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The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks Review Package Art
Her Interactive, ND Games

The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks Review

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard scoring criteria.

The 1917 overthrow of Russia's Romanov dynasty and their dealings with "Mad Monk" adviser Grigori Rasputin are historical events often tapped for books, films and conspiracy theories-- particularly Romanov daughter Anastasia. In 2009, they once more provide source material for a new take on their fates and the fortunes they left behind in the Sega/Her Interactive/ND Games mystery adventure title The Hardy Boys: Treasure on the Tracks. Her Interactive is no stranger to adventure games, being responsible for the popular Nancy Drew adventure game series on PC (21 titles released to date), as well as porting one of those Nancy Drew titles to Wii earlier this year-- White Wolf of Icicle Creek. While we're thrilled that both Her Interactive has arrived on DS and the Hardy Boys are finally getting a new video game in their honor, this is not a strong start for either.

In Treasure on the Tracks, the Hardy Boys are part of a secret, government-endorsed mystery solving agency in the new millennium (ATAC-- American Teens Against Crime), and the near-100 year old mysteries of the Romanovs are still vibrant. In the game, a small cottage industry has thrived upon an annual Paris-to-St. Petersburg train ride in which the world's wealthiest and most self-indulgent treasure hunters and conspiracy theorists can examine Romanov artifacts in an attempt to surmise what happened to the family treasure. Thanks to some good connections, the Hardy Boys also get a ticket on the train, though the other passengers are determined to solve the mystery first. Given the simplicity of the puzzles that resolve the mystery, it's a bit silly how much the game makes about this decades-old, "unsolvable" mystery.

The Royal Express train ride, which also stops in Vienna, Warsaw and Prague on its way to St. Petersburg, provides a perfect setting for sleuthing. In addition to featuring a museum's worth of priceless artwork, historical artifacts and compartments rife for snooping, the five other passengers frequently cross paths with the boys, both assisting and obfuscating the path to success. One blustery fellow claims to be the one and only heir to the Romanov fortune, a seemingly meek but sharp English historian also has her eyes on the prize, an arrogant art expert repeatedly says he'll be first to figure it all out, and a humble yet clumsy waitress claims to just be doing her job but clearly has secrets, just like the rest of the passengers. Throw in a mysterious quick-change artist and fellow ATAC agent randomly calling throughout the trip, and there's just barely enough to work with. The train-- and the barren cities it stops at-- could have benefited from at least a few more characters.

The boys fortunately have enough plucky charisma and banter to keep things lively, and the sometimes dramatic interactions with the other characters keeps things moving and not too predictable. Yet the real problem is with the gameplay. A host of Professor Layton-styled puzzles, a couple rhythm-based puzzles, and one fun teaser that requires random items and clever touch screen use make up the host of challenges. The latter puzzles are fine; it's the Professor Layton-inspired ones that are poorly explained and used far too often. At every city the same map puzzle has to be solved, followed by the same goose chase for random scraps of tickets or maps, then piecing the scraps of paper together, and then an incredibly simple hidden object puzzle occurs. The map puzzle is one of the worst in that it's the first puzzle the game provides, and its instructions are so vague and unhelpful that it may cause many sleuths to give up right at the beginning. Then there's a later bomb-defusing puzzle that has just as horrendous directions, and amusingly, if failed, it results in the only explosion in the game-- that same explosion of failure that's so prominently featured on the game's cover.

Fortunately, the hardest puzzles are forgiving and allow gamers to try right again from their point of defeat, but the remainder of puzzles are so ridiculously simple and overused. Perhaps the Hardy Boys franchise has a younger-skewing demographic, but both the kids and grown-ups who have fond memories of the intellectually stimulating mystery books deserve better than this. Plus, right when we solved the last puzzle of the game, the card froze and crashed before playing the ending cinema, requiring us to replay the last hour of bad puzzles over because no auto-save was in effect.

Accompanying the poor puzzle design is a bad interface and uninspired visuals and audio. Treasure on the Tracks features the usual hunt-and-click gameplay most classic adventure games require, and perhaps in a nod of leniency, every interactive object and point of exit can be highlighted by sweeping the stylus back and forth over the touch screen. Yet this screen-scratching requirement gets old fast and would have been better couched in a simple button press, as done in Dracula Origin on the PC. Plus, the exit arrows from any screen or puzzle shouldn't have to be "found" and shouldn't be inconsistently placed around the perimeter of the screen. Basic game menus, hints and inventory management are hidden away in a very slow-moving PDA that slides up on the touch screen and features just as obtuse buttons and iconography. Kids cannot just jump into this game without reading the manual: confusion quickly mounts from the get-go and mandates a trip through the game's tutorial.

Yet more surprising than that is the art quality, given the decent art design and graphics used in all the Nancy Drew games. The static in-game environments are decently modeled with a touch of animation here and there, though for some reason each city has a jarring real-life photograph thrown in as well. As for the character portraits and cut scenes, we get charcoal illustrations of mediocre skill, and the coloring in particular is a huge problem. One particular character is blond in most locations and comic panel cutscenes, but she inexplicably also has black and dark brown hair at other times. In one key moment of the game's story, she pops up with brown hair in the game environment and then black in an ensuing cinema. The boys exclaim, "What's she doing here?!" And we couldn't help but feel stupid because we had no idea who on Earth she was and why the boys recognized her to begin with. It wasn't until a later interaction with the character-- who had reverted to being blond-- that we realized who she was earlier.

On the audio side, there's no voice acting used and minimal sound effects/foley work. Musically, several synthesized orchestral tunes accompany regular navigation and puzzle solving sequences, though the frantic melody heard most of the game within the train is overwrought and quickly tiresome.

The names seen in the Treasure on the Tracks' credits roll suggest a number of Russian or Eastern European folks worked on most of the game, and perhaps working on a legendary story they're familiar with was a labor of love. Extra pieces of effort, such as featuring artworks not integral to the story and ending every conversation with a unique goodbye, are hard to miss. Yet the quality of execution on nearly every other front is lacking, and every involved party, from Hardy Boys authors to developer to publisher to gamer, really deserves better.

final score 5.0/10

Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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