Review – Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Review Ghost Trick Phantom Detective
Death is only the beginning in Capcom’s latest DS release, which begins with the demise of its protagonist, Sissel, only to start a spiritual adventure that finds him making plenty of new friends and influencing people – despite the handicap of being deceased. The first of Sissel’s new acquaintances is a possessed lamp, which kindly introduces him to a ghost world overlapping the land of the living and allows Sissel a means of moving the story forward by unraveling the multiple threads that comprise it.

Capable of switching between these two spheres, Sissel is able to possess and manipulate inanimate objects, a skill key toward solving the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death – though this ability results in him helping plenty of others along the way, like a phantom littlest hobo.

Using the stylus to draw a physical connection between points, Sissel’s spirit can inhabit objects over short distances, meaning that random assortments of the everyday are essential in forming pathways that allow Sissel to move without feet. A tap of the stylus shows the ghost world that causes objects Sissel can inhabit to glow and allows him to move. While many of these objects provide stepping stones for short-range travel, others can be thrown into varying degrees of action by switching back into the living world to perform a ghost trick.

Electronic devices can be activated, objects can be swiveled, opened or rolled, switches can be thrown to activate larger devices – all of these options grant Sissel the ability to grab the attention of the living, and more importantly play a role in changing or preventing their actions to affect events.

These ghost tricks are immediately interesting in theory, and rather wondrous in practice. The constant role objects play within the game evolves my favorite element from point and click adventure games, specifically the small joys many of those games offer in collecting and using random objects to further the story – herein giving the player a more direct role in putting those objects to use and unleashing moments of wonder discovering the various actions one can play a direct role in causing.

Sissel’s other ghostly skill relates to helping characters encountered throughout his investigation, specifically those that have a habit of dying along the way as Sissel discovers the ability to save the recently deceased by contacting their spirit and traveling back four minutes prior to their death. This gives the player a view of the events leading to that death and a chance to change their fate. The sands of time are ever present throughout the story, but thankfully the player is never really working against the clock.

Rewinding time to change the fate of characters that die can be done as many times as necessary while solving the puzzle created by the objects present – smaller changes of fate during these scenarios even create checkpoints the player can restart from.

Saving characters involves getting objects to them, getting objects away from them, or even guiding them to safety – it’s a busy ghost life that has Sissel running around town all night long and at times saving multiple characters at once. Because getting around town via objects would form an immediate hassle, phone lines become spiritual taxis that allow Sissel to reach the different environments the game offers – reaching out to touch characters and change events via phones plays an increasingly large role as the story unfolds.

Puzzles vary on difficulty based on the amount of objects present – the less objects there are, the more obvious the solution is – and sometimes simply causing objects to move guides the player toward a solution. And still sometimes the game will amplify the challenge via more complex puzzles formed from objects that work in a specific order to solve a problem, or create one Sissel needs to stop. One sequence at the heart of the story uses objects to create a sequence working to rival the breakfast making machine from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – perhaps the greatest sequence in cinematic history.

The only time the game really offers sincere difficulty is when timing is involved – situations requiring Sissel to move objects at certain times based on events occurring in the living world as characters act. And while logic and the predictability of game design suggest performing ghost tricks should get old fast, the game does an admirable job of stretching these tricks thin and then layering in new options and situations that stay off tedium, such as a surprising twist when another character learns a different ghost trick that later helps Sissel alter a more complex fate.

The same wonder that comes from manipulating objects drives delightfully eccentric character designs, with personalities that strut with ridiculous enthusiasm against still backdrops that help every action pop like an interactive comic – in a word the animation is half part simplistic, half part explosive, and marvelously effective at seducing the eyes.

An engrossing story offering a page-turner also presents a linear game – though the game teases with multiple solutions to problems at times, there’s a very fixed path throughout the game and the player’s role is to simply follow it. But like any good book, it’s a marvel to move through it, to watch an absolutely ludicrous cast of characters intertwine and affect one another, endearing themselves along the way. This doesn’t create a very replayable game when all is said and done, but it does offer an adventure that stole plenty of time from me over four consecutive late nights, tying together seemingly random threads of humor and maturity to weave a memorable story successful in making a connection.


Developer
Capcom

Publisher
Capcom

System
Nintendo DS

Modes
Singleplayer

Release Date
January 11, 2011

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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  • EdEN

    Liked this a lot when I tried the Demo for it in July 2010 and this is one of the games that will definitely increase my backlog for 2011.

  • Ujn Hunter

    Amazon says they shipped this out to me yesterday… I should get it tomorrow… if the blizzard doesn’t delay it.