Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Nancy Drew - The Haunting of Castle Malloy (2008)

I am violating my self-imposed five-year rule here, as I happened to start playing Nancy Drew Adventures #19: The Haunting of Castle Malloy over the Memorial Day weekend, before realizing it came out in 2008.  So if that matters to you, dear reader, please return in 2013!  This entry in Her Interactive's popular and long-running series based on Carolyn Keene's plucky girl detective (up to 26 titles at last count) was designed by Cathy Roiter and written by Anne Collins-Ludwick, with Kyle Jones as art director.  The title screen features a mysterious wraithlike figure:

To quote the official marketing copy:

"Touted as the most romantic event to grace the ruined halls of Ireland's Castle Malloy, the Simmons-Mallory wedding was supposed to be a fairytale beginning, but now the groom is missing! Did a banshee crash the wedding or is this a case of cold feet? Can you, as Nancy Drew, unravel the knot of scattered clues and scary superstitions? You'll need to catch more than a bridal bouquet to make this a happily ever after!"

The Nancy Drew series has always had to fight certain perception issues about its intended audience; I was a bit apprehensive myself, as one of the game's advertised features is that we get to "help make bouquets and seating charts for the wedding."  But I've played a few of these before, so I was optimistic that these activities would tie into Ms. Drew's crime-solving efforts.  There are two difficulty levels - Junior and Senior Detective; I chose to play on the Senior level, because I am old.  Erm, and because I hoped there would be more challenge and content at this level.  As it turned out, I was very grateful to the fine walkthrough published at www.gamesover.com -- this is actually not an overly easy adventure to complete, and I would have been stuck on numerous occasions without some help.

I always encourage interested readers to tackle the Adventure of the Week independently before proceeding with the commentary below.  This one is still in commercial distribution and is readily available for purchase, at publisher Her Interactive's own website or digitally via Steam, among other outlets.  In the interest of documenting the adventure game genre, I will be discussing everything I experienced while investigating The Haunting of Castle Malloy.  And, inevitably, there will be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

The opening seems a little more standardized than in the last Nancy Drew game I blogged about, #8: The Haunted Carousel -- we start out at our heroine's home desk, with memorabilia from notable earlier cases available for examination.  A "How to be a Detective" handbook serves as online documentation for those new to the genre.  This tutorial mode is worth exploring for its comedy value, as Nancy explains how the conversation interface works by playing both sides of a chat with her teddy bear, Mr. Woogle Wogle, and thereby makes us fear for her sanity.  There's also a scrapbook which serves as a promotion for the earlier Nancy Drew games, #1-#18, continuing an age-old adventure game tradition.  And we can click on a hula girl doll on her desk to watch it wiggle. 

Specific to this game is Nancy's Leprecom Telephone Service phone card for use in Ireland (leprechauns, see, not leper colonies).  We can examine this game's specific Case File, and then click on the plane ticket to begin the adventure proper.

It seems Nancy Drew has been summoned to Ireland to be a maid of honor by an exchange student she used to know, one Kyler Mallory.  (Ms. Mallory, we suspect, knows something weird and/or mysterious may happen, and so is taking advantage of Nancy's friendship.)  The castle is apparently in a state of disrepair, as is often the case with Nancy's destinations in this series; it makes for more naturalistic puzzles when the environment is broken down.

As the story gets underway, Nancy is talking on her cell phone while driving down a deserted Irish road, when suddenly a white shape flits across the road.  Nancy loses control and runs into a tree, delivering the first of many moral lessons for young players.  Fortunately, our heroine is okay -- she can't see much on the foggy, dark rural road though, and she has lost her cell phone and disabled her car, so we have to walk her through the murk to the gates of Castle Malloy.  The interface here is a bit different from earlier games I've played in this series -- moving the site map and navigation into 2-D instead of 3-D solves some of the occasional confusion produced by the other titles' use of still images with navigational arrows.  Now we can see Nancy from an overhead, slightly isometric perspective, making it a bit easier to get a sense of the game world's layout.  Nancy's available paths are initially constrained, so we can't explore as much as we might like, but the map will open up later.
Near the gates is an odd doll which Nancy can pick up; perhaps it was dropped by Tim Burton:

An odd digitized/animated sheep walks by as well, looking like something out of The Seventh Guest.  The gate itself contains a sliding-tile puzzle.  I used to enjoy these as a kid, so I spent some time getting everything in place, but the puzzle doesn't seem to be "solved" for real until we find a missing piece to put into the final open space.  And if we exit and come back in, the puzzle is reset, so my first attempt was wasted.

Nancy can advance to the castle door and knock using the heavy knocker.   The castle's cantankerous elderly caretaker, Donal, opens the door, but instead of letting her in, he sends Nancy off to the local Inn -- he's not inclined to be very helpful, it seems, and Kyler is asleep. 

So this presents a minor puzzle to get the story moving.  We can examine a formation of rocks on the ground in front of the castle, and select one to throw at the window, presumably in an effort to rouse Kyler from her sleep.  This works -- once we aim properly, we don't need to click on the window but below it so the arc works out -- and Kyler comes down to meet Nancy.

