Join Nancy Drew in the Bahamas

For families planning a staycation instead of a vacation, how about taking a virtual trip to the Caribbean? With the newest Nancy Drew computer mystery, families join Nancy and her best friends George and Bess for a mystery set in an ecotourism resort in the Bahamas.

In Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, the lush island setting creates a beautiful backdrop for a mystery involving the kidnapping of Bess and the hunt for a 300-year-old treasure.

As with all of the Nancy Drew mysteries from Her Interactive, you become the famous teenage sleuth and see the world from a first-person perspective as if you were Nancy Drew. You explore the island paradise by driving, walking, and even sailing. You will also scuba dive and go spelunking.

As a detective, you must explore the resort island and look for clues. You can choose to interrogate the few people you meet by using a drop-down menu to control the conversation. But the more helpful hints will come from the resort's pet parrot, which can be coaxed to speak if given fruit. Fruit is won by playing games with the island's super-intelligent monkeys.

In addition to exploration and investigation, you will encounter a number of puzzles that you must solve to move the story forward. For example, when you find a treasure chest under the sea while scuba diving, you must solve a Sudoku-type puzzle using nine colors (instead of numbers) to open the lock. Some of the puzzles are about decoding secret writings, while others are about lining up mirrors so that a light beam can navigate a dark space.

The island used to be home to a monkey research facility that taught the island's monkeys rudimentary communication and how to play three minigames. Now abandoned, these monkeys still remember how to play games. One is a game about throwing coconuts, another about placing colored pieces in logical patterns, and the last is a board game. If you beat the monkeys at these games, they will reward you with fruit and needed objects that they have pilfered.

As with the earlier Nancy Drew games, this game is available on two levels of difficulty. And it has a refreshing mechanic that, when you take a risk that causes a fatal mistake, you are automatically returned to the point before your error. You will face some harrowing situations involving stinging jellyfish, running out of air while scuba diving and having a cave collapse on you.

For fans of this series, Ransom of the Seven Ships is more about puzzles and navigating your environment, and less about solving a mystery by talking to others. The mystery does provide a nice variety of things to do, from having you climb up cliffs to find bat caves to diving underwater to rummage through the remains of a shipwreck. But if you like solving mysteries by talking to a variety of characters, you won't find much of that kind of game play here.

The puzzles are varied, and most are neatly incorporated into the game play. The decoding is particularly well done because, as you experiment with which symbols stand for which letters, the alphabet is available to you to automatically place in slots above the symbols. On the other hand, the amount of time permitted to solve the Sudoku-type puzzle seemed inadequate; and it forced us to have to draw out the puzzle on paper to solve it instead of doing so in the game.

The bottom line is that this is an entertaining mystery for fans and newbies to this series. It is the kind of game that parents and kids can play together. And its seaside vistas will make you feel like you are on vacation. Not bad for $20.

Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids magazine. Contact her at gnstech@gannett.com.

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