Step down a bit for heart’s sake
Day 2 of our special Halloween Week. After a rather violent gory start which should have shocked quite a few traditional point-and-click aficionados, we’re taking a nice trip down anime land with cute visuals…but brutal MUUUURDER!
Give me back my life! It’s ALIVE! And thinking…
Well, Capcom’s Ghost Trick involves ghosts, hitmen and some vicious puzzles to keep you up all night if you’re too terrified to go to bed. There’s also some terrible humour in it somewhere which is also a bit scary…
(Japan 2010, developer/publisher: Capcom, platforms: PC/iOS)
Waking up as a ghost and having amnesia is not the best thing that can happen to the (first) nameless protagonist, and having only indirect means to interact with his environment to save people from certain death doesn’t help much either.
This doesn’t work…with a ghost…or does it?
After the inventive first Ace Attorney game, familiarity and routine set in with the franchise. So it’s refreshing to see that the creator Shu Takumi does something completely different this time, gameplay and storytelling-wise. Although there are some small leftovers from the investigation and courtroom games, it’s very much an original IP which doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The most innovative part is how the main protagonist has to rely on his ghost abilites, mainly manipulating objects because he can’t speak to the other characters. Even if it’s a bit strange that he isn’t able to move freely around the locations, it adds immersion to the puzzles. The player possesses one object after another, but only as far as his thread of death (let’s call it that, it’s actually a line which can be moved by the stylus 360 degrees) allows.
Some objects are just transition points while others have functions which can be used to the player’s advantage, i.e. opening a door, starting a fan etc.
Reminiscent of the good old The Incredible Machine games, the puzzles are real brain teasers. Especially in later levels the right combination at the right time is essential to progress. Whoever thought current classic point-and-click-adventure games are dead due to their simplified puzzles should think again: This is the definitive version of problem-solving.
Even more ghost tricks up the non-existent sleeve
What makes the puzzles even more challenging is how the gameplay works in different time zones. It’s not as mind-bending as Day of the Tentacle (as it also doesn’t include inventory puzzles), but because the main protagonist has to save certain characters, he travels back and forth in time.
This can’t be done all the time, it’s actually more streamlined than one might think: The game is divided into chapters, and each one can comprise different puzzle/time zones. Events in the past alter fates of people in the future, as is so often the case, but not nearly as successfully done in games than in Capcom’s exemplary puzzler.
But not everything’s perfect in puzzle land: some annoying stealth scenes and certain tasks which demand quick reflexes can grind a bit. Still when a new character with additional ghost tricks is introduced, the puzzles all make up for these shortcomings.
See and listen to me, I’m rather pretty and sound
Graphics and sound are also of high production values: the former has some of the best animations imaginable on the handheld platform (at least when the DS is concerned) as the characters move quite smoothly and realistically. Nothing of those static animations or awkward movements known from the Ace Attorney franchise. The art design looks just great, even if the environment isn’t always up to par.
The game offers a fantastic soundtrack with atmospheric music and catchy tunes. It’s also quite relaxing not to have the constant “writing sounds” from a typewriter which became extremely annoying in the Ace Attorney games.
Don’t give up the ghost…story
The storytelling is nearly on par with the presentation and gameplay: unlike a lot of puzzle games (The Incredible Machine having no story at all) or even adventure games, progress in the story is handled quite well, as the player only slowly discovers his true identity and learns about the other characters’ background stories. It might get a bit cheesy later (especially with the typical Japanese cuteness of an annoying dog and kid), but all in all it keeps the player interested throughout the gameplay.
Too bad it gets a bit too wordy in dialogues and at the end too clichéd and pathetic (a problem a certain Phoenix Wright et al had to face as well). The humour is also not always implemented that well. It’s not as bad as in the other games, but it’s unnecessary just the same, especially since there’s quite a lot of (melo)drama in the story and it’s sometimes even touching.
Age restrictions are for…those who don’t know about the context
A quick note: Again the German USK missed the point with their certification system. This got a 6+. Seriously, what’s wrong with them? Hitmen, a story involving murder, EXECUTION with the electric chair. Come ON… It’s not necessarily suitable for minors if it only has anime characters and it doesn’t involve killing people. Seeing people die is also a point of discussion. So is the rather complex gameplay.
But never mind: “It’s still up to the parents to educate themselves”, so who needs the USK anyway?
The attorney is dead, long live the ghost
All in all, this is an amazing puzzle game with innovative, fun gameplay, an engaging story and an excellent presentation. If it weren’t for a few niggles in the storytelling and glitches in the game mechanics, this would be right there on the list of Best-Adventure-Games-of-All-Time.