The Haunted Carousel Hints The Haunted Carousel Walkthrough The Haunted Carousel Cheats The Haunted Carousel Spoilers

The Backseat Game Designer: The Rest of The The Haunted Carousel Review

This is the addendum to my Nancy Drew Game Review in which I put all my opinions that contain spoilers. If you haven't finished playing The Haunted Carousel yet, you don't want to read this page. Please go back to the regular review site, where I promise to tell you everything you need to decide whether or not to play this game without giving away any of its plot.

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These Backseat Game Designers pages are primarily a place for me to put all my game commentary that was too revealing for the regular reviews, as well as a place to tell everyone exactly how *I* would have done the game so much better. Hey, who knows, maybe the Nancy Drew design team'll read this page and be inspired to put a few more twists and turns in their next title. Ah, well, maybe it'll amuse my friends, anyway. Here's all the news about The Haunted Carousel that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Personal Reactions

I enjoyed this adventure a lot, even despite being forced to stop and play "Breakout" in the middle of it. (Some people might find that a pleasantly nostalgic reminder of how far video games have come since the 1970's. I am not one of them.) The bad attitude of the woman you're doing this favor for in the first place is another mark against the game-- who wants to risk life and limb to save the financial fortune of somebody who's going to call you up in the hospital to yell at you if a saboteur succeeds in attacking you? But if you can ovelook minor annoyances like that, the mystery is engaging, the characters are compelling, the creepy abandoned funhouse is a great setting for a game like this, and one of the subplots in this game (helping Joy remember her childhood) had a wonderfully magical feel to it. Haunted Carousel is one of the easiest games in the Nancy Drew series, but nonetheless keeps an adult's attention all the way through. So all in all, a good game, with less interface tedium than the earliest Nancy Drew installments and less of a dull, mass-produced feel than some of the latest ones.

Plot Holes

The Haunted Carousel has a very good plot that holds together quite well, but a couple of major holes did stand out:

1) If Joy was the one who stopped the roller coaster ride, does that mean she was also the one who tried to kill Nancy on the coaster? This makes the most sense from a plot perspective (and matches with the pencil found on the scene,) but it's hard to believe she would have gone off to apologize to Paula and not even bothered apologizing for the attempt on Nancy's life!

2) How did Elliott get into the secret workshop where he was carving horses in the first place, since he obviously didn't have the password Nancy acquired from Miles and since the automaton that controlled the entrance was non-functional till Nancy fixed it?

The Haunted Carousel Game Advances

Things other adventure games should learn from the Nancy Drew games:

1) First and foremost is the excellent "Second Chance" function, which allows a gamer to automatically reload the game from a point just before making a fatal error. Any adventure game that includes instant-death scenarios and/or timed challenges ought to have a feature similar to this one--it saves time and frustration and allows gamers to concentrate on the game better, maybe even to appreciate being sucker-punched now and again.

2) The implementation wasn't great, but for a game aimed at beginning players (which this one is), calling Bess, George, and the Hardy Boys on the phone is a good idea for an innovative in-game optional hint system.

3) Nancy Drew really makes a great graphic adventure heroine in general. Too many adventure games hand you characters who either act so inept it's hard to believe they'd be on an adventure in the first place, or else act so blase about it that it's hard to believe they haven't already got a knife in their inventory. Nancy Drew is a character who's both experienced enough with mysteries that you buy her plunging into trouble as soon as she notices some, but at the same time young enough to be a little wide-eyed at each new scenario and still have to go pixel-hunting around for a flashlight.

4) One nice feature of the Nancy Drew games is an epilogue video at the end which not only reviews the crime and its solution, but tells what happens to the NPC's in the game after Nancy solves the crime. Since the characters in these games are generally well-written and many of them have a subplot Nancy has had the chance to learn more about, it is satisfying to see some resolution for them at the end. (It woiuld be even more satisfying if the player's choices affected these resolutions at all, but one can't have everything.)

5) Haunted Carousel in particular introduces the interesting feature of awarding the player a special nickname at the end of the game based on his or her playstyle ("Puzzle Master" for someone who solves puzzles especially quickly, "Magellan" for someone who explores the gameworld especially thoroughly, etc.) This is a nice way of recognizing the player's contribution to the story... not quite as nice as being able to guess the identity of the villain correctly or incorrectly in Stay Tuned For Danger, which I'd like to see the series use more often, but still a welcome addition.

