A Definitive Ranking of all Nancy Drew Computer Games

You never forget your first Drew.

I was barely ten years old when I sat down at my family’s basement computer, a clunky ol’ Windows 95, and installed a new game. No more kiddie content, this was the big leagues. Message in a Haunted Mansion: a brand new point-and-click mystery by video game company Her Interactive. The game (the company’s third installment at that point) slipped you into the shoes of America’s favorite spunky teenage sleuth Nancy Drew as you set out to solve — you guessed it — a case set in a haunted mansion.

That game took me months if not a whole year to finish, due to the sheer terror that gripped me every time I tried to play. The plot featured supernatural occurences meant to deter our savvy heroine from uncovering the mystery at hand. Jump scares and ghostly visions lurked around every corner. But deterred I was not. From the moment I clicked that last puzzle piece into place and solved the mystery, I was hooked.

I have played and replayed every installment in the series since then, and completed every mystery (save for one pesky case! Stay tuned to read more on that later). And it only makes sense that a master detective such as myself provide a definitive, mostly spoiler-free list ranking them from worst to best. So whether you want to relive the nostalgia of playing these games, are a Twitch streamer looking for fun new content to share, or just love our girl Nancy Drew, please read on.

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

34. Trail of the Twister

Well, this list had to start somewhere. This game is plain boring — which is probably the most cardinal sin you can commit as a mystery adventure game. Consequentially, it’s the one I remember the least about. Seriously, I had to Google the plot just to remember. Nancy ends up in Oklahoma on a storm chasing team to figure out who is sabotaging their equipment and why. Ask me why I care, and I’m not sure. An absolute snooze-fest.

33. Ransom of the Seven Ships

I almost debated putting this one in last place. In fact, let’s call it a tie between this one and Trail of the Twister. Nancy’s friend Bess is kidnapped on their vacation in the Bahamas and you have to rescue her...by solving…an ancient island mystery? Kind of clunky, but it gets worse. This game is so bad you can’t even purchase it for play anymore — it was literally discontinued in 2020 for including black face. I’m not kidding. *Spoiler*, but the villain is a Jamaican man in dreads who is then revealed to be…white. Even playing this as a kid I knew something felt off about that.

32. Midnight in Salem

The most recent Nancy Drew game and quite arguably one of the worst. It lacks total heart and soul, everything about the old games that made them feel so alive. This one is just a total dud. Not to mention the company decided to replace Nancy’s iconic voice actor Lani Minella here. Who cares about solving some random arson case in Salem when my rock Lani isn’t there to guide me? Leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

31. The Shattered Medallion

One of the reasons why I love Nancy Drew games so much is because they challenge me. They force me to work on puzzles, find creative solutions, and problem-solve. When I was little, they might have taken me a month or two. As I’ve gotten older, it usually takes me a solid weekend to finish a game. I finished this one in a single afternoon playthrough — which is not a good thing. The premise is a reality competition (a-la Survivor) gone awry. The puzzles are quick, the mystery is not compelling, and you end up feeling like you’ve wasted your money on something better spent elsewhere.

30. The Creature of Kapu Cave

AKA: the bug game. Set in Hawaii, this one at least scores some points for a cool location and backdrop. But I didn’t care much for the plot: searching for a missing entomologist (or insect scientist) around a research center. I just feel like a game set in Hawaii could be so much more.

29. Secret of the Old Clock

Whereas every other game in the franchise takes place present day, this one transports us back to the 1930s to Nancy Drew’s first case. It’s an adaptation of the very first Nancy Drew book published, which is neat. Unfortunately, that’s all I can really say it has going for it. The characters and mystery feel unmemorable and one dimensional. You do get to drive around in Nancy’s iconic blue roadster, though.

28/27. Secrets Can Kill/Secrets Can Kill (Remastered)

This was the first Nancy Drew game ever released in 1998, and then again remastered and re-released in 2010. The plot is very 21 Jump Street-esque, with Nancy posing as a local high school student to help solve a teen’s murder. Not much went into the puzzles here: I remember breezing through both playthroughs in record time. And considering these games are marketed at a young audience, it feels incredibly darker than anything else Her Interactive has ever released. *Mild spoilers*, but the final scene involves a confrontation at gun point. Sheesh.

26. Labyrinth of Lies

I wanted this game to be so good so bad. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to Greek Mythology, so when this game promised me a Grecian backdrop with a focus on the story of Persephone, I was all in. Unfortunately, this one falls flat on its face. I don’t remember any of the characters, nor did I care about helping solve the museum-theft mystery. Good in theory, poor in execution.

25. Alibi in Ashes

I think this game tried a little too hard. Nancy is convicted of arson and thrown in her hometown jail right from the start. Whereas you are usually strictly playing a game from Nancy’s POV, this one forces you to body-hop into her closest friends to figure out who really burned down town hall. It all feels a tad too choppy for my taste.

