How to Play Nancy Drew PC Games; Beginner Tutorial

Introduction: How to Play Nancy Drew PC Games; Beginner Tutorial

About: Hi! I am a self-taught clay and jewelry artist, but I like to make a little bit of everything; hope you enjoy!

So I have been pretty obsessed with the Nancy Drew PC games from HerInteractive ever since I started playing them. They are intriguing, mysterious, funny, and make you think instead of just hitting stuff with a sword. You have to solve puzzles, interview suspects, go between locations, and finally outwit the culprit at the end.

Today I thought I would bring a basic tutorial on how the games actually work, or how to play them. This tutorial won't cover a specific Nancy Drew game, but it will give you an idea of how to play the games if you have never played them. I will also include tips that I have learned from my own game playing.


  1. A computer. I am using a Windows based system; these games are also supposed to be playable on Mac, but you will need to look up a tutorial on how to install them. Here is a tutorial from HerInteractive on how to install them
  2. A Nancy Drew game. Physical copies are no longer sold by HerInteractive, but you can still buy some of them on Amazon or you can buy them secondhand. Digital downloads are available on STEAM.
  3. A mouse. I highly recommend it. You can use the mouse pad, but you will find playing the games so much easier with a mouse.
  4. A keyboard. I am using a laptop, so obviously I have a keyboard, but if you are using a desktop keyboards are detachable, so I just felt like I had to say that.
  5. Speakers. Not completely necessary; the games are closed captioned, but it is so much nicer and they have really great music.

*Note: All images belong to HerInteractive. I am using them for teaching purposes only.

Step 1: A Little Bit About the Games' History

The first Nancy Drew game was "Secrets Can Kill", released in 1998. It was a 2D point 'n' click game. It featured multiple locations, questioning suspects, and investigating off-limits areas that are part of what Nancy Drew is famous for. However, it did not feature many of the puzzles that the games later became known for. It was a much shorter gameplay than later titles. This game was later remastered in 2010.

"Stay Tuned For Danger" was the second title, released in 1999. It was the first 3D game in the series. It now had puzzles that are more like what later games contained.

"Message In A Haunted Mansion" was released in 2000 and is still listed as one of the scariest games in the series.

After these, HerInteractive began releasing 2 games a year, starting with "Treasure in the Royal Tower" and "The Final Scene".

HerInteractive continued this pattern until after the #32 game "Sea of Darkness" which was released in 2015. The #33rd game "Midnight in Salem" was scheduled to be released in 2015 as well, but then the company continued to reschedule the release until it was finally released in 2019. This game did not fare well among fans in part to clunky graphics that did not look any better than earlier titles and because the game was so large that it lagged badly on most computers. After this downfall, many fans have speculated that the company will no longer be releasing any more Nancy Drew games.

I myself have not played "Midnight in Salem" because I didn't want to buy it brand new, but after the videos and reviews I have watched and read, I am not really interested in playing it.

Step 2: Menu Options: Amateur or Master Sleuth?

When you first access the menu and you hit "New Game", you are given options on what kind of detective you are. Most of the time these options read "Junior" or "Senior" Detective, or sometimes they read "Amateur" or "Master" Sleuth. Which one should you choose?

So, obviously, you would think that Junior detective is easier. Yes, in some ways.

Junior Detectives get a task list which can help you remember what you're supposed to be doing, what leads to check up on, or tasks that characters have given you. These can be checked off as you go, thereby helping you know if you're on the right track. Senior Detectives don't get that; they have to take their own notes and keep track of their tasks on their own.

In most games Junior Detectives get easier puzzles than Senior Detectives. This is true for most games, there are a few that the puzzles are exactly the same.

Some of the games actually have three choices. "Stay Tuned For Danger", the second game in the series, is one of those. It has Junior, Senior, and Master, however, I found Master level impossible to beat, but more on that later.

Choose your difficulty and you will start on the case. You will be playing these games as Nancy Drew from a First Person Perspective.

I am not going to walkthrough the whole menu of options, just know that Game Options or Settings is where you go to change the volume of sound effects, music, voices, or sometimes to change if the game is full screen or not.

Step 3: Basic Controls

The basic controls are pretty simple. In some of the older games they are a bit clunky, but not that bad.

By hovering the mouse in a given direction, you will be given an arrow pointing to the way you can go. Left, right, forward, and backward. Backward sometimes means that Nancy will just take a step back and other times it means she will turn around to face what was behind her.