The character acting and animation is more elaborate and expressive than the earlier Nancy Drew games I've played, though still simplified -- each character has a fixed repertoire of gestures, with lip-synched facial animation.  The pre-rendered video technology works fine on PCs with a wide range of capabilities, but it has the unfortunate side effect of anchoring most characters in place.  Kyler, for example, is always sitting in this chair, reading until Nancy interrupts her:

We learn that Kyler's fiance, Matt, has disappeared.  Donal would rather the wedding be called off, as he hates the British and claims her pending marriage to Matt will upset the "fairy people"  (the supernatural kind, we presume.)  Kyler claims that she still hears Matt's voice, muffled, and believes he is just teasing her, playing a practical joke by vanishing.  We can talk to Kyler about a number of other things -- the apparition on the road, and where Mr. Delany lives.  Nancy shows Kyler the doll, and she says it looks like Matt and is wearing his ring; Nancy didn't get a good look at the person who dropped it, but Kyler thinks it was probably Matt.  She also says she is hearing his voice in many places, not just in her room.  We also learn that Matt's best friend, Kit Foley, is here.

Nancy's interactive conversation with Kyler can go on for quite a while, with lots of little details that may or may not prove important.  Donal reportedly spends most of his off hours down the road at the Screaming Banshee Inn.  Kyler's family name is Mallory, not Malloy, apparently due to her grandfather's changing his name to prevent association with a brother, Brendan Malloy, who was rumored to be working for the Axis during World War II.  He was apparently an inventor, and if I know how these narratives usually develop, we will find ourselves working to restore his good name.

Getting down to practical matters, Kyler asks Nancy to finish printing the wedding programs on the old press downstairs.  One of the things I like about this series is that many of the puzzles require players to gain a passing acquaintance with esoteric real-world skills; unfortunately, this one also forces us to play some old -fashioned puzzles that don't necessarily fit logically into the story, though they do provide plenty of challenge.

On a shelf behind Kyler we can acquire a book called The Zodiac Constellations.  An old knight's helmet contains an interlocking gear puzzle that requires us to build a chain of gears -- they can only be placed in specific places in the mechanism, and there are lots of possibilities, so it's a fairly challenging puzzle.  I decided to come back to this one later, after I wrestled unsuccessfully with it for a while.

A workbench contains another puzzle, featuring weights marked with symbols, detailed on an alchemist's simple element chart, and a computer coding chart involving binary numbers and ASCII characters (which seems a bit out of place in the creaky old Castle Malloy; I doubt Donal is developing software during his off hours.)

Another shelf contains a Towers of Hanoi puzzle, apparently wired into electricity.  Solving it lights a lantern sitting nearby, which should be handy for later exploration.

Another abstract puzzle is in a back room, requiring the player to replace missing gems stolen by a bird.  A broken pair of eyeglasses lying near the fireplace nearby is a potential clue about Matt's disappearance.

In the nursery, a child's tea party set lies broken on a low table.  A book called Le Lapin Bleu is on a dresser, with the cover art presenting the word LAPIN set on rotating letter-dials like a combination lock -- probably a clue -- and cryptic homilies abound, like "Truth Speaks Even Though The Tongue Were Dead."  These sayings seem to refer to senses or facial features -- tongues, eyes, and ears -- but I never found a direct tie-in to these clues, if such they are meant to be.  A puzzle here features odd dolls in the style of the Matt doll found earlier, and requires us to place each doll according to relationship rules, like "the pig doll can only be placed directly next to a rocking horse."   The correct solution yields a coin, or token, really; we can collect another by playing with the real rocking horse on the floor nearby.

Another puzzle is a shape/color matching puzzle, which requires us to match up colored cartoon weasels by rearranging and rotating tiles, each containing 4 shapes (top or bottom of a weasel, in red, purple, blue or green). The center tile (in a grid of 9) cannot be moved so this shouldn't be too hard to solve, but there are a lot of possibilities and it's easy to get close to a solution before realizing that we're not really close at all.  There are the fewest possible placements for the blue / head combination, so if we start with that in mind we can minimize the solution set.  No piece contains duplicates, so that also provides some constraint, but this was the most difficult puzzle in the game for me and I had to return to it several times.

We can ascend a tower staircase, but there's a gap in the stair that Nancy feels is "a little too far to jump."  A visit to Kyler tells us the glasses Nancy found belong to Matt, who can't see well at all without them.  His luggage has gone missing too, apparently.

Finding our way downstairs -- the traditionally clumsy Nancy Drew game navigation is back inside the castle, with somewhat limited abilities to rotate and turn around based on pre-rendered stills, though these indoor areas aren't too hard to make sense of -- we find the old printing press.  It's not really as old as all that -- it's an offset system, not a platen press, it uses CMYK inks, and Nancy tells us we should use the black ink, K.  We put black ink onto the printing plate -- not hand-typeset -- and put some paper on top, then run it through the press and dry it off before putting it in the basket.  Reviewing her handiwork, Nancy notes that the invitations say the best man is one "Alan Paine," not Kit Foley, which strikes her as odd.  We have to print three invitations -- the process as depicted is correct, but it skips over some of the details about how inked vs. non-inked portions of the plate really work -- and we can get through this "puzzle" easily, as the interface ensures we can only execute the steps in the proper order, so random clicking will eventually find the right process.

