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The Backseat Game Designer: The Rest of The Creature of Kapu Cave 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 Creature of Kapu Cave 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 Creature of Kapu Cave that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Personal Reactions

The last few Nancy Drew games have been really uneven in quality, trying out intriguing new things and then rapidly discarding them. In this case, Creature of Kapu Cave introduced the ability to shift back and forth between two different investigators (in this case, Nancy and one of the Hardy Boys.) This was a neat idea but rockily executed, with an awkward system for transferring back and forth and one unfortunate bug where a subplot becomes impossible to investigate further if Frank Hardy progresses further in his investigation than the game was expecting before Nancy learns something she's supposed to tell him. Meanwhile, Kapu Cave abandoned the promising steps towards an interactive ending that its predecessor, Danger By Design, had taken. On the bright side, Nancy's cell phone is back after being randomly removed in the previous game. Meanwhile, Kapu Cave offers opportunities for meaningful investigation in which you can turn up extra information about the subplots if you investigate carefully enough (yay!) but an uninteresting main plot that you can't do anything about or even learn the villains' motive until their final soliloquy (boo!) The game is also very short even for a Nancy Drew game, and it feels even shorter than it is because so much of the gameplay is taken up by boring chores like fishing or walking up and down the beach clicking on the same tidepools over and over again looking for shells.

So all in all, this was an okay game, but the earlier games in the series have been a lot more compelling and fun to play. It seems to me like the Nancy Drew series has been having a little bit of a midlife crisis going on ever since The Secret of the Old Clock. I'm hoping they get it sorted out soon.

Plot Holes

There wasn't really all that much of a plot in Creature of Kapu Cave (Nancy is really just exploring unusual things she happens to come across, and the Hardy Boys are on an assignment they never learn anything about until it is exposited during the endgame.) However, there is one major plot event in the game which is never adequately explained: why Johnny Kuto attacks Joe in Mike's office. It's completely unbelievable that Kuto would have mistaken short, skinny blond teenager Joe for tall, fat, adult Hawaiian Mike. Nor would Kuto have any interest in punishing Joe for snooping around Mike's office. His vague explanation to Frank on the phone is just that Joe "was in the wrong place at the wrong time." Was Kuto trying to rob Mike and had to get Joe out of the way, maybe? This part just did not make sense.

Creature of Kapu Cave Game Advances

Things other adventure games should learn from Creature of Kapu Cave:

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 and George 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) The later Nancy Drew games include the interesting feature of awarding the player a special nickname at the end of the game based on his or her playstyle (Kapu Kahuna for solving puzzles especially quickly, Trinket Tycoon for collecting all the unnecessary inventory items in the game, and so on.) 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.

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

Best Puzzle: The deathtrap puzzles in Kapu Cave were atmospheric and well-thought-out.
Lamest Puzzle: The fishing and necklace-making minigames, which were dull, time-consuming, and needed to be repeated far too many times.
Best Plot Twist: Joe getting knocked out with the mask, I guess. It didn't really make sense why Kuto would have attacked Joe, but this was still a dramatic moment that I had not seen coming.
Lamest Plot Twist: Probably the one right at the end about Mike Mapu being in line to inherit the land Hilihili was on or whatever. I dislike motives that are not revealed or even hinted at until the villain's exposition at the end of the game; it leaves the player with nothing to do.
High Point: Managing to get Dr. Craven and Quigley to admit spying on each other. Ah-HA!.
Low Point: Spending like half an hour fishing. Just, no.

Follow this link to read my thoughts about the Creature of Kapu Cave plot and characters.

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