Everyone’s heard of Nancy Drew, a fictional character created by Edward Stratemeyer in 1930. He initially published the detective’s stories as a counterpart to his popular among the boys’ novel “Hardy Boys”, which took off from there. Both Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are now ghostwritten, becoming favourites of teenagers for generations to come.
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Meanwhile, in 1995, American Laser Games launched a division, “Games for Her Interactive” this division sort of came on its own, buying out its parent company and is now known as HeR Interactive. They have been responsible for over 30 Nancy Drew games.
Games like Nancy Drew typically fashion a point-and-click experience. They dispense with all the action from the stories and focus more on the detective part of her adventures.
Although honestly, these games are more for children not because of the lack of violence. They are centered more towards cognitive training, gearing the player to think instead of the mindless action most games deliver, not that there’s anything wrong with either. Still, it’s important to note the distinction.
While Nancy Drew’s gameplay hasn’t evolved over the years, more mystery type games have been released involving more action and better mobility than a point-and-click adventure, allowing for better immersion.
Well, without further ado, let’s jump into some of the games that are similar to Nancy Drew.
1. L.A. Noire
I had to start the list with L.A. Noire, in my opinion, the best detective/mystery game to date. L.A. Noire was developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games in 2011, and if there’s one thing we know, R* doesn’t disappoint. The game makes the detective aspect of our protagonist’s job as a police officer its key focus; this includes talking to witnesses, collecting evidence, following up on leads, and interrogating the suspect.
The game is set in the late ’40s as players step into the shoes of Cole Phelps, an army veteran who has come back to America after WWII and joined the LAPD. Throughout the game, Cole goes from being a constable to a detective and solving murders over petty squabbles to uncovering a city-wide conspiracy.
The game features a third-person perspective, unlike Nancy Drew, and this works more for its benefit since players are given a 3-D plane allowing for well-hidden clues and evidence. However, the game does its best not to lose the player, chiming in music whenever the player is near a clue. There’s plenty of crimes to solve, including side missions, and there are plenty of chasing the criminals and even sometimes having to incapacitate them.
The game is a blast, and while it wasn’t the best PC port in true Rockstar fashion like GTA IV, there are mods on the Internet that allow for a better experience, although fair warning going over the 30 FPS cap breaks the driving mechanics of the game.
2. Carol Reed Mysteries
I think it’s only fair to follow L.A. Noire a game so in contrast with Nancy Drew, to something that is more akin to the point-and-click adventure you might have expected to find on the list.
In 2004, MDNA games released its first entry to the Carol Reed Mysteries franchise; it currently has 16 games, with the latest release in 2021. The game features traditional point-and-click gameplay wherein the players control Carol Reed as the protagonist of these episodes and solve various mysteries in Norrköping, Sweden.
The creator, Mikael, goes to great lengths to photograph multiple parts of this real-life location he happens to have a home in, and this allows the game to have a sense of realism and attention to detail that surpasses Nancy Drew’s.
The game has seen many updates by its developer over its ongoing lifetime, from small changes to allow better UI to overhaul of the game’s engine for better compatibility. It’s interesting to note that Carol Reed and Nancy Drew are perhaps the forerunners in this niche still released today. Despite the fact, Mikeal didn’t look to Nancy Drew for inspiration and is his original character.
3. Contradiction: Spot the Liar!
Released in 2015 through Kickstarter, Contradiction is a mystery adventure FMV game, for the uninitiated FMV stands for Full Motion Video. Music composer Tim Follin developed the game, and Baggy Cat published it.
The game sees players control Detective Jenks as the player dive into the world of Contradiction set in the village of Edenton. The player is provided with a list of subjects that the player can interview NPCs about; their answers are recorded and summarised very much like L.A. Noire’s notepad.
The player is given free access to the village, allowing them to find additional clues to make sense of the murder. Sometimes, while searching for clues, the player might unexpectedly run into an NPC. As the player unravels more of the mystery, more dialogue options are made available for certain NPCs unlocking more subjects to talk about.
Of course, the game relies on its previously mentioned live-action recordings to display these conversations and even other events that transpire in the game. But I supposed that’s to be expected by the game being a one-person development affair. That being said, the FMVs seem to be competently done and don’t deter from the gameplay.
