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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

"...if you're craving a change from the usual graphic adventures on Nintendo's handheld, look no further: Ghost Trick is a game you must play."

I've been a huge fan of the Ace Attorney games, but going from courtroom to courtroom is starting to lose its luster. Still, it's difficult to deny that these titles have set a high standard for graphic adventures on the DS. As such, when I heard that Shu Takumi – the director and writer of the Ace Attorney games – was working on a completely new game entitled Ghost Trick, I knew I had to check it out. E3 was my first opportunity to get a glimpse into Ghost Trick, and I was completely blown away by its idiosyncratic gameplay. I couldn't help but wonder if Ghost Trick could surpass the magic of the Ace Attorney games, and even after playing it, the answer is ambiguous at best. While Ghost Trick offers something completely different in its gameplay and narrative, it still falls short in providing a perfect package. Still, if you're craving a change from the usual graphic adventures on Nintendo's handheld, look no further: Ghost Trick is a game you must play.

Being a Ghost Isn't Easy

At the start of Ghost Trick, all you see is a dead body and your soul. Your soul is dumbfounded, completely baffled about your true identity and how you met your demise. You don't really have time to think, though, because you soon spot a detective named Lynne who is about to meet her demise as well. Thankfully, in your death you were granted powers: the ability to change a person's fate. Not only can you manipulate objects, but you also have the ability to turn back time four minutes before the death of any given person to save them. These tools come in handy, especially for Lynne, because she's the only person that might have the answers to who you actually are and how you died. With that, the stage is set, and from the moment you save Lynne, you're tossed into an adventure of unpredictable twists and zany turns with suspicious, goofy and versatile characters.

For tackling such a morbid subject matter, Ghost Trick surprises with its lighthearted feel. You almost become desensitized to seeing people die over and over. Part of this could be because you can bring them back to life, but I really think the comical banter that drives most of the narrative is to thank for this. The game is kooky in every aspect, and that's due to its refreshing cast of characters: you have the mother who loves to toast her wine to everything while writing trashy romance novels, the policeman who dances to emergency police alarms, and the detective who clearly thinks he's the living reincarnation of Elvis Presley, just to name a few. Ghost Trick also features some of the best dialogue I've seen in a graphic adventure game. One minute it's hilarious, the next it's completely reflective and moving. It has an undeniable way of making you crave more of the story, keeping things suspenseful throughout the entire game. That's where Ghost Trick gets it entirely right: it has a way of captivating you, convincing you to play on, keeping you guessing.

This doesn't mean that there aren't completely anti-climatic moments, however. I'll give Ghost Trick points for having such a great lead up to finding the answer to every mystery in the game. However, the answers you receive are easily the most unsatisfying part of your entire journey. It's difficult to write this without giving spoilers, so I'll just say that there are plot twists in this game you won't see coming, but they're the kind of twists that may make you feel cheated in a way. Why? Because, if you're like me, you like to desperately try to piece the answers together yourself, but when said answers come out of left field, you begin to feel like you never really stood a chance. On the other side of the coin, it's also valid to say that the game is eccentric enough that it's just following suit with an incongruous resolution. Maybe – just maybe – Ghost Trick is crazy enough that it's OK if it doesn't tie up all the loose ends in a realistic way. If part of the fun for you is making the discovery on your own, you probably won't be satisfied by the answers Ghost Trick gives you, but there's no denying that Ghost Trick keeps you invested the whole way through and that the offbeat characters make your quest all the more enjoyable. It's not just the characters and dialogue that carry the game, however. There's also ground-breaking gameplay that takes solving puzzles to a whole new level.

It's Time to Play Some Tricks

Ghost Trick provides a novel gameplay experience with its puzzles and their Rube Goldberg-esque solutions. There's more than just playing detective to solve your mystery. First off, you have to manipulate objects to get things done. You guide your spirit with the stylus through a maze of objects to get to the position you seek. Sometimes you'll have to move certain objects using "tricks" to create a path for yourself. The developers also included time-based puzzle segments to keep the gameplay intense and fresh. This works as far as adding a new challenge, but it's one of the most frustrating parts of solving the puzzles in Ghost Trick. Ghost Trick's puzzles demonstrate the reason why I hate math: if you miss one step, the entire solution is wrong and you have to start all over again, trying to figure out where you messed up. For instance, it could be as simple as attaching yourself to an item on a person as they walk past you or as difficult as moving the top of a trash can and timing it exactly right so that you move to the basketball on top of it, allowing you to fly through the air to reach another object. Many times, if you miss this window of opportunity, you're out of luck and have to begin again. As you get further into the game, it gets more complicated, and the maze to get from point A to point B can be extremely formidable.