Your cursor will be a magnifying glass at times. It will highlight in red or blue when you have found something you can click. My advice is just to hover your mouse all over the whole game screen to find what things you can investigate. Sometimes the magnifying glass functions as an arrow, so you will walk to wherever you click, and other times it means you can zoom in on something.

At other times the cursor will be a hand. This means you can pick something up, flip the pages of a book, open a door, etc. Sometimes this means that you can pick up something and keep it in your Inventory.

Step 4: Nancy's Bag of Tricks

In the games, Nancy can pick up stuff and carry it around with her. Sometimes it is really odd stuff like wrenches and things that I don't exactly understand how she is hiding this while running around investigating....

In the older games, your "Inventory" is simply a box that shows everything you have picked up. You can click on the items and look at them or use them depending on their purpose in the game. As you can see from the photo, the older games have a much simpler interface.

In the newer games, Nancy's Inventory is a bag that you have to click on to access. Then you have to hit the "x" to close the inventory box. That is a bit annoying; I kinda like the older way better because you didn't have to open and close, open and close, but whatever. It is what it is.

In most of the games Nancy has a cellphone as well. It can be used to call people and sometimes look things up on the internet. Newer games have texting, but Nancy can only receive messages (?).

Nancy also keeps a journal. Here she will jot down things like phone numbers, suspicious activity, and sometimes give hints as to what she might look at next.

Step 5: Tip #1: Save, Save, SAVE

Always, always save your game. A lot. Because you don't want to mess up and have to start all over again.

In the older games, you click the "Menu" button to the side, which then takes you to the original menu interface. From there you would just click "Save". You can see my game at the top titled "NEVER Play Master" because this is a game on Stay Tuned For Danger (more later, I'll get there!)

In the newer games there is a nice little save button down in the corner. You just hit it and follow its "Do you really want to overwrite" (YES) question.

Step 6: Tip #2: Keep a Notebook

Nancy keeps a notebook, you should, too!

I started to keep a notebook pretty early on. It doesn't have to be a notebook; write-on wipe-off, napkin, whatever. Just something to write down clues you find, because sometimes you can't look at your clues while solving a puzzle. It is so much nicer to just write it down on a piece of paper and be able to look at it instead of having to click the clue to look at it, go back to the puzzle, etc. etc.

And sometimes Nancy cheats and doesn't write everything down. I ALWAYS write down phone numbers I find in the game because sometimes Nancy keeps them and other times she doesn't. I don't think there is any rhyme or reason to what she does and doesn't write down, so I like to play it safe and write anything down that looks like a possible clue.

Step 7: Questioning Suspects

Hovering the cursor over another character will give you the option to talk to them. By clicking on them, you can question suspects about the case. The character's dialogue will be in one color and Nancy's will be in another. Nancy can have more than one option of what to ask a character, but choose wisely! Sometimes it's best to not give yourself away or tick off your suspects.

It is funny because hovering the cursor over a character will cause them to look at you, sometimes turning around if their back is to you. I will admit to having laughed over just making them turn around, then back, turn around, then back, over and over again. Sometimes you just laugh at stupid stuff when you can't figure out puzzles that are too smart for you.... :(

Step 8: Puzzle Types You May Encounter

Since I am writing this from the stance that you have never played a Nancy Drew game, I thought I would give some examples of the types of puzzles you will run into.

Word puzzles. These could be crossword puzzles, cryptography puzzles, search-a-word puzzles, etc. I would say the most common type would be cryptography puzzles where the clues on how to break the code will be hidden elsewhere in the game.

Who is Sitting Next to Whom puzzles. I don't know why these are called, but I am not good at them. These are ones that run like "Brad is sitting next to the blond woman, but not next to Jeff. Jeff is sitting right after Lisa, but across from Brad" etc., etc.

Number puzzles. These may be math or pattern puzzles, depending. One game that is a little heavy on the number puzzles is "Trail of The Twister" which involves a lot of math sequence puzzles and a budgeting game.

"Lock" puzzles. I say that generically. Locks in the game may be regular combinations locks or may be puzzle pattern locks involving colors or memorization. Many of the memorization puzzles are ones that have to pressed in a certain sequence; get one wrong and you have to start over.

Sliding photo puzzles. These are in several games, so I thought I'd mention them.

Random tasks. Throughout the games, Nancy sometimes has to do random tasks that are assigned to her by another character or that she can do to make money. For example, in multiple games Nancy is a cook and has to combine ingredients or fetch food items for customers.

Step 9: Second Chances; Tip #3

Sometimes in the game you will make a really bad mistake and Nancy will die. Or at least, have to go to the hospital. Or get fired from the case.

