Growing up, I loved reading Choose Your Own Adventure books. The ability to actually make a series of choices based on what you would do and read the results of your actions in the story was hugely appealing… in fact, for me it is still hugely appealing. It is for that reason that when I heard about a new Nancy Drew "GameBook" coming to the iPhone I knew I had to review it.
Titled Nancy Drew Mobile Mysteries: Shadow Ranch (not to be confused with the full-on PC game of The Secret of Shadow Ranch), this is the first in a series of Nancy Drew mobile titles due to be released. As the genre, GameBook, would lead you to believe, it is something of a cross between a game and a book, a jack of all trades if you will. And, like a jack of all trades, it is a master of none. Those who just want to read the full story will be disappointed at having to stop and play hidden object and word games, those who want to play games will be disappointed at their repetitiveness, and those who want a little bit of gaming but to mostly choose their own adventure will be disappointed at the illusion of choice they are actually offered instead of getting real, substantive decision-making ability throughout.
Shadow Ranch is organized, more or less, in book format. After loading the title and connecting to GameCenter, you enter your name (so the title can keep track of who is playing and where they are) and then you're taken to the table of contents. The "book" is divided into eight chapters, with only the first unlocked at the outset – you have to "play" through each chapter before the next one is available. The story itself is pretty standard fare for this type of mystery – Nancy is invited by her friends to join them at a dude ranch where there are strange goings-on. It falls to Nancy, naturally, to figure out what's going on and save the ranch.
As you read each chapter, you'll find a ton of clickable words and pictures; some make sounds, some are special hidden objects, and some bring up the definition of the word. How exactly the words are hidden if they're made a different color from the rest of the text isn't quite explained, but the game does let you know that you've found a hidden word when you click on those. If you collect enough of these hidden words in each chapter, you open a special post-chapter story, each of which essentially amounts to an aside from the main title.