ND: Midnight in Salem
I finished Nancy Drew’s 33rd installment “Midnight in Salem” last night and what a journey it has been. I began playing the game on release day so technically it has taken me almost 7 months to complete this game.
A Bit of Back Story
In case you’re new to the series, there has been a lot of attention (good and bad) on this particular game. I believe mentioning this information is important because it played a significant role in people’s reception and opinion of the MID.
As is customary, HerInteractive was in the habit of releasing two games a year (yes, you read that right- two). Every time a game is released, a sneak peek trailer at the end of it is thrown in to reveal the next one. This went on for a very long time. So after Sea of Darkness (ND’s 32nd installments), fans knew that there will be a new game and it’s going to be Midnight in Salem.
However, in 2015 HerInteractive underwent big changes. In a letter to their fans, the company announced they will be shifting to Unity as the next game’s engine. As a result, this will affect the development schedule of MID, but that will also ensure better and smoother graphics…etc.
In addition, Lani Minella– who has been the voice behind the character Nancy Drew in the series for almost 20 years, was let go and Brittany Cox was hired. This resulted in an uproar in the community. Not to mention Lani, herself, has been… hmm, how do I say this? — very “vocal” about this decision. Based on what she was sharing with her fans, it was deduced that the reason she was let go was because she didn’t sound “young enough”. HerInteractive denied this and banned one of Lani’s statements claiming she was sharing too much confidential information with the public.
Fans were sympathizing a lot with Lani because she does have a distinct voice and embodied THE Nancy Drew they’ve known for such a long time. That’s understandable but it’s also only her side of the story. It didn’t help that HerInteractive was elusive about many of the decisions they were making and frankly that is their right to do; however, fans were anguished for some kind of closure and they weren’t getting any.
To make things worse, in 2016, HerInteractive went completely quiet about MID and focused mainly on ND’s new mobile game Codes & Clues. This annoyed many people.
By 2019, many fans began losing all hopes of seeing MID– ever. However, eventually the company released more information about the characters and graphics as the game reached closer to its release date. And after several further delays just a couple of months away from its launch, the game finally came out.
With these factors taken into consideration you can imagine the amount of anticipation, expectation and suspense fans were slowly amassing over the course of 4 years waiting for this installment.
Upon the request of a familiar ND character, Nancy flies to Salem, Massachusetts. There, she investigates an estate that is undergoing arson. The estate has roots in history and belongs to the Hathorne family, which was constructed by Judge Hathorne who in turn took part in the Salem witch trials. Drew races to uncover the truth with the aid of her friends and bold return of the Hardy Boys.
The first thing that caught my attention in the game was the minimal interface. Icons and items are colorless and simple looking, mimicking most modern devices today. The second obviously being Nancy Drew’s voice. To my relief, it sounded suitable. I didn’t feel it was alienating from what we’re used to. It was definitely different as Lani’s voice is distinct but not distracting at the same time, which is good.
Massachusetts looks stunning. The level design, the buildings, the music– it’s all nice. The characters on the other hand look less polished. I personally didn’t mind, because I don’t usually play ND games for their nice graphics. It’s the content that matters to me.
The story is interesting but it could have been better. Unlike previously themed ND games, I didn’t feel like I learned a lot about Salem and the trials. There’s so much to work with here pertaining to that time period and history but sadly wasn’t utilized well.
Bess and George, Nancy’s best buddies almost didn’t play any role in this game. Instead, the Hardy boys and Deirdre took their place. It’s a nice addition to have characters actively engage in the investigation. For instance, Deirdre is the detective’s Watson every step of the way. That’s a new experience in the series to have characters collectively piece things together. Usually, they’re a dial away to give you hints when needed but in MID, they’re physically there. Although I have to say that Deirdre’s presence can get a bit annoying at times especially when you’re trying to navigate a scene and she’s just too close to your face. It can get in the way of clicking and exploring things.
As a result of having more characters involved, the conversations were interesting but it was also mentioned that they lacked interactiveness, which I’m afraid I kind of agree with. Usually the player is given the option to choose an answer that can affect the outcome; however in this game, the replies feel like they have little influence.
The biggest let down for me was the lack of mini-games. It’s the aspect of the game that I usually look forward to the most. ND games are challenging and fun unlike many mainstream detective games out there. Each installment has creative mini game design. For instance, one game that comes to mind always is Shadow at the Water’s Edge, which is in Japan. That game seriously has a lot of cool mini games such as Sudoku, Kakuro and Bento puzzles. In comparison, MID is bland. There’s the “cooking” puzzle, which is slightly becoming an ND tradition by now, but other than that, there are hardly any well-crafted mini games to think of.
And with that being said, the player can easily feel there’s little to do in this game aside from the main plot line. With previous games, you can leave one task or puzzle to pick up another. Your to-list is full and the game world feels rich. In this one, your iPhone’s check list is laughable. There’s usually only 1 or 2 tasks to accomplish. Kind of defeats the purpose of having a list really.
Without saying too much, the ending was appropriate. It wasn’t too obvious but neither was it too creative. And instead of a sneak peek trailer, Nancy drops a hint or two about a possible next game set in Austria (or maybe a sequel?).
Although I’m sure many fans are happy to finally get their hands on MID, the uproar and negativity is understandable to a certain degree.
Having said that, I don’t think many people realize how difficult it is to roll out 2 games a year. I think what HerInteractive has done in the past is seriously commendable. It took a lot of effort to provide that level of consistency. As a result, fans developed a schedule. When things change, which are inevitable in any business, it’s normal to project a level of concern (especially with the Lani situation and her role in the games). And when there are a lot of delays justified for the sake of improving quality, fans’ expectations will soar.
Not many people were happy with the end result and some claim the character designs were even worse than previous installments. It makes me wonder if HerInteractive didn’t issue those promises, would people still think the same way? I think the game is a definite improvement from previous installment but not enough to justify the time spent on it to some people.
I choose to take a more lenient position with the game. I’m certainly disappointed with many things in the game but I also understand that big changes in companies are not easy especially for small developer companies like HerInteractive. The company’s past accomplishments are enough for me to continue to want to have faith in what they do and I’m choosing to stay optimistic.
It’s going to take some time for them to maintain a schedule again, especially with old staff out of the building and new ones in (not to mention the pandemic situation).
So is it worth playing MID? Absolutely. If you’re new to the series; however, I would suggest starting with earlier ones. Not too early in the series though. Somewhere between games 21 and 32. The old games are an absolute gem but to new gamers, they might be outdated. Once you’re done with those 10 new installments, it’s certainly worth going back to the original games.
My final score is 4/5 ★★★★
- 3/5 for gameplay
- 4/5 for design
- 2/5 for Puzzles
- 3/5 for plot
- Game Platform (played on): Mac
- Game Link | Click Here (Also available on Steam & Mac Apple Store).
- Trailer | Click Here