In times like these, there is the second chance button. On the older games, after a "fatal mistake" it will just take you back to the menu and you can click "Second Chance". In the newer games you will get a message telling you that you've "made a fatal error" and you can click that you want to try again.


If you save right before attempting something stupid or something that seems like it might get Nancy in hot water, you can bypass this and just reload your save from before you made your mistake. That way YOU choose where to restart, not where the game chooses. This can save you time because sometimes the game starts the "second chance" waaay before you actually made the mistake. In the older games just wait for it to take you to the menu and then go to "load game" and click your game and hit "load". In the newer games you can hit the folder icon right after Nancy's death scene and just hit reload for your game.

*By the way, you never actually 'see' Nancy die because it is in first person. Just in case any of you guys get the hibbie jibbies like I do with gory games.

Step 10: Tip#4: End Game Puzzle

The End Game puzzle is the last puzzle of the game. This is the one that is completed where you confront the culprit or have to get out of the culprit's trap so you can stop the culprit from fleeing.

Some of them are easy. Some of them are downright hard.

My best tip is to save right when the puzzle starts! In some games it is not possible to save while you're actually doing the puzzle, so make sure you save when the puzzle starts so you don't have start all the way over. A lot of times there is a big bad character monologue before the puzzle, so I always save right after that. I don't want to have to listen to them all over again and again if I fail the end puzzle.

Now I'll talk about why not to play "Stay Tuned For Danger" on Master mode. You just can't solve the puzzle. At least, I couldn't. It wasn't because the game was hard, it was because the game didn't give you enough time to solve the memory puzzle at the end. It only gave me about 15 seconds to solve a memory puzzle that would reset every time you got a piece wrong. I researched and found out I was not the only one with this problem. At one time the company released a patch that would slow down the game's timer for that puzzle, but I couldn't find it. So I recommend not playing Master mode on "Stay Tuned For Danger" unless you just really want to get frustrated if it doesn't work out.

Step 11: If You Get Stuck...

First of all, re-check every scene and talk to every character again. I don't care if you've done it a hundred times; these games are puzzle games after all, so talking to Fred about what Shaggy ate for lunch might make you able to open the fridge even though you couldn't before talking to Fred. See what I mean? Most every time that I have gotten stuck it is because I didn't poke around enough!

Check Nancy's journal. Sometimes she will wrote down something that will give you a clue as to what to do next, or you may find she wrote down something that she was supposed to do and you just forgot to do it.

Call anyone you can possibly call. I mean in the game, this isn't Jeopardy! Sometimes you have the option to ask your friends (Ned, Bess, and George) to give you a hint.

Check your inventory. You may have a tool in there that you haven't used that could give you a clue what you're supposed to do next.

If all else fails....

Look up a walkthrough. You can look up a video walkthrough or a written walkthrough (I prefer a written walkthrough because then I will only read what I want to read). Nancy Drew Walkthroughs is on Youtube, as well as Arglefumph: The Nancy Drew Dude . I would trust both of them to give you a good walkthrough. I generally use walkthroughs off of Gameboomers when I get stuck, but be warned: some of them will actually get you stuck in the game. Secret of The Scarlet Hand was the worst one because I had to start it over probably three times in a row. The first time was the computer crashing, but the second time I was trying to just get back to where I was as fast as possible so I was just using a walkthrough for everything, but I came to a point where I couldn't do anything in the game and had to start over. Some of the games are not like this (you can do anything in no particular order), but others have to be done in a certain order.

Step 12: "It's Up to You As Nancy Drew"

Yeah, I didn't make that cool slogan up. HerInteractive did. It as at the beginning of their newer games.

I have included a list of the Nancy Drew games in order here for anyone who wants to check what titles they have or just look at see what is interesting. I included a little bit of a description.

