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Matt Barton's picture

Review of Shadow Ranch (Nancy Drew Mobile Mysteries)

Everybody here knows how much I love Her Interactive's Nancy Drew series. These are great adventure games with fun characters and charming atmosphere. Her Interactive has recently expanded its offerings to Apple's mobile line, starting with a game called Shadow Ranch, currently $2 for iPhone/iPod and $5 for iPad, which is in HD (holy cow, I'm jealous). I recently completed the game on my iPhone 4, and am pleased to say it's a fun game that's quite distinctive from its desktop predecessor. I don't think Her Interactive (HI) has really tapped the full potential of the platform, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

The game is a loose adaptation of an older game called The Secret of Shadow Ranch, one of my favorites from the desktop series. HI has made a number of big changes to the interface. The biggest is that we're now much more focused on text and reading; players spend most of their time reading pages with certain interactive words. Pressing a word might play a sound, give a definition, or add an item to the player's souvenir collection. Background sounds and music play at certain points, heightening the immersion and making the reading more exciting. Imagine a choose-your-own-adventure book with ebook-only features.

There are a lot of hidden object segments in this game. Some of these are optional, but expect to spend some time zooming and zoning around screens looking for crickets, rats, bats, and more. There are a few other mini-games thrown in, such as word-scrambling, but the focus is on the hidden objects, which is a bit disappointing. I can see why it makes sense for a detective to be carefully examining things, but it's also pretty mindless after awhile. I would have preferred more logic puzzles. HI's other casual series, Nancy Drew Dossier, does a fine job mixing it up, and the hidden object sequences there aren't just "find 10 rats" but have context-specific meanings, such as finding a screwdriver to unscrew a grate.

On a more positive note, the voice acting is great as always. There are even a few folk songs thrown in, and it's fun to hear Lani Minella and other regulars singing them. All in all, HI has done a good job here recreating the "Old West" atmosphere and teaching us a few facts along the way. You really get the feeling the team has a good time making these games, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

I haven't played the iPad version, so I'm not sure how it compares. While I still prefer the full desktop versions, I'm impressed that HI was willing to experiment so much with its interface. I'm really intrigued by how they were able to improve on the standard ebook experience with all the sound effects and bonus content. These are definitely areas that should be explored further.

Overall, I give this game 3 out of 5 stars. Hopefully, HI will be able to refine its formula in future iPhone games, adding a greater variety of puzzle types and perhaps tapping some of the iPhone's unique features, such as the camera, gps, or accelerometer.

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