6) And Haunted Carousel also gets kudos for giving Nancy a cellphone for Pete's sake. There is little more annoying than finding a phone number jotted down and having to retrace your steps 25 clicks to Nancy's bedroom to use it. The cellphone as implemented in this game completely eliminates that irritation without sacrificing any game functionality at all. Hurrah!

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

In my game review, I gave the Nancy Drew games an overall 6 out of 10 (rating: pretty good). So, what would have taken The Haunted Carousel to the next level? Some tougher and more interesting puzzles would have been a good place to start-- unlike most of the games in this series, Haunted Carousel didn't really make you figure much of anything out for yourself. Instead of having to crack codes to get into locked spaces, you just had to find where the combination was written down. Instead of having to puzzle out a woman's nickname, you just had to call a guy on the phone and ask him. These games already have great safety nets built in for young players who might get frustrated (an in-game hint system, a Junior Detective level on which puzzles could theoretically be made easier, etc.), so there's really no reason Haunted Carousel couldn't have asked players to do a little more puzzling. The shorthand page, for example, could have provided enough translated words that a player who was good at cryptography could have decoded the missing word on their own, without having to call Bess and George. Yet disappointingly, the page was not set up that way. There were many missed opportunities like this.

On the other hand, the investigation process involved a lot more deduction than in many Nancy Drew games-- evidence can be found throughout the course of the game, if you look carefully, rather than only being found during the final endgame sequence. That is a highly satisfying development, and The Haunted Carousel could have capitalized on it still more by allowing Nancy the chance to guess at the villain's identity (something the series flirted with only once, in Stay Tuned For Danger.) Haunted Carousel was a game in which a player could not only figure out who the culprit must be from clues, but could also legitimately come to the wrong conclusion if they missed some clues or investigated a lead incompletely. So the game could have been even better in that regard if it had rewarded the player for making the correct deductions.

Also, though I appreciated the clickable map (which made it much easier for kids to navigate around the gameworld), there were still a few problems with the interface. Chief among them was the curse of unskippable audio files. It's a drag to ask somebody a question over the phone, see a giant paragraph of text pop up, and be unable to skip past it with the escape key till the audio clip stops running. Not everyone plays with the sound on in the first place, and once you've read a passage, sometimes you just want to get a move on. Most adventure games allow you to do this, and the Nancy Drew games should too.

All in all, this was a good installment in the series, balancing out its lack of challenging puzzles with the opportunity for proactive sleuthing. My kids and I are already looking forward to the next one.

Best Puzzle: There were relatively few puzzles here for a Nancy Drew game, and the ones that were there were rather easy for an adult player. The use of shorthand as a code was rather clever, and putting the circuit board together correctly was a good puzzle for kids.
Lamest Puzzle: There were fewer challenging puzzles than I would have liked in this game, but there weren't any lousy ones, either (unless you count the "Breakout" minigame, which I can't bring myself to deign to call a puzzle.)
Best Plot Twist: There were several satisfying possibilities to collect evidence in this game, of which my favorite was figuring out that Elliot must have been wrong when he said the horse that was stolen was the replica horse, because the horse Joy's mother bought was not the lead horse and the missing horse was in the lead position.
Lamest Plot Twist: The whole subplot with Lance was pretty poorly thought out, especially the resolution about Ingrid's homeopathic neck medicine or whatever. And then it was never even mentioned in the game wrap-up whether Lance won his suit, either.
High Point: The entire subplot with Joy and Miles was really captivating-- I was more interested in that than in the theft, actually!
Low Point: Having to play that stupid "Breakout" game. Not only was this a pretty dull game in the first place, but the implementation here was terrible (each click of an arrow key made the little pong cursor jump an uncontrollable small distance, as compared to the relatively smooth scrolling of even the crummy little Atari joystick the game came with 30 years ago.) And if you miss even one shot, you have to start the whole stupid thing over again from the beginning. Rrrrrghh!

Follow this link to read my thoughts about the Haunted Carousel plot and characters.

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