This Review of Secret at Shadow Ranch contains a few spoilers.
Everyone loves a good mystery. It seems to be embedded in our human nature to seek out answers. This need probably explains why gamers adore titles with a mystery-ridden story. Mystery point and click games allow us to collect clues and confront the culprit while playing from a safe distance. One of the few names that came to mind while thinking of clues and footprints is Nancy Drew. Her Interactive has been developing games based on this super sleuth since 1998. Just how well do these games hold up over the years? Secret at Shadow Ranch is one of the rare games based on an original Nancy Drew book. It’s perfect for this time of year due to the feeling of summer and vacation.
Nancy is visiting her friends’ relative’s ranch for an enjoyable vacation. Anyone who has read a Nancy Drew novel knows exactly where this leads. Shadow Ranch once housed the love of the notorious outlaw Dirk Valentine. His devoted steed’s spirit has appeared on the ranch recently as a glowing apparition. And with the luminous horse’s appearance comes dangerous accidents. You play as the infamous Nancy while investigating the truth behind these incidents before the whole ranch is destroyed.
The plot begins well with an engaging story yet it deflates halfway through. The mystery and wonder of the ghosts and the old tale becomes more about a modern day robber. The old story is barely addressed later on and the legend is forgotten. Nancy Drew games are well known for having memorable and absent characters. Some of the best one-liners come from characters who only speak to Nancy by using a phone. This time in Secret at Shadow Ranch: Bess, George and their relatives, are never seen in the game. It is a missed opportunity that would have added some extra substance to the otherwise failing plot.
Since the entire game takes place in a farming/ranch community, there is little else to explore outside from the dry dusty plains of a middle American state. The lack of scenery while riding out to the few locations available in the story makes it all the more disappointing. Many of the puzzles are merely farm chores. These include feeding the horses by using correct measurements of various grains and collecting ripened fruit at just the right time. The worst of the puzzles is the slot-machine game that is unfortunately vital to moving forward.
These games are all about solving the mystery by beating the presented puzzles. Since so many of the puzzles are reminiscent of real-life chores, the entertainment value decreases. Especially since there are better ND games to enjoy. The grainy graphics have not held up well over the years, either. However, for a seasoned Nancy Drew fan, the graphics hold the power of nostalgia.
Secret of Shadow Ranch is heavily flawed and hasn’t held up over the years since it first released in 2004. It would be interesting if Her Interactive rewrote the story, filled in the plot holes, added a few new characters and reworked all of the puzzles for a new version of the game. Then, this story could be placed as one of the great ND games. If you are completely new to the Nancy Drew games I highly recommend checking out one of the latest ones instead as they better represent the franchise’s spirit.
If you want to check out Secret at Shadow Ranch for yourself, you may visit the official website. Decide for yourself how the game has held up over the years!