.
This won’t necessarily be the case for everybody. In fact, I imagine lots of kids—and adults—would delight in this type of brain exercise.
If there’s one thing I would change about the game, it would be to make the interface more accessible. There was at least one puzzle that I assumed was unsolvable (I thought I didn’t have the required information to complete it), when in reality it was just that I hadn’t been clicking in the correct place. The only part of the screen that changes when you can interact with an object—an important aspect of an adventure game—is the cursor, but you have to be somewhat delicate with it.
The story reads much like the Nancy Drew novels I grew up with. There’s a slight element of the uncanny, or the supernatural, that lends a bit of excitement to what would otherwise be a boring museum setting. I was surprised to find myself in an underground Greek Underworld with real flames and Tartarus doors—a set for a play, ostensibly, but very realistic and somewhat scary.
One area that could’ve used some work was the character interaction. The other characters are animated, but in a very uncanny-valley fashion, and their responses to my inquiries weren’t always reasonable—for instance, in speaking with one woman, Nancy aggravated her and was told to leave the room immediately. I tried to interact with her again and she told me my pottery was quite nice, seemingly with no memory of the incident—and no consequences for Nancy. Another event had a character threatening Nancy and taking away a remote so that she couldn’t access the underground set. The puzzle here was to find where he had hidden the remote, and when I solved it, the character seemed to no longer mind that Nancy was exploring the set willy nilly, remote in hand.
Which brings me to my next complaint, which was Nancy’s snooping. I know, I know, that’s what Nancy Drew does. But somehow in the books it makes sense—her curiosity can’t be contained. As the audience we can read about her doing something we know she probably shouldn’t, and recognize that this is a character with flaws. In the game, it felt more like she was just being obnoxious and invasive, and worse, since the player is Nancy, it felt like I was being obnoxious and invasive. Cracking someone’s tablet password or pulling the lining out of someone’s bag really isn’t okay, even if it’s in the name of solving a mystery. The one time I got caught at it and was called out, I felt genuinely bad—but Nancy did not.
One thing I did enjoy about the game was its focus on Greek myth and art. I’m a bit of a mythology buff, but I still found that I learned something new. Some of the puzzles Nancy has to solve involve things like putting together a Greek temple and choosing the right classical architectural elements to decorate it with. There’s one point when you have to learn a few Greek letters in order to solve a code. Knowing what animals were associated with the different gods and goddesses will help you match up figurines in a music box. I even learned a little about art forgery! Although it’s a little dense at times, and kids will definitely see through it, linking the educational aspects of the game with the gameplay opened a door to a world of learning that would normally be inaccessible and boring to a lot of young learners. It also made sense thematically, since Nancy is working at a museum in Greece.
Good for Kids?
My guess is that this depends very much on the kid in question. First of all, the game is rated E10+, and there are a few scary aspects of the game that might not be appropriate for very young kids. These aren’t jump scares or monsters, only settings—but hands reaching out of a ribcage-shaped door in Tartarus isn’t exactly toddler fare. If you walk into the fire, like I did (many, many times) you are presented with a “you have failed” screen. There’s nothing graphic about any of it, but the implication is that you have burned Nancy alive, which is a bit intimidating.
Beyond that, though, the game is difficult enough that I wouldn’t recommend it to just any child. These puzzles take patience and good reasoning skills, and the 25-year-old me had trouble with a good number of them. I wouldn’t have gotten far without using the hints (some may call them cheats; I call them…my lifeline). My suggestion would be to play together, whether it’s siblings, friends, or parents helping out. Two minds are better than one, and working through the problems aloud can be much more efficient and fun than trying to tackle them on your own.
So where does all this leave us? Reading this review, you’d think I hated the game, and that’s not the case. I’d say it wasn’t for me. But maybe if I were a bit younger, or a bit more patient, or had enjoyed previous Nancy Drew games in the series, I would’ve had a better time with it. The puzzles are well put together and they don’t suffer from the inanity and simplicity that many puzzle games do. The learning aspects of the game are nicely threaded throughout the story. It was refreshing as always to play as a female protagonist, and especially one who never appears on screen, and thus is never sexualized (though she is flirted with by an adult man at one point). Nancy Drew and the Labyrinth of Lies is, at best, an intense workout for your reasoning skills and an exciting mystery.