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The Backseat Game Designer: The Rest of The Nancy Drew: The Final Scene 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 Final Scene 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 Final Scene that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Personal Reactions

These Nancy Drew titles don't quite hit any of the niches I was hoping they'd hit. They're E-rated, but the controls are too hard for my young sons to work themselves (including timed sequences, instant-death scenarios, and fussy navigation arrows.) They've got puzzles, but most of them are too easy for adult gamers. And they've got interesting, funny characters, but, well, you know whodunnit as soon as they're introduced just from the game design. In this installment, you can't help realizing that if Simone, Nicholas, or Brady had kidnapped Maya for one of their motives, then she wouldn't be in need of a dramatic rescue on Day 3, so it's highly unlikely that's what happened. There wouldn't be any game there if Simone just faked Maya's kidnapping so that Brady could play the hero and rescue her. Furthermore, Nancy Drew does make a great adventure-game heroine in principle, but it really gets annoying having to force yourself to think in character all the time--you know, "I'm Nancy Drew, so using this sledgehammer on the villain who's threatening me won't work because Nancy Drew wouldn't hit an old man with a sledgehammer even if he is trying to kill her." Or "the game probably isn't going to progress until I call the police a third time, even though I know they won't be any help, because Nancy Drew always tries to call the police even though they won't help." It's been a long time since I read Nancy Drew books, and I didn't appreciate The Final Scene demanding I roleplay her correctly when I would rather have been exploring my own way through a few more of the secret tunnels of the old magicians' theater.

That said, though, this was a well-constructed game and my kids and I did have a lot of fun playing it together. These would make good games for a 10-14 year old--they reminded me pleasantly of some of the old Infocom games I used to play in that age range. As a parent, I appreciated the bug-free, violence-free gameplay, and as a gamer, I appreciated the well-written story and appealing set design. In particular, the characters were especially well-written in The Final Scene... the villain was somewhat sympathetic and the other NPC's were somewhat unpleasant, which gave the story a more nuanced feel than some of the other titles in the series. Also, the fact that Brady, Simone, and Nicholas each did something wrong of their own to impede Nancy's investigation kept the plot interesting despite the obviousness of the kidnapper's identity. So even though this was one of the easiest games in the series-- and even though its interface was more annoying than some of the later games-- I would still rank it as one of my favorite Nancy Drew games, and would recommend it as a good entry point to the series.

Plot Holes

Final Scene has a good plot that holds together quite well, but a couple of holes did stand out:

1) How did Joseph sneak Maya through that secret tunnel without Simone noticing? She noticed Nancy climbing out of her wardrobe; surely she would have noticed Joseph and Maya coming through? Was there a second exit from that secret tunnel? If so, why wasn't it marked on the blueprint slide at the end?

2) Why did Joseph get rid of the evidence during Night 2? The police believing Maya isn't in the building is ruining his plan; you'd think if anything he'd be planting more evidence in an attempt to regain their interest, not hiding it.

3) And most problematically, why does Joseph try to prevent Nancy from stopping the destruction of the theater in the endgame? This makes NO sense at all; Joseph's motivation for this entire plot was to save the theater, and now that Nancy's finally found the proof that will save it, Joseph suddenly won't let her stop the wrecking ball? WTF?

The Final Scene Game Advances

Things other adventure games should learn from The Final Scene:

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 Ned on the phone was 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) As usual in these Nancy Drew games, though there are only four NPC's (and a few extras you can call on the phone), the characters are well-written and compelling and the voice acting is excellent. This is a good area not to skimp on if you're designing a graphic adventure and particularly a mystery adventure. Once an NPC is infused with even a tiny bit of depth, you start wondering about them more, and that makes it a lot easier to keep up a mysterious atmosphere.

