Over the past several months I’ve played a couple Nancy Drew games, but they were always for the PC. When I heard that a new Drew game called Shadow Ranch would be hitting iTunes I was curious to see how the PC gameplay would be implemented on a smaller scale. I was surprised when I was presented with a proper story rather than a hidden-object/puzzle game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Shadow Ranch is a story that follows Nancy as she vacations with Bess and George at their Aunt and Uncle’s ranch in Arizona. Quickly after her arrival, Nancy finds out that Shadow Ranch has a dark history and that it’s rumored to be haunted by Dirk Valentine’s ghost horse. Unfortunately the negative perception about Shadow Ranch is hurting business, so the place is on its last leg. Throughout the story Nancy and the girls work together to figure out what is causing the strange events and get to the bottom of things.
The “game” itself is very heavy on the story, and it makes sense since I spent most of the time reading. There are 8 chapters to play/read through so I had a lot of content to read through and ended up spending a lot of time in it. As I progressed I did notice that certain words were different colors and that’s because the text portion is interactive. Words that are colored in green make sounds, like if you tap on the word gunshot it sounds like an actual gunshot. Words that are orange bring up a pop-up filled with information about the word that was tapped. Finally, words that are more on the red side are actually collectibles, and there are 7 in each chapter. When a chapter is complete you can go through each collectible and unlock it by beating a mini-game. Once all 7 mini-games are finished, a new mini-chapter is unlocked that you can read through.
While the concept behind the collectibles and mini-games is great, they are all unfortunately the same. The name of the collectible is broken up into individual tiles for each letter and then you take the letters and make new words. Sometimes you have to create four words, and sometimes you have to create five. The words you create also vary in length, but I haven’t had to construct one over 6 tiles. I’m a huge fan of anagrams, Scrabble, and other things of that nature, but I really wish that there was some variety.
Aside from that, the chapters are interactive and resemble those “choose your own adventure” books I used to read as a child. At certain points in the chapter you can make choices and then it affects what happens next. If you make a wrong choice you can start over, like when I made the wrong one when having to decide what to do when a rattlesnake is in one of the girls rooms. Also there are parts where you go on a horse race and scramble the word to progress in the race, or you have to search for things like eggs. When I had to do the egg search in the second chapter I had to pinch and zoom a lot because some were incredibly difficult to find. The problem with that was that the iPhone really does have a small screen, if you compare it to something like a computer monitor. Since there is that small size, I had to really focus and strain my eyes to make sure that what I was tapping on was in fact an egg. Eventually it got to the point where I was tapping on every tiny bit of the screen, hoping that I’d somehow manage to hit the right spot, but because of the strain I put my eyes through previously I gave myself a bit of a headache.
There were a few other problems I ran into while playing and reading through Shadow Ranch, but they really were minimal. The first one I ran into was in chapter 1 when I went to press on an image of Bess and George. Because the book is meant to be interactive, images appear and you can press on them to hear sounds or see animations. When I pressed on the girls the audio got stuck in a loop and the app crashed. I did go back and try it again to see if it was an isolated incident, and it was, so I was able to not miss out on a part of the story. Another problem happened when I would press on the orange words to get a description; sometimes the pop-up would show immediately whereas other times I had to hit the word multiple times before it registered. Finally, I had a problem with how the collectible words were handled, but it’s only because the way it was done took all the fun out of it. I would’ve preferred some subtle hints either at the beginning of the chapter or throughout letting me know what to look for so then I could try to find them on my own rather than just keeping an eye out for a big red word.
Aside from those few criticisms there are some really great things about Shadow Ranch. The sounds are all well done, there is the option to change the font for the entire app as well as the size (for those who need a larger font to see properly), the brightness can be adjusted, and it’s easy to navigate through. Since the game is more of a book than anything else, swiping the screen from right to left turns the pages and progresses you through the story where swiping in the opposite direction allows you to revisit previously read pages. For those individuals out there who have to share their iPhone or iPod Touch with a sibling or child, Shadow Ranch allows you to have up to 6 individual save files that you can name, allowing everybody to play the story at their own pace.
Now before you think I’ve gone and hit my head and that’s the only way I could possibly have enjoyed Shadow Ranch, there is one huge reason why I’m in support of this app and the others that will (hopefully) be coming out soon: it encourages people to read! I’ve always been into books and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without them. Knowing how to read is sadly becoming a luxury, and people wanting to take the time out to read is becoming few and far between. I’m guilty of that because, and I’m being honest here, I’d rather be playing a video game. Shadow Ranch allows readers to interact, take control to make their own story, and also receive some enrichment in the process. All of those things are positive and will hopefully encourage those playing the game to frequent their local or online bookstore for more.
Pros Cons Good story, encourages reading, easy to navigate through, very interactive, allows for customization A bit glitchy, not a lot of variety in the mini-games, collectibles too easy to find Rating