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Ghost Trick DS Review

24/07/2011 Thinking Odyssey Gamer Review
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Ghost Trick DS

Ghost Trick




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Other GamePeople columnists have reviewed this from their perspective - huh?:
Story Gamer (DS)
Family Gamer (DS)
Teen Gamer (DS)
Tech Gamer (DS)
Reporting Gamer (DS)
Microcosm Gamer (DS)
Novel Gamer (DS)
Reluctant Gamer (DS)

Who am I? And why was I killed?

As you may have read (previously), I do enjoy having an Ally on my Gaming Journey, and so far my daughter, @Ms12, has proven herself to be a most useful one. Unfortunately, @Ms12 has to go to school on a regular basis, which left me unassisted and fear-stricken this week, as I stared Ghost Trick - a game in which you solve your own murder - in the face. It was a New World for me, although it did come with Instructions.

Turns out I don't like reading instructions. Give me a handheld and it's a Choose Your Own Adventure for me, thanks very much. Until there's an obstacle, at which point I will of course do my research to find out at what point I took the wrong path. All part of the fun you understand.

@libby_ol: "Not loving reading *instructions*... Not sure who invented that idea. Can't I just live in a bubble? Rely on my intuition?"

The Voice from the Twitosphere had a good (but not very helpful) point when he replied:

@GeekDadGamer: "It is a jarring discipline to have to slow down and read guidance."

I wonder if - with this game at least - that's precisely the problem.

Let me explain. Every step of the way - from the moment you step into the Ghost Trick story - the on-screen dialogue (between you and the ghost speaking in the first person, and various other characters) carries everything: from how the game works, to what the next step might be, how you might solve the current challenge, what you've just discovered, what that discovery means, and even how you are to experience the game.

There's no chance you'll be adrift on the ocean wondering what you're supposed to be doing, or who you should be talking to. (Yeah, that was me trying to play Zelda but that's another story.) No chance.

In my book, this is sailing dangerously close to defying the writers' mantra: Show, don't tell. My experience tells me if there's no space for me as a reader to really experience a story, to bring something of myself to the text, then I won't invest.

There's no space for me as a reader to bring something of myself to the text.

I might think the writer's a bit of a smarty-pants, telling me how to feel, or even just telling me more about themselves than about their characters. There will be no space for me to Own the experience. This, it seems, applies to gaming too.

Admittedly, in Ghost Trick, we're not trying to get to know any characters. (One of them's a lamp, for instance.) We have a pretty clear goal, which is to find out who we are by exploring the events that led up to our death.

Our Ghost can jump from object to object in order to move about, and down phone lines to different locations. We can also use Tricks in order to manipulate objects to our advantage. It's really more of a game of permutations and combinations, with the added element of timing thrown in. For example, you have to set certain tricks in motion at certain moments in time in order to get from A to B successfully.

In that sense, the game is absorbing. Like a puzzle. But equally, if you're planning on using dialogue as a tool to carry story, there are ways to allow a reader to join the dots themselves. And, while I suspect Ghost Trick is aimed at a younger Reader, I'm not convinced kids couldn't work a lot of the story out for themselves, without being told things like, "You used your powers to avert that woman's fate!". Duh.

For me, this interfered with the so-called Gaming Experience, or the sense of immersion. I had a few good laughs at some of the more serious dialogue, for instance, because it sounded a bit like an infomercial.

The characters in Ghost Trick unashamedly tend more towards Pokemon than Dietrich,

I came away wondering if Ghost Trick knows what it is. Is it Crime fiction? Film Noir? Manga? A game? As a story, it ticked a few reliable plot device boxes. It also employed a few recognisably filmic elements (long shadows cast by figures wearing hats under street lamps), and had more than a touch of Manga or Anime in its character renderings.

I suspect, however, that if you're going to apply the techniques and cues of several tried-and-tested genres in order to tell a new kind of story, you can't expect people to enter that New World without one or two Old World expectations. And a few questions. Like: What are you? And: Which goggles do I need to put on in order to see you properly?

Then again, I don't think the mash-up of styles bothered @Ms12 in the slightest. She's a new kind of audience, who doesn't own a pair of Film Noir goggles to put on: she's not yet seen a proper Noir movie, nor read any Raymond Chandler. Which I guess is one of the reasons the characters in Ghost Trick unashamedly tend more towards Pokemon than Dietrich, with nothing more than a verbal nod to 'the red-headed lady' whose life you're trying to save.

Perhaps it's better for Old World biddies like me to go back to our books. At least we already know the rules, and we don't need to waste our energy fast-forwarding through instructions.

Written by Libby O'Loghlin

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Libby O'Loghlin writes the Odyssey Gamer column.

"I bring my writing goggles to the gaming experience, because I see gaming as part of the Odyssey. I want to understand its attraction, and whether it bubbled up from the guts of our basic need for story-telling. I want to understand it as a narrative medium, and how it feeds into our daily lives."

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