Stepping outside the castle, we can see odd lights in the tower.  Kit Foley is hanging around the lower floor, sporting a shiner of a black eye.  Kit believes (or claims) that Matt has gotten cold feet and fled, and that Kyler is in denial.  Kit is American -- his father is an executive living in London -- and he is designing projects for a real estate development company.  He mentions that developing residential units on the site of Castle Malloy would "sell like lightning," so perhaps there's a Scooby Doo scenario in the making.  Nancy can't snoop in the immediate area while Kit is around.

For some reason, there's a Madame Isibeal fortune-telling automaton sitting in the castle:

It appears to be inoperable at the moment; there's a number 3 above the coin slot, so maybe it needs 3 coins, and we are one short at the moment.  We can pick up a missing element weight for the alchemy puzzle on a desk in this area too.

Going outside with the lantern allows Nancy to see many things she could not make out while wandering around in the dark earlier.   An area to the west of Nancy's crashed car appears devoid of interesting details, at least at the time I visited.  A gated archway leads to a collection of leprechaun statues, and a crow that harasses Nancy briefly.  Each of the jaunty little Irish stereotypes has a clover leaf on its chest with one or two leaves highlighted; we can rotate the statues in place, but there isn't an obvious pattern, so this is probably another one to come back to with a clue in hand.  We can also pick up a draft of Kyler's vows on a bench; if this is Kyler's handwriting, she seems to have cold feet herself!  So we may want to confront her, gently, at some point.

Contrary to my uninformed expectations, there are deaths in these games -- we can direct Nancy off the cliffs behind the castle, for example, but we can also retry after any fatal mistake.  These are accompanied by humorous "Good News/Bad News" displays; e.g., there are only two rocks in the water below the cliff; Nancy managed to hit both of them.

There's a strange mound to the west of the castle, and a shoreline where we can hear a strange, banshee-like cry.  Nancy can't successfully cross the swamp -- there aren't enough stepping stones, and she drowns surprisingly easily in only a few feet of bogwater.

We can travel east down the road outside the castle to the Screaming Banshee Inn, now that we have a lantern.  There's a Leprecom pay phone, where we can use Nancy's phone card, handy since her cell phone is missing; fortunately she still has phone numbers for her friends Ned and Bess handy.  Bess and Nancy's other girlfriend George are at a pool party, but Ned was expected and hasn't arrived; the girls are distracted by some dude's washboard abs, and don't have any new information for Nancy, though they do agree that Kyler's vow notes sound fishy.  Ned is worried about Nancy too, and reinforces her suspicions about a few things, suggesting she check out the fireplace where she found Matt's glasses.  This is, essentially, the game's hint system -- a way to focus the player's attention on open puzzles via conversation, but it's handled rather subtly and can of course be left alone; I like this approach.

There are no vacancies at the Screaming Banshee Inn (the No Vacancy sign is complete with a charming cartoon leprechaun saying "Better Luck Next Time!") but we can talk to Donal, who is sitting by himself and having an after-hours mope.  Nancy has to play barmaid for a bit to get him a Crow's Nest before he'll talk; I was rather surprised, given this game's primary audience, that Nancy has to serve beer!  But it wouldn't seem right to be in Ireland serving soda and milk, and there's no hard liquor involved, just beer and mixed fruit drinks.  This is a time management mini-game -- we have multiple drink recipes and serving glasses to deal with.  If we succeed at filling all six orders quickly enough, Donal will tell us about the Sidhe - the Good People, he doesn't call them "fairies" though he indicates that other people apparently do. 

We can use the tokens we picked up earlier to play some arcade games here -- "Difference Detective" is a spot-the-difference game, and "Darts Away!" is a dart game that requires the player to reduce a starting score to zero by hitting precise score values with a limited supply of darts.  These games appear to be optional, as are (I think!) the puzzles that allow us to earn the tokens in the first place. 
Nancy can also earn tokens as tips from tending bar.

Further conversation with Donal reveals that he blames the Brendan Malloy explosion on the Good People, who had taken a shine to the Malloys' little girl, Fiona.  He says the banshee is also one of the Good People, and disagrees with Nancy's critical thinking skills when she mentions the sound she heard and suggests it might be mechanical.  We also learn that Donal likes Kit Foley, despite his obvious American/Brit roots, because (Donal thinks) he has Irish in his blood.  He also says that he didn't see a banshee until he was 54, so Nancy is special.

Returning to the castle and taking to Kyler yields erstwhile best-man Alan's phone number.  But we can't confront Kyler about her questionable notes on her handwritten vows.  There's a picture of Kit Foley and Kyler lying near the fireplace where we found Matt's glasses, so this seems like it could be a fruitful line of inquiry, but we aren't getting anywhere so we'd better go solve some more puzzles.

A wall outside the castle is covered with symbol blocks, which makes for some sort of puzzle, it appears.  Returning to the weasel puzzle, I tried to reduce the number of possibilities by starting with some obvious choices and looking for dead-ends in the solution.  But this "strategy" wasn't quite working for me -- I kept losing track of which pieces I had already placed and which were still available, and often found that the perfect piece I thought I needed was already in its optimal position.  I worked from the inside out, and from the outside in, and finally checked the walkthrough to realize that I had made a bad assumption about which pieces could go into the initial position.  Finally solving this puzzle yields a gear -- which may make it easier to complete that other frustrating puzzle... nope, it doesn't.  We may need another gear or two.

