In Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, Nancy’s friend Bess seems to have luck on her side. Bess has won a trip to the Bahamas and she decides to take Nancy and George as her “plus two”. Bess and George fly out a day before Nancy, but as soon as Nancy’s plane touches down on the island, she learns that Bess has been kidnapped. It seems the two girls found a welcome letter when they arrived, inviting them to watch the sunset at Sangre beach. Only Bess went, but when she didn’t come home, George went to look for her and found only a ransom note.
This note seems to be clearly meant for Nancy. Someone connected with either the island or the teen sleuth seems to know a lot about our girl’s powers of deduction and wants to blackmail her into doing a little treasure hunting for them. As it turns out, this island may be home to the riches of Captain General Juan Ignacio de Santa Ana Domingo, better known as El Toro. A trusted follower of the Spanish throne in the 1600s, he was charged with extracting and transporting the wealth of the new world to Spain. El Toro and his seven ships were laden with treasure for the home country, but were lost in a storm. Or were they? Someone seems to think the treasure still exists and is buried on the island the girls are vacationing on. This someone also seems to figure Nancy has the right credentials to find it, and engineered the contest with an eye to kidnapping Nancy’s friends and forcing her to search for it. And so begins Nancy’s 20th PC adventure.
As with other games in this series, there is a lot of reading to do at the beginning of the game, not only to get your bearings on the island, but also to provide clues for the various minigames you will encounter as you begin to explore. There is much to know, such as how to communicate with the island’s troop of monkeys, call bats in the island’s caves, or interpret flag signals. A lot of the story is driven by El Toro’s journal, which Nancy finds early on and includes a large amount of background information on his ship’s treasure and the island itself. It is loaded with clues that push the plot forward and propel Nancy around the island and its waters. Much of the action takes place either on the beach, on a boat, or in the ocean. In fact, Nancy spends a great deal of this game underwater. Her time is divided between trying to win back items the island’s klepto monkeys steal, outsmarting a beach bum, diving to wrecks and caves in search of items, and sailing around trying to find these dive sites.
The island itself is quite large, requiring the use of a golf cart to reach most locations. There is a handy map on the wall of the scuba diving centre that shows the island roads, indicating which to take to get to the different locations. Some of these stops include Sangre Beach, Shark Cove, and the Monkey Research Centre. With so much territory to cover, you spend a lot of time manually driving back and forth in an overhead view of the island, rather than simply transporting to your destinations automatically. Luckily, there are signs of tracks off-road here and there. You soon learn you can follow these shortcuts, which cut down on your drive time. But the island isn’t the only place Nancy has to explore. The deeper you get into the game, the more Nancy will need to go to various places off the island and into the ocean. This requires that Nancy learn to dive and sail. What tropical island would be complete without water sports?
Surprisingly, there isn’t a huge amount of human interaction in the game, as Nancy really only speaks with two other characters: George and Johnny Rolle, a Jamaican fisherman. Rolle never seems to be totally honest with Nancy, and goes through a number of transformations as the game progresses. Either he is on the lam, as he says, or he is in on the plot. We are never quite sure which, as his story seems to change to accommodate circumstances. For most of the adventure, George is busy trying to get the resort phone to work. However, you do have the opportunity to play as George from time to time, and she comes through in style with key assistance to Nancy at one point.
Ransom represents George’s first actual appearance in a Nancy Drew game, and switching to her is accomplished by using the walkie talkies that George and Nancy carry. When one calls the other, the player jumps to the recipient’s character. This is especially helpful when Nancy is busy exploring far away and needs George to handle some monkey business. The voice work done for Bess (who, being kidnapped, plays only a minor role) and George is very good. Nancy, of course, is voiced by the same actress who has been her audio ego from the start. Johnny seems to wobble from one accent to another through the game as more is revealed about his character, some more believable then others.
Though the island appears to be pretty deserted, it actually does teem with characters -- they just happen to be of the animal variety. First is CouCou, the resort’s resident comedian parrot who will do tricks for treats and constantly implores Nancy to forage for him. He tends to repeat dialogue ad nauseum and can become annoying if you are forced to be near him for a long periods of time. Then there is the troop of monkeys, remnants of the monkey research station once located on the island. These monkeys love to play games, which they usually win, and to steal anything that isn’t nailed down. If something is missing, you can count on having to play a game with one of the monkeys to get it back.
More than most Nancy Drew adventures, Ransom of the Seven Ships seems to consist of a long series of mostly standalone puzzles and minigames. Some are easy enough to figure out through simple mathematical calculations, like a golf cart water puzzle. Others simply take some time and perseverance, like an octopus box puzzle where you have to move a series of lines to create a group of squares. One particular keypad puzzle at the resort doesn’t offer much information right away, so I thought there would be more provided further on in the game, only to later learn this wasn’t to be, leaving me just to put my head down and try to figure it out.
While some may miss the more multi-layered puzzles woven into previous mysteries, these standalone challenges work fine here. They don’t require the kind of dogged exploration and note-taking that bigger puzzles do, but they can be fun for exactly that reason. Usually you have all the tools you need with you to solve them: your own tenacity and ingenuity. Most of these puzzles are not actually that difficult, though you may need to repeat some steps or re-read El Toro’s journal to pick up the hints he has laid out. Some, like the octopus box puzzle, are done underwater and need to be done quickly so that Nancy doesn’t run out of air. But if you save often, most of these obstacles can be easily overcome.Continued on the next page...