In addition to manipulating objects, you can turn back time four minutes before a person's death. These sequences were without a doubt what I hated most about the game. You're running on a short amount of time – you even have an hourglass reminding you that time is passing – so if you can't figure out the solution right away, you're out of luck. Much of the time you spend playing the game is spent replaying sequences to see where you went wrong, and at some points it ceases being fun. I'll be honest: sometimes the solutions are so obscure that I find it hard to believe that people would know what to do without consulting a guide of some sort. This is a game where you must think outside of the box, but the solutions aren't simply a process of elimination, and if you're not up for the challenge, this may not be your cup of tea. Also, if you're impatient and don't want to keep replaying the same sequence to see where you went wrong, stay away from Ghost Trick. At times, I really thrived on the challenge, but at others, I wanted to throw my DS across the room because I couldn't find where I went wrong in finding a solution.

Thankfully, the game occasionally takes a break from being repetitive and provides some new sequences to up the ante in its puzzles. For instance, there's an entire stealth section of the game where you're trying to get around guards in a room where the lights are cut out, so your visibility is limited. Also, as the game goes on, you discover new ghost tricks that add a much needed reprieve in the gameplay. The point is, despite all of my frustrations, the gameplay in Ghost Trick was quite a refreshing experience. The entire concept and how it plays out in the scheme of a puzzle is just brilliant. My only wish? That time-based puzzles and rewinding time was a little less frustrating. There are hints, and they sometimes work, but they tend to be vague and difficult to decode. In fact, given some of the puzzles' abstruseness, it wouldn't hurt if the game had a hint button to tap if you were completely exasperated and needed to know what to focus on.

You'll probably take solace in knowing that the controls are almost perfect in this game. Through all my frustration with the puzzles, they didn't get in the way or keep me from where I needed to go. The controls are simple, only requiring that you use the stylus or d-pad to guide your soul, and both schemes work perfectly. In fact, if you can't get to where you want to go, it probably means that you missed a step in puzzle, rather than anything to do with controls. The only negative thing that is worth noting is that the menus that keep track of every character and your notes on them are a little cluttered. You talk to a lot of people in the game, and it's really overwhelming to have a list of people that isn't user friendly. In fact, it was so off-putting that I barely used the feature. Fortunately, the menu isn't essential to the game, so using it is not a make-or-break feature.

Besides having unique gameplay and stellar controls, Ghost Trick also features some stand-out artwork. The character portraits are all extraordinary and follow the same nutty style found in the game's humor. The main character looks like he has a lightning bolt for hair. It reminds me of why I love the art of The Nightmare Before Christmas so much, because all of the characters have something about them that makes them stand out from the pack. As for the environments you encounter, they're quite varied, but they are typical enough locations that they won't blow you away: a junkyard, an apartment, a park, a restaurant, etc. But at least you aren't seeing the same setup over and over.

Unfortunately, that variety doesn't extend to the music. You hear a lot of the same tracks in this game over and over again. Don't get me wrong – the music does what it's supposed to. It builds the suspense quite well, but by the time you're done with the game, you've had your fill. Also, for a game that takes such a kooky approach to everything, you'd think it would have some pretty wild music, but it's fairly standard musical fare. It's what you'd expect from a mystery game, but the game isn't conventional, so why not go all out with the music? All in all, it gets the job done, but it won't leave an impression on you.

Far-Fetched? Maybe, But Still Worth a Playthrough

Ghost Trick is worth a playthrough, if only to experience something completely unique in the graphic adventure genre. The narrative doesn't take itself too seriously, and you'll most likely enjoy the ride. There's a lot to like, but there's also plenty that's bothersome. If you've grown tired of the Ace Attorney games and want to feel a sense of mystery and adventure again, Ghost Trick is the game for you. However, if you're somebody who despises time-based puzzles and replaying content repeatedly to find a solution, you probably should avoid Ghost Trick. It has its frustrations, and the outcome of the game might not seem worth the stress to some. At the very least, it's one game that dares to be different and isn't entirely predictable. It takes puzzle solving to a new level, and that is more than enough reason to applaud Ghost Trick. Let's face it: we've all wanted to change people's fate and play tricks on others without getting caught at some point in our lives. Ghost Trick is your chance to live all of that out.


© 2011 Capcom. All rights reserved.




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