Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes starts with Nancy Drew following a mysterious note that leads her into the Town Hall of her home town River Heights. The public building erupts in flames while Nancy is inside. As Nancy Drew, players hear the explosion and witness firsthand the smoke filling up the room around Nancy. If you don't act immediately to find a way out of the burning room and smoke-filled hallways, you will experience one of the games clever design features: a second chance. In other words, you can die in the first 5 minutes of the game, but can replay the scene again until you get it right.
While starting with this adrenaline-inducing scene sets high expectations that this is going to be a great mystery game, the reality is that the rest of the game never quiet lives up to the beginning hype.
How to Play
The mystery-solving relates to finding out who set the fire in Town Hall and why. Since Nancy is the prime suspect and has been placed in jail on arson charges, players must switch between being Nancy and one of her friends to do interviews and snooping; and depending on who you are may affect the response you get from potential suspects. For example, one of the female suspects has a crush on Nancy's boyfriend Ned and will answer his questions but won't cooperate with Nancy's girlfriends. Most of this game is spent investigating the four other suspects that were near Town Hall when the fire erupted.
As the detective in this point-and-click game, you will need to find forensic evidence including fingerprints of all of the suspects and what accelerant was used to start the fire. Since Nancy is a good friend of the River Heights police chief, he lets her out of her jail cell but keeps her confined to inside the police station. This allows Nancy access to a variety of useful forensic machines so that when her friends find evidence, they can drop it off and Nancy can analyze it using the police machines. Since you can only be one character at a time, this play-mechanic means that you will have to constantly switch between being Nancy and her friends.
Since Nancy stays in charge of the investigation, she uses her cell phone to communicate with her friends and her Dad. The phone also acts as the way the player can switch between characters. Nancy will call one of her friends and ask them to "take over," at which point, the player becomes the friend and investigates from their first person perspective. Unfortunately, you cannot switch between friends without first becoming Nancy Drew.
As with all other Nancy Drew games from Her Interactive, this mystery is full of puzzles and brainteasers that are mixed into the sleuthing. For example, opening locks in devices and doors are puzzles. There are also brainy games, such as one found in an antique shop where you have to find 41 numbers hidden in a scene in the least amount of time possible. And the game can be played on two levels of difficulty.
Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes is a good mystery game, particularly for younger players new to the Nancy Drew franchise; but seasoned players of the series might be disappointed. Most of the recent Nancy Drew games have had a learning component in addition to delivering a riveting mystery. For example, in Nancy Drew: Danger by Design players learned about Paris France and the world of high fashion while solving that mystery set in a design studio. In Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Waters Edge, Nancy's gumshoeing also leads to learning about Japanese culture. In Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes, you will learn a little about how to solve an arson case and use a police forensics lab, but not much else.
The Bottom Line
If you love Nancy Drew games, this one is shorter and not as complicated as previous ones in the series. It is more about investigating known suspects instead of following a plot with lots twists that eventually leads to the evidence that solves the mystery. Early on in Alibi in Ashes you will have a good sense of who's the culprit, and then you spend the rest of the mystery proving it. While it is fun to explore Nancy's hometown of River Heights and her childhood house, the game limits your investigation areas to only a few actual locations. And the switching-between-friends mechanic grows old quickly. It is a good mystery but not a great one.
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