6) One thing The Final Scene did particularly well that other Nancy Drew games could learn from was maintaining a real sense of drama and urgency by beginning the game with an exciting kidnapping and giving Nancy the life-or-death task of rescuing Maya before time runs out and she is killed. This is much more compelling than, say, beginning the game with a bunch of mundane chores you have no particular reason to want to complete, or just giving Nancy an open-ended objective to find some treasure.

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

In my game review, I gave The Final Scene a 6 out of 10 (rating: pretty good). So, what would have taken this game to the next level? The most obvious place to start would have been improving the interface. A smoothly functioning interface is always a plus for any adventure game, but the Nancy Drew games would benefit even more than most, since it would make the game more viable for younger kids or kids with short attention spans. The movement interface, in particular, appears to be unchanged from the one in Myst (which came out more than ten years ago, for those keeping score), and its frustrating datedness is definitely keeping at least some kids from playing these games, because my sons were unable to get it to work for them. Pixel-hunting around for the one tiny little spot that will give you a movement arrow is never any fun, lines of dialogue should ALWAYS be easily skippable, and saving a game should be a one or two-click affair. In a game with so few rooms (13 counting the secret areas,) it's inexplicable to me why there wasn't some kind of clickable map or movement shortcut pulldown-menu--it's nothing but an annoyance spending 32 clicks moving Nancy from the Women's Dressing Room to the Projector Room because the game likes to stop you and show you a picture of each and every picture on the wall in the hallway between them. The inventory in The Final Scene could also have been improved; the viewscreen was too small and frequently cluttered with useless objects (a point that was driven home when Nancy had to pick up seven similar-looking keys and try them on a lock one at a time, while the player is only able to see four of the keys at once and can't drop the ones that don't work on the floor.) Then there's the telephone--for some unknown reason, though this game is set in the modern era (you can hack Simone's email at one point) Nancy does not have a cellphone, so every time you want or need to make a call you have to walk her all the way over to the ticket office, zoom in on the phone, and then manually dial the 11-digit telephone number. Simply making this a drop-down menu from a cellphone would have saved a lot of tedium in and of itself.

But to be a really GOOD game, The Final Scene would have needed better game design. There's really no sense of affecting anything in this game. The plot moves stoically along from Point A to Point B to Point C, and the player's job is just to walk back and forth across the theater talking to people until something happens. Nancy's conversational choices are irrelevant--it doesn't matter how well or poorly you interrogate anyone. Except for the endgame, her investigations are largely irrelevant too--all she does is track down red herrings and convince the police to investigate, which of course turns out to be useless (it wouldn't be much of a detective story if the police showed up halfway through it and solved the crime.) The only sense of accomplishment in the game comes from the puzzles, and all but three of those are disappointingly random. It would have been nice if the decisions you make, or the thoroughness with which you explore, could have made a difference in the eventual outcome--if Simone's wrap-up at the end came out differently based on whether or not Nancy had found the clue linking her with the funeral wreath or not, for example. Better still, right before the final endgame, the player could have to CHOOSE who they thought the villain was, and then find out if they were right or not. That would have lent some drama and excitement to the exercise even if the outcome was largely the same no matter what they chose. Nancy Drew: The Final Scene was a decent graphic adventure game, but to be more than that, it would have needed to involve the player a lot more.

Best Puzzle: Moving the musical note from one side of the screen to the other. That was the only one that took some mental effort on my part.
Lamest Puzzle: The keypad on the electrified door was completely random and a waste of time.
Best Plot Twist: I liked Simone's funeral wreath--I guessed right away that she was the one who had done that.
Lamest Plot Twist: Brady secretly being the ruthless business mogul demolishing the theater. This made zero sense in the context of his character and his interactions with Simone.
High Point: The ending image of Brady embracing a gagging Nicholas. That really cracked me up, and was a testament to how well-done the character development in the game had been.
Low Point: Sitting there waiting for the long, boring, unaffectable, and completely useless dialogues with the police officer to finish.

Follow this link to read my thoughts about the Final Scene plot and characters.

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