One very fun way that I have been teaching my kids logical and critical thinking is by playing the Nancy Drew mystery computer games together. There are over a dozen different numbered titles, but you can play them in any order. The games exist for the Wii, Nintendo DS and on DVD, but we have gone for the PC version. The four games we have tried are Secret of the Old Clock (#12), Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon (#13), Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake (#7) and Secret of the Scarlet Hand (#6).
The Nancy Drew games were my daughter’s first foray into this kind of computer game. The Nancy Drew series of games is rated for age 10 to adult, which is pretty accurate. My seven year old daughter could do quite a lot of the games’ puzzles, and knew how to traverse the Nancy Drew universe, but a few of the puzzles were above her head, and she wasn’t always sure what to try next. Even I got stumped a few times. My then four year old son, who often sat in on the game sessions, soaked it all in but mostly just watched.
Despite the lead character in these games being young and female, these are definitely games for everyone: boys, girls, men, women, families. The puzzles in the games are not geared toward boys or girls specifically, and they are universally fun and challenging. Because there are two levels in these games, junior detective and senior detective, you can tailor game play to your child’s experience and age level.
The first game we played was Secret of the Old Clock. On a scale from one to ten ghosts, it had a spooky factor of about two. This was a great game with which to start our Nancy Drew adventures, since it was pretty straight forward and not at all creepy. There was only one frustrating part of the game, but the rest was fun and challenging in a good way.
As we found out with this first game, all the Nancy Drew games start out with only a short background story. You aren’t ever sure exactly what the goal of the game is when you begin, so you just wander around and find challenges to overcome and mysteries and puzzles to solve until your goal becomes clear. It is great fun, but it can be frustrating when you’re not sure what to do next.
Next we played Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon. It rated about four spooky ghosts out of ten. Most of the action occurred on a train that was traveling to a destination to solve a mystery. More mysteries appeared while on the train. One special aspect of this game was that the Hardy Boys joined Nancy to help solve the mysteries.
Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, as you can probably tell by the title, rated about seven spooky ghosts. There were several creepy incidents and you were never sure when there would be another one. Of the four games we played, this is probably the only one that I would not want to play again. It had a complicated section to traverse regularly, which got old quickly once you learned your way around.
Secret of the Scarlet Hand was saved for last, since it was most highly recommended by a friend who had played it before. I give it four spooky ghosts out of ten. It was indeed an intriguing game. The theme was the ancient Mayan culture including numbers and math, gods, kings and many other aspects. You also got to use Morse code, which is always a bonus.
The graphics in the games were lower resolution than I’d prefer, and most of the people looked pretty odd, but it was definitely good enough for the game play. Also, though we heard Nancy Drew’s voice quite a bit, we never get a chance to see her.
Each of these games took us about 8 hours to play, start to finish, on the Junior Detective level. Most of the game play is the same between the two levels, but the Junior level gives a few extra hints, and the occasional puzzle is slightly shorter. One very nice feature of all the games is that you can’t die, at least not permanently. If you end up in a situation where you suffocate or blow yourself up, there is an option to go back to the game a few seconds before you died. But if you don’t figure out how to get out of your predicament pretty quickly, you’ll just die again. Fortunately, you can keep trying until you get it right. Life and death situations don’t occur very often, but there seems to be at least one per game.
Wired: A fun challenge for kids, grown-ups or families. Most of the challenges aren’t trivial and really make you think.
Tired: The graphics aren’t beautiful.