It’s getting harder and harder to order these games as the remaining titles are fantastic in their own right. I could feel differently tomorrow, but I think it’s time that “The Secret of Shadow Ranch” found its place as the eighth best Nancy Drew game.
Fan favorite perfectly describes it, that’s for sure, but it’s a personal favorite too.
It’s the first game in the series to base itself off of a classic, best-selling book by Carolyn Keene, “The Secret of Shadow Ranch.” From what I can remember from years ago, it does a pretty accurate job of staying with the book’s premise (sort of).
Bess and George invited Nancy to join them on a trip to their Aunt Bet and Uncle Ed Rawley’s ranch in Arizona. All ready for some old-western fun, Nancy arrives before Bess and George to find that the Rawleys are gone. The previous night, Uncle Ed was bitten by a snake, only after everyone saw a glowing horse galloping by the ranch house.
We call and learn that the two of them are at the hospital (Uncle Ed is fine), and that Bess and George are stuck at an airport experiencing layovers. So, Nancy is left by herself to help the three ranch hands with chores (and then using her spare time figuring out what’s going on with the horse).
It’s a nice premise at first, but it gets so much better after we’re introduced to the tragic ballad of Frances Humber and Dirk Valentine. Frances used to live at Shadow Ranch with her father, the sheriff, and some of her things are still here from way-back-when.
They were young and had a forbidden love affair, only to end with Dirk being thrown into jail and hanged by her father. Frances never forgave him for this, so she ended up running away, ending this tragic tale. Rumor has it that Dirk Valentine’s horse still roams around bringing bad luck to all who see it.
So, is there really a cursed horse hanging around Shadow Ranch, or is something fishy going on?
It turns out that Dirk supposedly left some long-lost treasure for Frances somewhere in the area. So, is this horse really a ghost, or a hoax by someone trying to chase the Rawley’s away so far they can start looking for treasure?
Boom, we have a full mystery on our hands. But can we start investigating? No. Heck, we don’t even learn about the whole mystery until we finish a bunch of chores on the ranch.
That’s why I can’t rank this great game past spot eight. There are loads of dumb chores that need repeated. Also, the end is a bit tricky, but I’m not going into that.
Other than that, it’s a great, great game. We learn just as much about the past as we do about the present, and I think that’s a really nice touch (I’m glad they continued that theme through “Curse of Blackmoor Manor.”).
The characters? Take them or leave them I guess. Shorty, the cook, is the one who gives you tons of chores, so he gets points docked off already. He also just creeps me out with his weird gossip and cheesy grin.
Dave is nice and willing to help, but we can’t rule him out. He may have something to hide behind his cowboyish draw.
Rex is grumpy, shady, and just plain mean, and I love it. There’s also a local shop owner, Mary Yazzie, who has some beef with the Rawleys about a plot of land. She seems nice enough, but she’s got a temper too.
The puzzles are pretty terrific too, much of which reveal information about the past, and connecting and revealing more leads.
The setting is well done too. The ranch house looks nice, but where does anyone sleep? The ranch, or what we get to see of it, it nicely done, but it also seems a bit bland. Everywhere else, including the new locations that we find, are well designed too.
I loved the entire game; everything about it has charm while we get to really snoop around.
The phone conversations in this game are great too. Charleena Purcell is our go-to Old West author who knows a lot about the Humbers; Sheriff Hernandez gives us some good leads; Bess and George offer some advice; and the Rawleys offer some comic relief.
The best part of the game though is learning about Frances and Dirk. Everything about their story is interesting and really, really cool.
I don’t want to say anything else because I don’t want any spoilers to slip in.
So, “The Secret of Shadow Ranch” is a phenomenal game, and it says a lot about Her Interactive that there are seven games that think are better than this.
Check back tomorrow to see which game takes spot seven!