  1. 1998 "Secrets Can Kill" - Nancy investigates a murder at the high school her aunt works at.
  2. 1999 "Stay Tuned For Danger" - Someone is sending death threats to TV's biggest soap star Rick Arlen
  3. 2000 "Message in a Haunted Mansion" - Strange accidents suggest supernatural activities are stopping the renovation of an old mansion.
  4. 2001 "Treasure in the Royal Tower" - Snowed in at a castle in Wisconsin, Nancy investigates the locked up tower that has ties to Marie Antoinette.
  5. 2001 "The Final Scene" - Nancy's friend is held ransom in a theatre scheduled to be demolished in three days unless Nancy can stop it.
  6. 2002 "Secret of the Scarlet Hand" - Someone is stealing Mayan artifacts from a museum in Washington DC.
  7. 2002 "Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake" - The ghosts of a Prohibition-era gangster haunt the property that a friend of Nancy's purchased.
  8. 2003 "The Haunted Carousel" - A roller coaster accident and a carousel that runs by itself puts an amusement park in jeopardy of closing unless Nancy can solve the case.
  9. 2003 "Danger on Deception Island" - Vandalism is committed when an island community becomes divided over what is to be done about an orphaned Orca whale.
  10. 2004"The Secret of Shadow Ranch" - A ghost horse haunts Bess and George's uncle and aunt's ranch. Nancy must solve that mystery and the mystery of a wild west outlaw and his sweetheart.
  11. 2004"The Curse of Blackmoor Manor" - The new lady of Blackmoor Manor is suffering from a mysterious malady that may be the result of an ancient curse.
  12. 2005 "Secret of the Old Clock" - Go back in time to the 30's as Nancy Drew and search for a missing will that could keep a friend from financial ruin.
  13. 2005 "Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon" - In a game set almost entirely on a train, Nancy investigates the mysterious disappearance of her host when she and other sleuths are invited to try to solve a mystery involving the train's original owner.
  14. 2005 "Danger By Design" - Nancy investigates the strange behavior of a designer in Paris and why she has suddenly begun wearing a mask.
  15. 2006 "Creature of Kapu Cave" - The pineapple crop in Hawaii is being destroyed by a strange disease and local residents say it is caused by a vengeful spirit.
  16. 2007 "The White Wolf of Icicle Creek" - Accidents plague a Canadian inn and guests are blaming a mysterious white wolf that seems to appear when accidents happen.
  17. 2007 "Legend of the Crystal Skull" - A friend of Ned's has gone home to New Orleans after his great-uncle passed away under strange circumstances. Nancy investigates whether the man was murdered for a crystal skull he may have owned.
  18. 2008 "The Phantom of Venice"- Nancy helps the Italian police to catch a slippery art thief.
  19. 2008"The Haunting of Castle Malloy" - Nancy goes to Ireland for a friend's wedding only to arrive and find the groom has vanished.
  20. 2009"Ransom of the Seven Ships" - Bess is kidnapped when the girls go to the Bahamas, and the only way Nancy can save her is by solving a 300 year-old mystery.
  21. 2009 "Warnings at Waverly Academy" - Nancy goes undercover at an all-girls school when students are receiving threatening notes followed by dangerous accidents.
  22. 2010 "Trail of the Twister" - Investigate whether or not a tornado team is sabotaging their own equipment in a devious plot.
  23. 2010 "Shadows at the Water's Edge" - Nancy and Bess go to a traditional inn in Japan, but nightmarish hauntings are terrifying all the guests.
  24. 2011 "The Captive Curse" - A historic German castle is being haunted by a monster, but is it real or someone's plan for revenge?
  25. 2011 "Alibi in Ashes" - Nancy goes home to River Heights for a town scavenger hunt, but then is accused of burning down the historic town hall. It is up to Nancy, Ned, Bess, and George to prove her innocence together.
  26. 2012 "Tomb of the Lost Queen" - After an accident lands the team archeologist in the hospital, Nancy must figure out if someone on the team is lying and solve the mysteries of the tomb at the same time.
  27. 2012 "The Deadly Device" - A top scientist is killed one night in the lab but everyone seems to have an alibi. Nancy must use both sleuthing and science to expose the killer.
  28. 2013 "Ghost of Thornton Hall" - A bride-to-be disappears after spending the night in her family's historic mansion off the coast of Georgia. Is there foul play, or is the ghost of an ancestor taking revenge?
  29. 2013 "The Silent Spy" - A strange lead takes Nancy to Scotland where she tries to figure out how her mother died.
  30. 2014 "The Shattered Medallion" - While on a reality tv show, Nancy, Bess, and George must investigate accidents that are happening to the contestants and the new producer.
  31. 2014 "Labyrinth of Lies" - A museum in Greece is preparing to put on a play about Persephone, but artifacts keep disappearing.
  32. 2015 "Sea of Darkness" - The captain of a renovated historic vessel has disappeared, leaving only guesses as to why.
  33. 2019 "Midnight in Salem" - A teenager is accused of burning down a historic house that once belonged to a judge in the infamous witch trails of Salem.

I really enjoy these games. I hope that someone out there finds this and gets curious about them and then love them as much as I do. You can play them by yourself or with family and friends all gathered around with one person controlling and everyone trying to solve the puzzles.

Good luck!

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