Toy Reviews

Nancy Drew is the original STEM girl. She used her skills to sleuth mysteries and used critical thinking to solve problems before STEM turned into a gigantic trend in the past couple of years.

I grew up reading the original Nancy Drew books (enamored with the yellow hardcover versions!), and even played a few desktop versions of games based on the detective’s adventures. Hi Kids, a division of HeR Interactive, the same company behind 32 PC and Mac versions of Nancy Drew games, has just come out with Nancy Drew: Codes and Clues. More than 85 years later, Nancy Drew is teaching kids how to code.

The story-driven app, compatible with Apple and Android devices, brought me back to when I was a young kid in front of my desktop computer, collecting clues and trying to figure out whodunnit. Young Nancy Drew fans will appreciate the thought and detail that went into this mystery, and new ones will immediately start getting engaged.

The story itself starts off with an animation. Nancy has been invited to Harrington Prep’s Tech Fair, and players meet a robot puppy, the project that Nancy has been working on for the show. (Also, how do I get a robot puppy? Asking for a friend.) No Nancy Drew story would be complete without her best friends Bess and George, who are all working together on the project. This scene brought back all the feels because this is the first time we’re seeing Nancy and her friends as tweens.

2016 Toy Reviews

The graphics are crisp and engaging, and the game is divided up into six chapters, and each chapter has its own set of six opportunities to explore the different rooms of Harrington Prep, collect clues, and meet suspects. The first chapter starts off with you naming the robot puppy, so while I was trying to get myself together because it’s just so darn cute, I affectionately named it Gizmo. The trio of detectives go to their table at the Tech Fair, and meet Alexa, the girl whose table is next to theirs. Alexa is about to show off her project, only to find that it’s ruined (dun, dun, duuuuun!!). The rest of the story focuses on figuring out what happened to Alexa’s project—and more importantly—who was responsible.

Throughout the game, players track down clues in more than 20 hidden object games. In each chapter, players will meet a suspect, including another Tech Fair participant, a jealous best friend, and more. The important clues will be saved in Nancy’s Clue book, where players will also have access to evidence, and possible suspects.

The most refreshing part of this app is the impeccable attention to detail, which really helps immerse players in the whole story experience. Each section of the school is represented with different ideas of STEM concepts. For example, there’s a computer lab and library, but there’s also a soccer field and art room. Players are able to zoom into the various rooms, and each has its own music, depending on the theme. At the beginning of each chapter, players can also choose the undercover disguises for Nancy, Bess, and George to match where they’ll be investigating (my personal favorite being dressing them as rock stars).

At the end of each chapter, players must program their robot puppy to help Nancy, George, and Bess out of a predicament to move the story along. They can program the puppy to move forward and backward, turn around, and jump up and down. But as the chapters move along, the coding difficulty increases and there will be more puppy commands, including crawl and push. Players will also be exposed to basic programming structures, such as sequences and loops, and collect stars on the way. As chapters are unlocked, players can use Nancy’s Clue Book to play bonus obstacle levels and practice coding.


Kids will develop critical thinking skills, such as pattern recognition, spatial visualization, attention to detail, and more. As the story moves along, kids will easily be able to catch onto the clues that they find and why they’re important. I even caught myself thinking things like, “Why is this here?” and “MORE HAY?” when I found it in a third locations—suspicious. Kids will be able to catch onto clues, making connections to what they find.

Even when the game is over, the app has tons of play value. Kids are able to go back into each chapter, explore rooms, and discover clues that they may have missed. Adults will also appreciate that there are no in-app purchases, push notifications or ads, and kids will enjoy that they’re not distracted while they’re investigating.

Definitely geared towards a younger audience, the most important part of the app is also my favorite part of the app. It dispels any fears kids may have of coding—which sounds like a scary word at first. It’s an amazing introduction to teach kids coding in an easy, approachable way.

About the author

Maddie Michalik

Maddie Michalik

Maddie Michalik is the senior editor at the Toy Insider, where she reports on news, trends, and writes weekly product reviews. She travels to TV stations throughout the U.S. and Canada to show off her favorite products on TV! Maddie is also the editor-in-chief of leading trade magazine The Toy Book and weekly e-newsletter Toy Report, keeping the toy industry up to date with the latest happenings. Her love for consuming media is surpassed only by her love creating it, and she truly believes that the world would be a better place if everyone just played with a toy for 15 minutes a day. You can often find her rereading the Harry Potter series with a cup of coffee in her hand and patiently waiting for a The Lego Movie threequel to come out. For more of her antics, follow Maddie on Twitter and Instagram @MaddieMichalik.