HerInteractive promised us two games this year and they certainly kept their promise. The 15th installment in the Nancy Drew Series rolled off the production line and into stores at the tail end of October. This time around, Nancy is off to Hawaii. Always willing to sign herself up for anything and everything, Nancy will be performing the job of Research Assistant to Dr. Quigley Kim. Dr. Kim is an Entomologist; entomology being the scientific study of insects. Oh joy......we'll be working with bugs. I just looovvvveee bugs!
As with Danger by Design, The Creature of Kapu Cave starts out with a full tutorial in Nancy's bedroom. On her desk, you can click on a scrapbook and see a synopsis complete with pictures of all the previous 14 games. The case file provides Nancy will all the details she needs about this newest case. There is also a book entitled 'How to be a detective'. This is where the tutorial is located. Clicking on topics such as What's New, Inventory and Tools, Camera etc... will provide you with instructions on how to use each feature in the game. You will even get to try out various features so you can get used to the controls. If this is your first Nancy Drew game, be sure to go through the tutorial. For those of you who have played the previous installments, you have the option to skip the tutorial and click on a plane ticket to start the game.
OK... So we've clicked on the plane ticket and we're off to Hawaii. A jeep has been left for Nancy at Immersion Excursion. All she has to do is get the keys from Big Island Mike (Mike Mapu). But, as this is a Nancy Drew game, things are never quite so simple. Big Island Mike's business is designed for tourists. The goal is to have the tourist experience things that true Hawaiians get to do every day as part of their daily lives. Mike has a very interesting sales technique that he uses on Nancy. Basically, she doesn't get the keys to the jeep unless she partakes in his immersion excursion. She protests but, it doesn't help. Her task will be to collect shells on the beach and make them into a necklace.
So, off to the beach Nancy goes. It is here that she gets a huge surprise. Joe and Frank Hardy are actually standing on the beach. What a coincidence! It seems they're in Hawaii investigating Big Island Mike and his daughter Pua. Pua is on the road to becoming a professional surfer and may be eligible for sponsorship from Joe and Frank's client. Of course, that all depends on the investigation coming out clean. Sponsorships involve a lot of money and could easily bring bad publicity and financial loss if a scandal were to break out. So, even though they're busy with their investigation, it's nice to have some friends around.
Finally, Nancy is on her way to Dr. Kim's campsite. The detective is horrified to discover that the site has been completely trashed. There is no sign of Dr. Kim. Who could have been behind such devastation and where in the world is Dr. Kim? As Nancy spends more time on the big island of Hawaii, she'll uncover more mysterious happenings. She'll have to deal with a secret research facility doing who knows what, failed crops, unnatural bug population growth, and an old Hawaiian legend about an angry spirit named Kane Okala. Could Kane Okala be causing all the problems or is it an earth-bound troublemaker? It is up to Nancy to find out.
Creature of Kapu Cave comes in a DVD case with 2 CD's. They load up with absolutely no problems. No technical problems were encountered either. I purchased my copy of the game from Best Buy. This version came with the Official Strategy Guide which will give you all the help you need if you get stuck. Creature of Kapu Cave is a first-person point and click adventure. Upon starting the game, you will get to choose your detective level. You will have the choice of either Junior or Senior level. The game offers ample save game slots. The main menu allows you to adjust the volume of the voices, music or special effects. You also may turn off the text.
Getting around is quite simple. There are large yellow directional arrows to indicate where to go. For this installment, a map has been incorporated into the game. It will pop up every time Nancy uses the jeep. Accessible locations are clearly shown and clicking on one of them will transport you to the corresponding place. At the bottom of the game screen you can access the main menu, inventory, Nancy's notebook, cell phone, and a change purse that contains Nancy's money. This time, Nancy will not have real money. She will be collecting Big Island Bucks from Mike Mapu's Immersion Excursion. The cell phone options are a bit different this time around. Nancy will be able to contact her boyfriend for assistance and moral support. She can also contact Frank or Joe Hardy. Conversations with Bess and George are not included in this installment. This definitely makes for shorter conversations. The standard cursors have not changed. Nancy has a magnifying glass that will turn red when she can examine something. A hand icon will glow red when you can interact with or pick up an item. A speech bubble is used to indicate that you can talk to a given character.
