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Story Gamer (DS)
Family Gamer (DS)
Teen Gamer (DS)
Reporting Gamer (DS)
Microcosm Gamer (DS)
Novel Gamer (DS)
Odyssey Gamer (DS)
Reluctant Gamer (DS)
Ghost Trick manages a spectacularly deft double act of quality animation with gripping puzzles. With a pixel-perfect attention to detail, its flaws only point to the high quality of the rest of the package.
Ghost Trick is, by some standards, a fairly typical puzzle game. The player is presented with a target point on each level to reach and through careful manipulation of the objects in the scene a conclusion to the puzzle is reached.
The catch, in this case, is that the player is already dead when the game begins. Also, the manipulation of objects is limited to the objects that are within reach of the dead hero's spiritually possessive abilities. What at first seems like a dead end, very quickly becomes a new path as an object that has been nudged falls into place, such as a rolling balls, or a moving entry gate.
What first occurred to me on playing Ghost Trick was that the animation was technically very old-school. With modern consoles delivering 3D visuals in massive resolutions, the humble Nintendo DS is the only mainstream gaming machine which can still entertain the pixel art that made gaming great. By pixel art, I mean the manual crafting of each point of light in an image, owing to the size of the object on-screen being so small it requires attention to each dot and space else the meaning will become lost. Ghost Trick delivers characterful, entertaining and slick animation, perfected to a micro-level, where even an object only 5 or 6 pixels wide is given incredibly vivid life.
The animation has to be top-notch, of course. How else would the world of the game realise its cast of quirky and outlandish characters? From the disco-dancing police detective to the smoking hammer of an antique pistol every element looks and moves perfectly.
The animation is technically very old-school.
It's hard to compare Ghost Trick. On the one hand, comparisons come thick and fast, from the puzzle solving of the developers' own Phoenix Wright Series, to Heavy Rain's interactive theatre, all the way back to The Secret of Monkey Island (for the animation style and humour alone). Nevertheless Ghost Trick has its own style. It's like a point-and-click puzzle, but it's the added factor that the puzzles are time sensitive. Here, it isn't just a matter a of finding the right object to use; it's a critical matter of activating the right object at the right time. Failure to solve the puzzle usually results in the death of a character at which point time rewinds to the beginning of the scene.
Honestly I found all this a bit confusing a times. It's quite frustrating figuring out how to use an object only to not know exactly when to use it. Like many puzzle games of this ilk, getting inside the head of the game designer is the first step to the solution, as some of the outcomes are not as expected. But the results are generally satisfying. Having completed the game, I'd say there are only 2 puzzles whose solutions are entirely unfair and which I would have changed in the design, had I been given the opportunity.
If there's a downside to this game, it is in the time-based nature of the design. The animation style is quite relaxed and scenes can take three or four minutes to play out. This means that when waiting for the perfect moment to activate an object, there is a lot of repetitive watching of the same scene over and over again. During particularly frustrating puzzles this can really pall. At least the designers make the majority of the dialogue boxes optional after the first viewing. Evidently they were aware of this problem.
The repetitive nature of the scenes dissuade me from playing through the game again.
What really kept me playing to the end was the brilliant story. It isn't often that a game (and certainly not on the DS) can compel me to the next level simply by virtue of the tale being spun. But, I found that the characters, the mystery, the excellent animation and the humour kept me hooked until the last frame.
It was with a little sadness that I realised that, having experienced the story, the repetitive nature of the scenes and the gameplay would dissuade me from ever playing through the game again. At its natural pace, it simply takes too long to play out for a truly gripping second run. However, I still loved the time I spent with Ghost Trick Phantom Detective and it has become already found a place among my Perfect gaming memories.
[Chris Jarvis writes the Novel Gamer column where you can read his Ghost Trick Phantom Detective fiction.]
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