Review by Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2016

Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues

Simple coding mystery fueled by fashion, friendship, and STEM

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Grades
1-3 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Broad appeal incorporates fashion, dogs, and a fun narrative.

Cons: The coding and logic features lack depth and challenge.

Bottom Line: This girl-targeted STEM game is ambitious but shallow.

If teachers want to offer students a variety of options for coding practice, this is definitely a tool to consider since it appeals to kids who are fans of fashion, puppies, Nancy Drew, and mysteries in general. There aren't teacher supports such as multiple user accounts, even though progress can be reset for another player, so it would be best for a 1-to-1 environment. Teachers could easily have students practice writing skills by retelling the story, focusing on a particular writing technique.

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In Nancy Drew: Codes and Clues, Nancy and her friends have created a robot puppy for their school's tech fair, but the neighboring exhibit has gone missing. The girls set out to collect clues, try on disguises to fit each scene, and program their robot to help along the way.

The story plays out in six chapters, with each including a hidden-picture puzzle, analysis of the clues, dressing up for the scene, and programming the puppy with sequences and loops. Players collect charms as they complete different objectives to fill up a charm bracelet at the end of the adventure. Students can stop between chapters and not lose their progress, but there are no user accounts for shared devices.

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While players will practice sequences, loops, and logical thinking on this adventure, they won't find much depth or challenge. It has a lot of appealing elements, such as a fun narrative, relatively diverse characters, and a girl-power focus. Another strength is that the coding element is useful within the story instead of being an isolated skill out of context. However, the overall simplicity and repetition might not be enough to entice kids to play through to the end.

Targeted for younger players, the mystery is tame and peril-free, which may work well for the target audience but disappoint true Nancy Drew fans. Also, the dress-up activity only features a few ready-made outfits, which hampers creativity a bit. It would be nice to be able to toggle the reading on and off but leave sound effects on and have a broader range of clue-finding activities beyond hidden pictures. Overall, the concept and approach are admirable and fun, and with more depth and opportunities for kids to contribute to solving the mystery, it could be a rich experience for budding tech detectives.

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

Diverse characters are designed to appeal to girls through a mystery, themes of friendship, and dressing up in disguises.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

Players don't contribute much to solving the mystery, but they get a front row seat to hearing Nancy and friends reason through it. The coding section introduces the basic logic of programming.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
2

No hints for programming the game once started, but multiple ways to solve. Progress can be reset so another player can try, but there are no user accounts for shared devices.


Common Sense Reviewer
Amanda Bindel Classroom teacher