Three large celtic crosses can be visited southwest of the castle.  They are dated 1801, 1916, and 1845, but there doesn't seem to be anything we can do here. 

So we might as well phone Alan from the Screaming Banshee... he's not in on Matt's joke, but tells Nancy there was tension and fighting amongst Matt, Kit and Kyler before he left.  So something must be up.  I called Bess again, and she suggests that mixing drinks at the local pub is less than maid-of-honor-able, but offers no real ideas.

For the princely sum of three tokens, Nancy can get a fortune from Madame Isibeal -- and another weight for the scale puzzle.  The first fortune reads, "Even the longest day has its end"; the second suggests that Nancy brush up on her history.  These are puzzle hints, I think, but they are rather vague and not worth the effort it takes to earn the tokens.

Confronting Kit about his fight with Matt leads to a casual dismissal -- they were just goofing around -- but Kit enlists Nancy to put the seating chart together for the wedding.  This puzzle has some basis in reality, and while it's not difficult to parse the eleven rules and arrange the seats accordingly, it's fun to do.  Now Kit will talk to Nancy, and he gives her a book called "Brehon Law: Social Class at a Glance," which provides the key to the leprechaun puzzle out in the garden.

Do we actually need to win the games at the Screaming Banshee Inn?   Winning at Difference Detective yields... a token.  And just playing the dart game yields... a token.  Ah, we can use these tokens to buy gifts from the PRIZE! machine located between the two games.  The first use yields a whistle; it doesn't go into inventory, but becomes part of the interface so that the player can click on it to play a short tune.  It's easy to fake out Difference Detective by running the game in a window and shifting focus away, freezing the in-game time so that we can pause and look for the differences.  Winning Difference Detective a second time yields two tokens but no prize.  I did not do well enough at Darts Away! to make anything interesting happen.

Back to the Leprechaun puzzle to see if we can make sense of it now, using the book Kit gave us.  We can't move the leprechauns, so the order must have something to do with their rotation?  Seven levels of society are defined in the book, and illuminated letters F/R/B/L begin each stanza and tie a forward/right/backward/left position to each leprechaun's clover design.  Solving this puzzle yields a bird's nest, where we find a doll and the other three gems for the gem puzzle. 

We can place the gems in the empty slots, but nothing seems to happen.  Do we have to match these up with each other or the bands of color above the puzzle somehow?  We can't switch them around once they are in place, and clicking on them doesn't activate anything.  But clicking the colored gems in the order of the rainbow (ROYGBIV) opens up a secret passage.  We hear the "banshee" again, and can pick up a plank that might be useful for crossing the bog.

After doing this, when we return to the room, a bird is flying around -- and then an apparition of a Banshee actually shows up outside the window.  Kyler screams, and Nancy (clear-headed and skeptical as always) promises she will figure out what is going on.  I have a hard time believing this vision is supernatural in origin -- could it have been a balloon/automaton of some kind?

We can use the plank to cross the bog, and we can progress into its interior, seeing piles of stones along the way.  Three are stacked in a column, and then... Nancy drowns again.  Oops!  Going a different way, we pass four stones stacked up, and another drowning.  This seems to be a trial-and-error maze, and some "dead end" locations prove fatal no matter which way we go.  Forward, right, forward... nope.  AH!  Thanks, walkthrough -- I missed an important clue in the secret passage.  There's a code to the rock piles, telling us which way to go, except the details provided in the clue don't completely correspond to the actual piles we find.  In some places there are multiple piles to deal with, so we have to calculate some different directions and sequences to make sense of the clues.

If we manage to decode the maze -- ignoring the red herring stones between actual codes we need to interpret -- we arrive at an isolated cottage.  Inside we find a number of herb bowls, and a mortar-and-pestle, as well as a book of Herbs and Remedies.  Insects buzz around inside an empty birdcage.  A box on the workbench requires a key.  And there's a second ruleset for the dollhouse puzzle, with different placement rules and a need for some additional dolls.  There doesn't seem to be anything we can do here at the moment besides observing, but at least we can now go straight to the cottage without having to navigate the bog maze.

Can we make sense of the wall puzzle yet?  Some buttons make different clicking sounds when we first press them.  But these don't seem to be consistent.

Back to the cottage.  There are some wicker baskets I didn't pay attention to before, and one has a gadget in it... a jetpack?!?  Maybe this is how the banshee works.  Nancy won't mess with it indoors.  The Herbs and Remedies book has a safety charm... oh, and an insect repellent recipe!  Tansy, pennyroyal, wormwood, thyme and catnip are to be blended in equal proportions.  (Actually, if we have randomly mixed something using the herbs, mortar and pestle already, Nancy refers to whatever we put together as "bug repellent" even if it doesn't work, which kind of gives away the puzzle.) 

The right combination dispels the flies, and we can retrieve something from the cage bottom -- not anything dead or messily organic, fortunately, but a magnifying lens of some kind, with 4 protruding connectors suggesting it is to be mounted somewhere.

Being outside the cottage is not sufficiently "out in the open" for Nancy to try out the jetpack.  That large circular area outdoors looks suspiciously like a landing pad.  But she won't try it there either.