HerInteractive has stepped up the graphics for The Creature of Kapu Cave. The character renderings are greatly improved and look more natural. While you won't have tons of characters to interact with, the ones you do encounter are quite quirky. Dr. Kim prefers spending time with the bugs in the trees rather than people themselves. She tends to ramble on about her research so you'll need to shut her up at times. Big Island Mike seems helpful. But keep in mind that he's all about making money, and he has a round about way of doing it so it doesn't seem obvious. Pua seems quite normal and is focused on her surfing. Your initial impression will be that she couldn't possibly be involved in anything shady. Dr. Malachi Craven is perhaps one of the most interesting characters. He's quite the grouchy man and extremely guarded and secretive, but he is a sucker for an anything that appeals to his ego. All the voice acting is done well and keeps with the standards HerInteractive has set for themselves.
You'll even get the chance to switch places with the Hardy Boys. This is accomplished by using your cell phone. Each time Nancy calls, she will switch the investigation to Joe or Frank. The reverse is true when the Hardy Boys call Nancy. You can switch characters as often as you like. This is a plus for all the males out there who play the game. While I'm sure they don't mind playing a female detective, it sure must be nice to flex their muscles with the Hardy Boys. I would hope that one day the Hardy Boys get their own game series.
The backgrounds, while still maintaining the vibrancy we've come to expect, also incorporate a measure of fluidity. For example, on the beach the water is actually moving. This adds a new dynamic to the customary static environments. You'll spend a decent amount of time at Mike's Immersion Excursion. There are a lot of tasks to complete there. You'll traipse through the brush to get to Dr. Kim's research location, wander cautiously around her destroyed camp, sneak around the secret research facility and get a chance to go underwater with some scuba diving.
An unfortunate trend in the last 2 games is a strong deviation from the original Nancy Drew model which involved heavy emphasis on the investigation within each game. It was the investigative process that helped bring the books and the PC games together as complementing entities. It is also what ended up luring adults to the games. You could actually play this game with your child/teen (or by yourself) and all involved would get a satisfying game experience complete with full-on snooping, and interesting puzzles that could be quite the stumpers. The fact that one or two mundane tasks were thrown in did not detract at all from the games. The dynamic has now been changed and includes more repetitive tasks which is disappointing. The Creature of Kapu Cave is quite short and it seems as though the tedious tasks were included just to add length to the game.
The repetitive tasks start right from the beginning. You have to make the necklace for Mike in order to get the keys. You go to the beach and pick up some shells. Walk away. Come back and get more shells. Walk away. Come back and get more shells until you have enough of the right type of shells to complete the required necklace. Should you need more Big Island Bucks, you can make more necklaces or you can try fishing. The fishing is a bit boring. Unless you have the best bait money can buy, there is a long pause in between when you cast your line and the fish actually bites. You'll do this over and over. Even solving some of the puzzles will have the same effect. You'll make snow cone after snow cone and separate bug parts from seeds. These chores are just downright tedious.
However, there are other types of puzzles where you have to figure out combinations to lockers and boxes. You'll get to ride some tides underwater as you snorkel your way through a maze. These puzzles are fun but easy even at the Senior level. And, as always, there is the 2nd Chance puzzle.
The Hilihili Research facility is the only location that feels more like the old Nancy Drew games. Nancy at least asks some questions and expresses her nosiness here. But, this is short lived. The ending of the game also seems a bit abrupt and the clues you find during the game don't really lead up to this ending at all. The mystery just doesn't seem all that mysterious, if you know what I mean.
Graphically, this is the best Nancy Drew game ever. Thumbs up to HerInteractive for making these improvements. But, overall the game feels like it is aimed at a much younger audience than previous games. Perhaps that is the intention... If you're a die hard Nancy Drew fan like I am, then you'll play the game, get some enjoyment out of it and hope for a return to the Nancy of old in the next installment. Kids will still love it and that seems to be the target audience of the game. Therefore, The Creature of Kapu Cave gets two grades:
For kids: 85/100
For the rest of us: 75/100