Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned For Danger is the disappointing second album in this mystery series

By admin Jan 21, 2024

The phrase “best foot forwards” implies the second foot will never be as good as the first, and that’s unfortunately the case with Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned For Danger. It has a 10/10 pun name and introduces/strengthens concepts that I expect will become series mainstays as we continue with this project, but this is definitely in “difficult second album” territory. I don’t hate it! But it’s no Secrets Can Kill, and I think that’s in part down to increased ambition, as our Nance is called upon to solve a poison pen puzzle at a TV studio.

As is tradition, the set up to give Nancy a reason to actually be here is ludicrous. Mattie, an actress, is renting out Aunt Eloise’s apartment (the same Eloise who, in Secrets Can Kill, was living and working in Florida – this seems to be a concession to the books, where Eloise lives and works in New York) and mentions that her co-star has been getting death threats to her absentee landlady. Eloise, for her part, is like, “Why don’t you employ my niece to look into that for you?” and Mattie is like, “Hell yeah, that decision totally makes sense!” In fairness to Mattie, Nancy is just getting off a case where she worked with the actual police, so. You know.

Let’s check in with the cast.

  • Nancy Drew – back once again with the thrill behaviour.
  • Mattie Jensen – a soap opera star who has (for reasons not fully explained) asked a teenager named Nancy to investigate the death threats to her co-star Rick. She also used to date Rick; Dwayne is her agent.
  • Rick Arlen – a likewise soap opera star who is leaving to join the movies. He is getting death threats, has dated and dumped basically every woman he knows professionally, and repeatedly flirts with Nancy; Rick deserves death and so my motivation for solving this mystery is unclear.
  • Lilian Weiss – a director who dated Rick and is still not over him. She is angry and throws Nance out of the studio a lot.
  • Dwayne Powers – Mattie’s current (and Rick’s former) agent. He’s a failed actor and his office and general personality give off big Ol’ Gil Gunderson vibes.
  • Millie Strathorn – an eccentric old prop master who makes you solve riddles before you’re allowed into the prop room. Actually owns the studio. All of this seems unlikely.
  • Bill Pappas – a producer who you only encounter as a voice shouting exposition and clues from behind a door or over the phone, and who can therefore be ruled out as a suspect.
  • Owen W. Spayder – a mysterious stage hand who is definitely the actual murderer in disguise.

Of potential note is Ralph Guardino, the security guy on the front desk at the studio, but only because he’s a guard and his name is Guardino. Well played, that writer. Also of note: Nancy has to get taxis between locations this time, which is just a loading screen with a voice saying, “Where to, miss?” etc. The voice is either a deeply uncomfortable stereotype of an Indian guy, or a deeply funny stereotype of a New York Italian American. A real coin toss situation.

Rick, the creepy actor in Nancy Drew Stay Tuned For Danger who is getting threats, currently hitting on Nancy
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Her Interactive

In any case, the cast here isn’t actually loads bigger than in Secrets Can Kill, but it feels bigger because they’re all scattered around more locations, and sometimes they only appear when you’ve done other things first. This isn’t really an issue in games even a few years older than this, but moving around in Stay Tuned is still a bit weird and slow, where a point and click zooms you to the next bit of hallway or side of a room. Sometimes this plops you at a random angle you weren’t expecting, and it’s just a little bit of a chore to find anyone.

It applies to finding clues, too. This was well before the advent of games highlighting the buckets or lobsters you can interact with, so in Stay Tuned you have to just look at stuff, and the game will silently note if you saw the thing that will trigger the next cascade of plot. An example is Rick’s near death experience while he’s filming a scene. A light nearly brains him when it falls, and it is of critical importance that you find the broken fixture on the set. Nancy does not say anything if and when you do, but it means in a later conversation she’ll say it was sabotaged on purpose.

Stay Tuned also introduces a day/night system of sorts, where Nancy can go back to Eloise/Mattie’s flat – which is, incidentally, very Hyacinth Bucket-coded in its decor – and change the time of day. In the end, you don’t actually need to use it that often, but because it’s implied it will change your options, and because I didn’t spot that bastard fixture for ages, I fruitlessly flipped day and night multiple times, and tramped back and forth hoping through the sheer passage of time that something would happen. It was like running into a wall. I don’t want Nancy to reach Atreus-levels of self-narration, but a little more would have been helpful.

Mattie, a computer generated character from Nancy Drew Stay Tuned For Danger, appearing in a live action group photo of women in the game

A photo of Mattie, a character in Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned For Danger with three regular men in a real live action photo for some reason

Whose photos are these?? | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Her Interactive

The puzzles are similarly opaque. Stay Tuned has a bunch of set dressing that is useless, but that you can still examine – a design choice replicated years later by LA Noire, of course. I became intensely paranoid and stared at every loose helmet or weird oil can in the prop room, to no end. There are other clues that, with the best will in the world, make absolutely no fucking sense. Why would the director’s login details be written behind the binding on the prop sign-out book? Why would the key to defusing a bomb be colour-coded into someone else’s script? And speaking of, we need to add another regular feature that I assume will crop up in every game:

Sudden Timed Life-Or-Death Situation

Nancy enters Rick’s unlocked door to find a suspicious tape player (remember the technology we’re dealing with here). This tape player has a bomb in it. A significant escalation from threatening letters and mildly poisoned chocolates, which, by the way, does not seem to prompt the police to take an active interest??

I do have to give Stay Tuned credit for attention to detail with the threats made to Rick, the letters sent between characters, and the magazine interviews and fluff pieces about the show. They’re not as charming as the students’ art in Secrets Can Kill, but there are loads of photos of Mattie where it’s a bunch of regular IRL people with this hulking 3D computer monster slapped in the middle, which I loved. Most of the characters were only rigged to sit, so Rick and Mattie always appear in the same position in different chairs, which is sort of lovely. And I was, it’s fair to say, impressed that the whole plot and the ending reveal was actually a pretty good send-up of soap opera high drama.

But ultimately I think the increased ambition of Stay Tuned For Danger has collided with the limitations that were inherent in the form. The increase in size made it especially hard to engage with the sleuthing in a joyful way, and that really let it down in the end. Let’s hope the next one has a slightly revised scope.

Case Rankings

  1. Secrets Can Kill (1998) (-)
  2. Stay Tune For Danger (1999) (new entry)

By admin

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