AH!  The lens fits into the Celtic crosses and associates the dates with specific symbols, visible through the lens on the wall some distance away.  We can't remove the lens once placed manually, but when we back out of each close-up on a cross Nancy automatically retrieves the lens.  Pressing these three symbols in numerical date order opens the wall, allowing access to a field where a lone sheep wanders around.  Actually, there are a lot of sheep here -- Nancy can harass them by running into them, causing the wooly creatures to run away a lot faster than one would think possible. 

To the east we find a suspicious area where a diagram lies on a rock -- it appears to represent plans for developing the Malloy Castle site with condos, a golf course, and parking lots.  Kit appears to be the bad person!  Especially because his name is on the stationery used to draw up the notes!  And it looks like the same bird we have seen earlier is hanging out here -- could the bird be trained to harass anyone who gets too nosy?

We can also investigate an old barn -- we can collect a gear from the wind chimes outside, so we'll have to try the gear puzzle again soon.  Inside the barn we find a complicated sheep-herding puzzle -- the sheep have chips implanted, and we need to group them by color and emotional state, guiding them into the Wallace & Gromit-esque Wooly-No-More v.6 machine to shear them.  We don't seem to have any sheep lined up for shearing, and Nancy can chase them around but not really steer them effectively -- they run off screen out of range and cannot be nudged where we want them to go. 
The whistle seems to help round up the sheep -- if we approach one and play the whistle, off it runs.  But I still don't see them in the barn, so this will take some more work also.

The whistle produces no reaction from the bird.  Let's go talk to Kit and see if we can confront him.  He says he was just messing around, daydreaming with his site plan.  We'll see what happens on this front later.   At least the photo we found earlier of Kyler and Kit now makes sense -- they used to date, but decided to be friends instead.  And we learn -- or are told by Kit, anyway -- that Kit was asking Matt if he had really thought about this marriage and what life with Kyler would be like, provoking the fight.

We've picked up some extra gears, so we can we do anything with the gears puzzle?  Yes, we can finish the chain now, and get... another doll puzzle ruleset.  Some of the most difficult puzzles yield the smallest rewards, but I suppose we will have to solve all of these in due course.

Kyler isn't terribly upset about Kit's development drawing, but she does ask Nancy to gather some herbs for her, providing a basket and a shopping list.  Are any of these herbs available in the bog cottage?  There's some lavender, but it's dried and I suspect she wants fresh flowers.  We can find all of these around the various locations on the map -- we don't have to identify them, as Nancy seems to know what they are and checks them off as we go.  The flowers are all brightly colored against the backgrounds, so they're not hard to spot, but I only found a few at first, many locations had no pickable flowers.

There's a ring of standing stones in the sheep pasture.  Another puzzle?  We can freely rotate each stone tower's three layers -- the center one is clearly seasonal, the top represents constellations, and the bottom is some sort of hash-mark code.  As I was messing around with the tiers trying to figure out what I was looking at, I accidentally hit upon the right combination (1 out of 12) and the puzzle was solved.  This yielded what seemed to be a key to a more complex puzzle -- shamrock algebra, let's call it, where differently shaded shamrocks participate in equations.  The math isn't hard to do -- three shamrocks are given to us as constants, and we can readily derive the other values.  But it's not clear what we are supposed to do with these values; at least we can also pick up some flowers for Kyler's bouquet here.

Back to the sheep shearing?  We can talk to Donal some more at the Screaming Banshee.  He tells us more about the runes on the stone pillars, but won't lend us his book about the Ogham Runes unless we sit in and play drums with his favorite band.  This is a simple music rhythm game, using four arrow keys and the spacebar to thump the drums as the notes scroll along.  Unfortunately, the patterns provided fit very poorly with the Irish folk tune the band is playing, so poor Nancy makes horrible, ugly music even if we hit the timing dead on.  This seems like a wasted opportunity to create a little appreciation for Irish music, but we do get the book, and we can also ask Donal about the other side of the bog, but he doesn't tell us anything we haven't already figured out.

What about the scale puzzle?  We have acquired a couple of additional weights to try out.  Balancing requires moving heavy and light weights around on three counterbalanced platforms, until everything is even.  This yields the missing tile from the sliding-tile puzzle on the entrance arch we encountered way back at the beginning of the game.  Solving it, and replacing the missing tile after the others are in place, yields a printing plate.  Hmmmmm.  Each plate is identified with a binary code.  We can also pick up some vervain flowers on the other side of the archway.

What else?  We still have to find some more flowers: sage, larkspur, vervain and rose.  There is sage hanging in the bog cottage.  That otherwise purposeless area at the west end of the road outside the castle grounds has larkspur, and we can pick some roses near the leprechaun puzzle.  Now the basket appears as a lovely bouquet in inventory, and is presumably ready to give to Kyler.  While we're in the cottage, we notice that the sheep doll in progress needs to be stuffed, and we will need more wool for the job.  That would explain the need for shearing some sheep.

When we attempt to take the bouquet to Kyler, we hear voices arguing before we reach the door.  It's Kit, defending his land development sketches, and Kyler, who thinks Kit refuses to acknowledge that it's over between them and has scared Matt away somehow.  Nancy opts not to enter the room, as the voices fade into muffled conversation; we can make out some of what they're talking about, even without any subtitles, including lines like "he has eaten a lot of vegetables since he's been here" and "he does love his pizza," which makes neither Kyler nor Kit sound particularly concerned about Matt's fate.