24. Danger by Design

You, as Nancy Drew, must discover why a fasion designer is…wearing a mask? And…getting sent ominous threats in the mail? So that she can…finish her Spring collection in time? Okay, sure. There’s also a secondary mystery that appears halfway through the gameplay that really reaches to connect to the original mystery. The only reason I’m scoring this higher than others is because it’s set in a moulin in Paris and it has some pretty fun and campy little moments.

23. The Captive Curse

We’re now getting into mediocre game territory here. There is a strong Brothers Grimm fairy tale influence in this one, and if you like that aesthetic, maybe it’s for you. Nancy is brought to a castle in Germany terrorized by a monster who kidnaps young women. Lots of creepy corridors and hints of a hairy beast lurking outside the castle walls. It’s just a little too juvenile for my taste.

22. Tomb of the Lost Queen

My excitement levels for this game rivaled Labyrinth of Lies. Ancient Egyptian mythology? Check. Archeology digsite? Check. MUMMIES? Check. For some reason though, it doesn’t live up to its full potential. The puzzles are fun, but there are a lot of lulls in this game. Maybe I should lower my expectations a little. But you’d think a mystery game set in an undiscovered Egyptian tomb would be more exciting.

21. Warnings at Waverly Academy

This game is like Gossip Girl meets The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. Which honestly sounds like a combination that was decided via a spinning wheel of ideas. Whatever, I’m still here for it. The stakes of this game feel pretty low, but it does have some fun games and activities, and a decent mid-game reveal. But the ending goes a little bonkers when *mild spoilers* the bad guy tries to kill you via a The Pit and the Pendulum inspired trap.

20. The Haunting of Castle Malloy

Nancy is a bridesmaid at her friend’s wedding at a derelict castle in Ireland, but the groom goes missing just before the wedding. There’s some spooky Irish lore sprinkled in here, with a Banshee haunting the grounds. But the real star of the show in this game is Nancy in a jetpack. Honestly, every game should have Nancy in a jetpack. It would really boost some of these ratings.

19. Stay Tuned for Danger

This game feels incredibly 90s, but for valid reasons. This second installment of the Nancy Drew mystery game series was released in 1999. It finds Nancy working a case at a famous soap opera TV set where a hunky star is receiving death threats. What I appreciate about this game is that any one of the suspects has a strong motive for being the culprit. With other games, it’s easier to pinpoint. Bonus points here for an absolutely hilarious “second chance” scenario where Nancy opens a bomb package and blows up the whole studio.

18. The Silent Spy

The plot here ties in the closest with Nancy’s personal life, and as a result, we connect to it more as the player. Nancy’s mother died before she was born, and this game paints a pretty rad backstory for her as a secret agent. The themes give off serious Mission Impossible/Jason Bourne vibes (well, as much as a Nancy Drew game can, anyway). Definitely more serious in tone than some of the sillier ones, so if that’s not your thing, it might not be for you.

17. Sea of Darkness

This was the last game that Her Interactive released in 2015 before everything changed (if you know, you know). That being said, I think it still ranks pretty solidly amongst the others. Definitely a middle-of-the-pack standing. The Icelandic festival Nordic aesthetic are a fun backdrop to the mystery of a ship captain’s disappearance and location of a secret treasure.

16. The Haunted Carousel

If you set anything in an amusement park, it’s going to be hard for me to not like it. And I do actually like this game, a lot. It has gorgeous sets, fun games, and diverse puzzles. It also makes me emotional (damn you Joy and Miles the Magnificent Memory Machine!) The only thing I dislike is how short it seems compared to the others.

15. Legend of the Crystal Skull

The vibes here are spooky, and if you’re a fan of the bayou aesthetic, this one is for you. Nancy is trapped in an old mansion in New Orleans during a thunderstorm, and stumbles upon a mystery involving a huge inheritance. You get to roam through graveyards, the French Quarter, and even learn a little about Voodoo too while you’re at it.

14. White Wolf of Icicle Creek

We’ve finally made it to the only game on this list I have never actually completed (despite trying twice). One of the final puzzles is an infuriating board game called Fox and Geese. It’s one that no walk-through or guide can help you with, either. Maybe I’ll give it another crack one day, because I really do love the intimate ski lodge setting and snow-centric activites and puzzles.

13. Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon

If you like puzzles, this is the Nancy Drew game for you. Literally puzzles on top of puzzles here as you make your way through the cars on an old steam train headed for a lost treasure. It can be frustrating to work through, but oh-so rewarding. The concept is very Agatha Christie, and the mystery is fun to watch unravel.

12. The Deadly Device

This is one of the newer games that ended up shocking me (no pun intended). As you’ll see, my top ten list is comprised of a lot of earlier games, but this one gets a shout out for being creative, exciting, and well-paced. You’re solving a murder (death by Tesla coil!) at a Tesla-inspired energy lab in Colorado. I love Nikola Tesla, and the homage to him here is fantastic.

11. Phantom of Venice

Nancy is in Venice, employed by the Italian police to help solve a string of art burglaries. Basically, we’re a teenage slueth there to bust an international crime syndicate. Okay girl power, I see you. I have always loved the espionage vibes in this game, combined with the Italian backdrop and activites. There’s also an absolutely wild activity that involves Nancy dressing up in a catsuit (!?) and dancing on stage. OG ND fans will forever have this image burned into their brains.