The game is thoroughly enjoyable and a rewarding experience for the novice detective in all of us.
4. Agatha Christie video game series
I’ve always found Agatha Christie’s work to be the next logical step growing out of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew type stories. Agatha Christie’s novels have a more gritty take on the mystery genre, it’s not as dark to be depressing, but it certainly kicks it up a notch compared to Hardy Boys.
The Agatha Christie IP has seen many shifts in hands in the video game world. The initial three titles were developed by AWE Productions mainly for Windows and Nintendo Wii starting in 2005 to 2007. In 2009 DreamCatcher developed Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders for the Nintendo DS, a game with the same name was created by Artefacts Studio in 2016 for all platforms except Nintendo’s (which saw a release in 2020), even featuring a release on the Play store.
The game is all you’d imagine it to be as a point-and-click adventure, as you control the well-known protagonist Hercule Poirot solving murders in a very Sherlock Holmes manner. Still, if I could place a personal opinion here, I’ve always found Poirot to be the more realistic of the two. Sherlock Holmes is nothing short of a superhero with vast knowledge and incredible cognitive abilities; Poirot has always been more grounded and human.
Although the games are not critically acclaimed, this franchise will surely satiate the itch for Nancy Drew fans.
5. The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief
The Raven is somewhat of a mix of stealth with the detective work in a point-and-click video game. The game allows players to engage in activities such as lock-picking to access locations and obtain key items to progress through the story.
The game is set in 1964 Cairo, Egypt. The player assumes the role of a police constable Anton Jakob Zellner as he races against time and a legendary detective Nicols Legrand to solve a theft.
The game features many elements from the two distinct genres of stealth and point-and-click, allowing for some interesting puzzles, and the game also features a point system that also grants or revokes access to certain parts of the map.
This title is a breath of fresh air in the niche as it sets the player up not as a master detective but a lowly constable who happens to have an interest in detective novels but minimal experience in the field. The game was released in 2013, developed by King Art Games and published by The Adventure Company. In 2018 a remastered version was published by THQ Nordic.
6. Sherlock Holmes video game series
I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t heard of Sherlock Holmes. Any introduction to him or his companion Dr John Watson would be unnecessary. Sherlock Holmes debuted in video games in 2002 in Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy and appeared in the latest release by the same developer Frogwares in 2016 titled Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter.
The franchise has seen the release of 9 titles in the mainline, all featuring the same point-and-click gameplay and puzzle-solving as players step into the shoes of Sherlock Holmes accompanied by his most trusted if not only friend Dr. Watson. The game doesn’t do anything exciting with the genre but features good writing and passable gameplay mechanics.
However, its latest title, “Chapter One”, which is yet to be released, will take a more third-person perspective approach, much like The Sinking City, another title by Frogwares, which features mystery-solving in an H.P. Lovecraft horror setting.
7. Life is Strange
I don’t particularly like Life is Strange; the message it sends doesn’t resonate with me, and not all of the characters are very likeable, but one cannot ignore how similar it is to Nancy Drew. Especially if you enjoy Nancy Drew more for the sassy personality, then Life is Strange is perhaps perfect for you.
Life is Strange is a point-and-click narrative-driven experience centred around two best friends who live in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Unfortunately, the game is not grounded in reality as very early on in the game, the protagonist, Max, witnesses her friend Chloe getting shot. This incident unlocks her ability to rewind time; this is where the game lost me, but the characters of Max and Chloe are full of personality, and the game has a mystery to unravel, locating the shooter and bringing him to justice.
The game has gameplay very much like Telltale games featuring a third-person perspective with elements of point and click. Sometimes the game throws quick time events at the player simulating action within the constraints of its engine.
The game is overall fun if you’ve exhausted all other options for mystery games or are intrigued by the characters of Arcadia bay.
Point-and-click games are relatively easier to make and grasp; this allows developers more freedom in designing puzzles and writing intricate stories to keep the player involved. While most of these games are short, there’s no limitation as IPs like Carol Reed, Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes will keep the genre alive.
Unfortunately, newer technology and engines like Unity allow non-programmers to make games; the point-and-click mystery genre might not live on for long.