While he is suitably distracted, Nancy can go through Kit's things... except from the tags on the luggage under his bed, they appear to be Matt's things.  Hmmmm.  Ned seems to agree if we call him; Nancy also discusses the "banshee" apparition with him, and indicates she thinks this is a real woman who might live in the hut in the bog.  We might suspect that the "unearthly howling sound" has something do with the jetpack Nancy found there.

We can blow the whistle in the sheep barn, and Nancy says, "Any of you sheep want a haircut?"  But we're still not getting any volunteers.

The argument is over, so now we can confront Kit about Matt's luggage.  Kit claims ignorance, then says he thinks Kyler is right and Matt might still be here.  He confirms that his discussion with Kyler did not go as he had hoped, and he seems depressed that the wedding might actually go through as planned.  Kyler, meanwhile, is happy that Nancy has picked the flowers -- of course, she's been sitting on her bride-to-be's bottom reading a book all this time, while Nancy drowns and falls off cliffs and has to mix bad drinks and embarrass herself playing the drums.  Kyler doesn't suspect Kit, and hopes Matt is still around somewhere.

We have more dolls and patterns for the dollhouse puzzle now.  But we don't have some of the dolls shown on the patterns -- a sheep, and maybe a mouse doll?  Back at the inn, Donal admits that he put Matt's luggage where Nancy found it, so Kit is probably in the clear for now.  Donal gives Nancy a key to the sheep pen and asks her to round them up for shearing -- "With that lantern of yours, you'll be done before you know it."  You'd think the man had never seen an electric flashlight before.

Now we can officially do some shepherding -- we have a sheep counter onscreen, and when we blow the whistle and a sheep runs off, the count goes up.  In my playthrough I still had one in the pen from playing around earlier, but now we can secure them inside after ten sheep are rounded up.  Nancy has to walk fairly slowly to avoid scaring the sheep away, and they'll only go to the pen if they're well within her lantern's glow.  Some of them also get bored and leave the pen as time goes on, so we have to work fairly quickly.  I was up to 10 at one point, but didn't get to the pen fast enough, and ended up back down at 5 before I finally got them all locked up.  Whew!

Donal is happy the sheep are put away -- he seems remarkably coherent considering he's been drinking at the Screaming Banshee for several hours at this point -- and Nancy asks if it would be okay for her to shear one of them tonight, so we can get some wool to finish the lamb doll.  Donal agrees, but insists she fill three bags, in keeping with the old nursery rhyme, I suppose.  He gives her a simple tune to play on the whistle to bring the sheep in for shearing.

Now we can actually work on the sheep-shearing equipment puzzle.  The sheep are nicely animated as each one walks in and demonstrates its emotional state.  A happy sheep jumps up and down, eager to be sheared, for example, and this visual interpretation challenge makes for a nice modern-adventure puzzle.  We have to sum up each sheep's reported color, name, and emotional state, punching the resulting code into the control panel.  The sheep-shearer machinery itself is far from realistic -- it's a huge, alien-looking device that uses a suction tube and rotary shears to do the work; very Wallace-like indeed!  We can only blow the whistle to summon a new sheep while in the "pulled back" view, which is a bit inconvenient, and we have to shear six sheep to fill three bags.  I misjudged one behavior -- I think it was meant to be panicked, but I took it to be "bleating."  Calm is easy to recognize, as the sheep just stands still.  Each successfully sheared heep gets a bizarre hairstyle, otherwise the poor animal is left ragged and half-naked, and the wool apparently vanishes into thin air and doesn't count toward Nancy's goal.  With three bags done, Nancy grabs a little bit of wool for her own purposes.  We can sheer a few extra sheep if we want to, but there's no reason to do so.  A quick trip back to the cottage to finish off the sheep doll wraps up this complicated quest.

The open field allows us to play with the rocketpack, apparently counting as outdoors.  But the system is fairly complicated -- it looks like we'll need some documentation to figure out how to start it up.

We're still missing one doll for the dollhouse puzzle's second and third patterns.  We need to win the darts game at the Inn to win a dog doll, according to a walkthrough.  This is not easy to do -- Nancy's aim is shaky and drifty -- but as it turns out, if we play five times in a row without winning, we still earn the doll as a consolation prize.  Whew!

Now we can go back and try to solve this placement puzzle.  Round 2 produces a token, nothing special there.  Round 3 isn't too difficult, though there are few fixed relationships; fitting everything into place yields another printing plate.  We can read enough detail on this one to see that it's meant to be used with black ink to produce some jet-pack instructions; the other plates must fill in the colors.

So we'd better figure out how to use the printing press.  It looks like we have to make multiple passes with the paper.  I'll start with the black.  It has a binary code of 01001011, or 75 decimal.  These certainly look like jet-pack instructions.  But how do we figure out which color goes with the other plates?  It looks like we have to finish the whole job with all the plates before drying the paper, and we can shred unsuccessful attempts if we make a mistake.  Looking at the binary values on the plates, we can see that 01001101 = 77, and 01000011 = 67.  This is odd, but ASCII 67 = C, 75 = K, and 77 = M.  So that all jives, at least.  I haven't used the Yellow ink, but let's go outside and see how we're doing with the jetpack at this point.