10. Secret of the Scarlet Hand

We’re getting into our top 10 list, and while most of these might be fueled by nostalgia, they still stand out among the rest as great games. This one in particular finds Nancy interning at a museum dedicated to preserving Mayan culture. When a valuable piece goes missing, it’s up to Nancy to figure out who is responsible. The ending to this game scarred me as a kid, because *spoilers* if you don’t find a way out of the monolith the bad guy has trapped you in, not only do you suffocate and die, but the game goes as far as to tell you that your mumified corpse doesn’t get discovered until hundreds of years later. That one kept me up at night.

9. Message in a Haunted Mansion

You never forget your first. If you read my intro, then you already have a tiny glimpse into why I love this game so much. This creepy and ornate mansion is derailed from being renovated into a bed and breakfast, and it’s up to us to figure out if it’s actually for supernatural reasons or not. With hidden passageways to explore and spooky séances to drum up scares, this game is nothing short of a good time.

8. Curse of Blackmoor Manor

When I was little, this game seemed fun, but impossible. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate all the intricate puzzles that go into this story. Subjects like astronomy, mythology, and alchemy are all woven into the puzzles and tasks in this spooky old English manor (that may or may not be cursed by a werewolf). The mystery truly does keep you guessing until the very end, and there is a real satisfactory feeling upon completing this one. Extra kudos for an excellent soundtrack here.

7. Danger on Deception Island

Nancy is invited to go whale watching at a place literally called Deception Island. Subtle. She honestly shouldn’t be surprised there’s a mystery to be solved at a place so aptly named. Anyway, the Pacific Northwest location gives us the opportunity to kayak, explore old lighthouses, local diners, and even some underground tunnel systems. This game is the epitome of cozy in my opinion.

6. Ghost of Thornton Hall

One of the newer installments that absolutely nails what the best Nancy Drew games are all about. Great characters scattered about a crumbling old Southern Gothic location, and an emotional story to boot. Plus, this one rivals my number two pick for the scariest game in the lineup. Are you actually seeing ghostly visions of the young woman who died on the property years ago, or is there something else in the air? The twists and turns here keep even the keenest slueths on their toes.

5. The Secret of Shadow Ranch

I absolutely adore the plot of the mystery in this one. You’re on a ranch in Arizona, and deduce that someone might be trying to scare away the owners in search of a hidden treasure on the land. It’s fun to do the chores and puzzles around the ranch, as well as ride your horse to different nearby locations. Plus, there’s a sweet subplot involving some outlaw lovers that makes this one extra-memorable. We’re also introduced to the character of Dave Gregory here. I don’t think I will ever forgive Nancy for declining the chance to run away with the hunky cowboy.

4. Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake

Do you want a scenic yet eerie cabin in the woods? Check. Do you want a Prohibition-era gangster with an at-home speakeasy who left clues to buried gold on the lake? Check. Do you want friggen ghost dogs chasing you through the woods? ABSOLUTE CHECK. The atmosphere in this game gets me so hyped up, if you can’t tell. The perfect combo of spooky, sweet, and cozy. The soundtrack in this game is also one of my favorites. It oozes nostalgia.

3. Treasure in the Royal Tower

Stay with me on this one: there’s a French castle-cum-lodge in the middle of Wisconsin. A blizzard rages outside, keeping you and the guests cooped up together. And on the property lies clues to a massive diamond hidden by Marie Antoinette herself. Don’t ask too many questions here, just accept that this game is atmospheric as heck and the mystery is so much fun to unravel.

2. Shadow at the Water’s Edge

From top to bottom, this game shines. Nancy is staying at a traditional ryokan (think of an inn, but more communal) in Kyoto, Japan, and just can’t help herself from solving a mystery that may or may not be supernatural in nature. The ryokan is plagued with strange occurences that the owners are hush-hush about, and that includes one of the most terrifying cut scenes I have ever experienced playing a Nancy Drew game. The Japanese culture — both old and modern — infused into every moment of this game makes it stand out among the rest of the internationally set games.

1. The Final Scene

Here it is: my gold medal game. The top of the crop, the créme de la créme. This Nancy Drew game ticks every single box for me. A landmark theater that has housed shows by the late-great magician Harry Houdini is far past its glory days, and is set for demolition in three days. When Nancy’s journalist friend goes missing, Nancy must prove that the kidnapper is holding her friend hostage inside the theater before the ticking demolition clock runs out. The stakes are high from the jump, forcing you to feel the pressure as you work your way through the old theater riddled with secret nooks and crannies. The kidnapper taunts you throughout, and all of the characters are easy suspects. This game stands out for me among the rest as having the best immersion, being the most compelling, and most of all: it’s the most thrilling. Kudos to you, Nancy Drew. And thank you Her Interactive, for allowing me to slip into her shoes.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kristin Beal

Dynamic young freelance writer, content strategist, and filmmaker. She/Her.