Clearly, I'm missing a plate -- there is no white button to press, but there's a yellow button, so there must be a missing plate corresponding to decimal 89.  This one (thanks, walkthrough!) comes from the standing stone pillars, a puzzle I thought I had solved.  The real solution to the standing stones is a pretty complicated puzzle.  We have to set the four stones to correspond to seasons and constellations -- the first one is tied into Kyler's wedding on June 1st, and the others follow in seasonal order, going clockwise.  We have to decode the Primitive Irish alphabet, used between the 4th and 6th centuries, to figure out which of 4 Sabbat celebrations -- Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasa -- corresponds to each season, using the Ogham Runes book obtained from Donal.  Beltaine is a precursor of May Day, so it's closest to the wedding, and the others follow suit in order, starting with the pillar with the stone disc below it where we earlier found the shamrock algebra page (a red herring, in hindsight.)  We also have to reference the book of astrological symbols to align the constellations properly, but only four symbols appear on the stones, so this part isn't as difficult as it might be.  To its credit, the in-game Zodiac book correctly explains that the actual constellations are now out of synch with the astrological interpretations, which have remained tied to a fixed Earth-based calendar instead of adjusting with the actual positions of the constellations at those times of year as they exist today -- in case anyone needs more evidence that astrology does not really work as astrologers claim it does.

Returning to the printing press with all four plates in hand, we come up with jet-pack instructions that ought to work.  "Oh my gosh!  I'm flying!  Woo-hoo!" Nancy exclaims with uncharacteristic glee as we get off the ground -- and now we can fly her into the uppermost window of the castle tower we have otherwise been unable to access.

Of course, nobody is in the room, but there are some new puzzles to work on.  Above a writing desk is a raven puzzle (another video game reference to Lewis Carroll's Alice books?)  Entering the right combination on the desk -- LAPIN, based on the book we found in the nursery earlier -- yields a fourth dollhouse ruleset.  This comes from a drawer below the desk, though, and the desk hasn't actually been opened.  The raven diagram above isn't actually a puzzle, it seems, just a family tree of sorts, with some handwritten annotations adding a bottom row with last names only.  It correctly notes the change in Kyler's father's name to "John Mallory," as she mentioned earlier.  Another drawer contains a list of books referring to nautical mapping, animal movement, hydroponics and erudite knowledge, with humorous titles. 

There are also some landmarks drawn on the book list.  The circle pattern (that I thought was a jetpack landing pad) is one we've already visited, but one doesn't look familiar.  Fortunately Nancy can still use the jetpack -- though if we fly out of bounds, it sputters and she crashes fatally into the water.  But we can fly beyond the cliff's edge to find an odd little rock outcropping in the middle of the water.  N5 is written on the rock, and that clue seems to be the only item of interest here.

Returning to report Matt's continued absence to Kyler doesn't yield any new conversations, but the shelves of books behind her yield the books on the list we found in the tower.  We can't take them with us, nor can we page through them to any depth -- we just see the title page and gift dedications.  The first two books' messages contain "Two simple" and "One year"; are these clues to go with N5?  YS__N doesn't seem promising.  Here's a "Three years" reference --  YSY_N?  The fourth reads "on legs of four, they spin" - 4T or 4L?  YSYLN sounds more like something that might be an Olde Irish word or name.

Returning to the castle tower to try our luck with the desk lock, we see the "banshee" again, hovering by the window and then zooming around.   Clearly Nancy's jetpack isn't the mechanism here.  Hey!  The desk lock has no Y's in it.  Are there other clues?  I really needed the walkthrough here -- each dedication is a word puzzle in and of itself, and I really wasn't getting anywhere trying to figure out two of the four.  The code is actually CQLXN -- not a word at all -- and opening the desk yields a creepy Nancy Drew doll.

There's also a book here -- a diary, apparently kept by Brendan Malloy's wife. She recounts his liquid propellant work and his jetpack development -- the jetpack dates from World War II! -- and her travails keeping up with their young daughter after Dad gives her a jetpack of her own.  Mrs. Malloy worked evenings at the Screaming Banshee Inn at the time, and to keep her husband's activities confidential she attributed the strange goings-on up there to fairies, inadvertently creating local legends.  There's also a picture of Fiona, and a little sign reading "Waverly Academy for Girls."  And a key!

Doing the final dollhouse puzzle requires the Nancy Drew doll, and this round is the trickiest -- there are no fixed landmarks on the diagram or "directly next to" connections, so there are few constraints to anchor the solution.  And some of the rules seem self-contradictory on the face of it.  But it can be done, yielding a... blue egg?  This is probably a bonus item, and not germaine to the plot.

So now what?  Maybe the key will work on the lockbox in the bog cottage.  It does, and we discover that the box contains a Happy Sixth Birthday card to Fiona from -- well, there's no name, but it looks like her mother's handwriting as seen in the diary.  Maybe we can... ah, as we put the box away, the Banshee herself shows up.  She -- Fiona, we may presume -- looks much more normal up close, but she has wild long white hair, seems mute, and is clearly a bit feral.  She pushes Nancy down a trap door, and after a brief bit of canned video, it seems that now that we have figured a few things out, we will still have to fight our way back to the surface to resume our mystery solving.

Trying to take a seemingly handy elevator up reveals that Matt is also down here -- probably a victim of Fiona's fear.  We're trapped on opposite sides of a wall, but Nancy can engage him in conversation to fill in most of the remaining plot details.  Matt indicates that Fiona has been feeding him... vegetables, which he claims to hate.  I don't think Kit and Kyler were aware of this, or at least we weren't supposed to hear anything about it earlier.  This underground area is Brendan Malloy's lab; Matt fell down here through a secret hole in the nursery floor when a crow attacked him, after he found a secret passage and planned to use it to prank Kyler.  We also learn that Kit got his black eye when a branch whacked him while he and Matt were rigging a leprechaun gag to fool Donal. 

Nancy explains that young Fiona was thought to have been killed in the lab explosion, but wasn't, and that she has been wandering around unseen in the bog for most of her life.  Matt is suitably distraught over the consequences of his joking around, in case anyone needs a moral to the story.  Getting Nancy and Matt out of the basement lab will apparently comprise the rest of the adventure.

We find some oddly shaped pieces of metal that look puzzle-ish in the lab.  There's a bulletin board with sketches and a child's drawings; I wish Nancy would comment more on these things, as they are sweet but eerie, now that we know what Fiona has been through, but she just looks at them without saying a word.  There's a periodic table of elements on the wall, and it's historically accurate, only covering the elements up through 92, Uranium, the last one known at the time of World War II.  There's also a table of incompatible chemicals, not a standard feature of the table but a clue for a puzzle down here.

We also find a checklist for a rocket launch, presumably left over from Mr. Malloy's work, and a workbook with specific instructions.  Perhaps we can blast our way out of here.  There's a button to be pressed in case of emergency lockdown -- Matt couldn't read it, having lost his glasses -- and it opens up a puzzle requiring us to sort chemicals in various categories into three bins, being careful, of course, not to combine anything incompatible.  The overhead view makes the chemicals look like pucks, but they are actually flasks, and if we forget to open the claw wide enough, or we bump them accidentally, we can spill them, gassing Nancy for good.  We can manipulate the claw with a mouse interface, or more quickly with the keyboard.

I thought we had to sort all of the flasks out, but what we really need to do is clear a path to reach the key sitting by the Category 3 bin at the top of the screen.  The Category 3 chemicals are very difficult to handle, it seems -- even touching them seems to blow Nancy up?  No, it's just an implementation oddity -- the puzzle won't let us pick a flask up if we can't successfully reach the appropriate disposal bin, so we can't just move things around to make space -- they will explode if we touch them too early.  This puzzle is a bit tedious and doesn't really teach us much about chemistry, and the design really is a bit sloppy -- if we grab the key clumsily, it also blows up!

Now we encounter a puzzle where we have to assemble a staircase out of geometric shapes.  This seems less than realistic but is straightforward to finish, getting us access to the rocket's nosecone piece stored on a high shelf.  We can put the nosecone on the rocket -- it's not a large rocket, maybe about 10 feet tall, so we clearly won't be riding in it, just launching it to either open the lab up or perhaps send up a distress signal.

The rocket launching console is next to a diagram of the rocket.  We have to fix some wiring at the base of the rocket first, connecting wires at one end of a tangled mess to -- not matching colors, but complementary colors?  The appropriate combinations are noted in Malloy's workbook, assuming the colors haven't faded over more than fifty years in storage.  We have to hit the three launch panel switches in order, left to right, but if something's wrong it won't fire up.  I was missing Fin 1, one of the metal "puzzle pieces" in the lab, and had to attach it to the rocket based on Malloy's blueprint.  We don't actually have to do things in exactly the order specified by the launch instructions; as long as we get everything put together, the rocket will launch.

The finale is non-interactive -- all the characters watch as the rocket goes up, except for old Donal, who is apparently sleeping off his drunken night at the Screaming Banshee -- and everything wraps up in short order.  Kyler and Matt marry happily ever after, and Kit meets a real live girl, that is, not modeled using CG like everybody else in Nancy's world:

Poor Fiona is taken into custody; we learn that she was raised by a hermit who didn't speak, hence her emotional and mental stunting, but with some proper care and therapy, she should be able to live out her days reasonably happily:

The jet packs are confiscated by the military, and most likely the writers, so as not be a complicating factor in future Nancy Drew adventures.  Nancy never gets a happy ending herself, but she's generally pretty happy anyway, and takes her satisfaction from a job well done.  There's a brief trivia quiz on story details at the end of the game, a preview of the next game in the series, and then the credits roll.  It's nice to confirm that the music was performed live, not MIDIfied, and there are some staged bloopers at the end, which aren't as funny as real ones might have been but make for a nice little bonus.

Contrary to first impressions, the Nancy Drew games can actually be fairly lengthy and challenging.  The puzzles in The Haunting of Castle Malloy aren't as well-integrated into the story as I would have liked -- only a few of them really make sense in context, and some of the ones that do are just needlessly complicated fetch quests.  But the story has a nice sense of atmosphere, and Her Interactive is one of the few companies publishing commercially successful adventure games today, long past the genre's heyday.  The Nancy Drew games vary in quality and difficulty, but they are definitely NOT casual adventure games, and players looking for a solid puzzle challenge are advised to check this one out.

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