The more I play games, the more I become enthralled with the more… "unusual" stuff. Maybe it's a weakness of mine – I've been burned before by the likes of Fairytale Fights – but with my share of hits like Sega's gritty Madworld and Aksys' 999, either the fringe games and genres are growing in popularity or developers are willing to push some creative boundaries. Thankfully, this "Let's try somethin' weird!" trend is spreading, because now we have an adventure-mystery called Ghost Trick.
[image1]Why Ghost Trick? Because those tricks are what the main character, Sissel, uses to get around and manipulate the environment. He only has until morning to figure out just what happened to him before he disappears into oblivion for good. Sissel can’t come back to life, but he can affect the world around him as he saves the lives of other people by figuring out the puzzles put in front of him. It’s not because he’s a great guy (though he certainly might be); all of the characters he meets along the way hold a piece to the larger puzzle he’s trying to solve… who he is, why he’s dead, and who killed him.
Ghost Trick is told from the third-person point of view, but follows Sissel around the city to help decipher what lead to his death. When a player decides to go into what is called the “Ghost World”, everything that would normally be moving on the screen is frozen in place, allowing for quick movement to different objects and strategy for what to do next. The game is all about the puzzles, and many are straight-forward “drop this, open that” elements set to a time limit, so being able to set up the plan on a tight schedule is crucial.
[image2]Most of the early puzzles, if they’re not blatantly obvious, become simplistic tests of trial and error. It’s not that they’re disappointing; one good exception concerns a certain Rube Goldberg machine that is satisfying. But while few are deep and interesting, many are just repetitive or twisted in a way that a seemingly easy solution is just out of reach. I can only restart the same puzzle so many times before I just want to ask Sissel to close my DS for me.
Visually, the world reminds me a lot of the puzzle game Exit: super-smooth animation, a sharp-edged style that borders on pastel stick figures, and a surprising amount of detail. This is surely easier to do in a game where the player isn’t directly in control of a figure on the screen, but that doesn’t diminish what Capcom is able to do here. Every character looks distinct, they all move in a certain way (especially a specific man in white who looks to have taken the dancing of Michael Jackson to heart), and every place you travel to looks entirely original. Paint in some beautiful colors and the whole world feels like a living, breathing place you can find in reality. Even the music stands out in a great way, setting every scene and situation so well that it blends into the rest of the image and helps the presentation feel complete.
[image3]Playing the game, though, is a touch (ha, get it?) irritating, since the touch screen doesn’t always pick up the poke of the stylus on the first try. A minor inconvenience, sure, but it becomes noticeable when it’s used as the main method of input for the entire game. But at times when switching between another character (which does happen late in the story), actually making the adjustments between them and utilizing their abilities is straight-forward and easy to grasp. Drawing lines is the name of the game; making connections is what the game is about, so aside from the inconvenience of touch screen issues (the touch points could be larger, easier to always hit the first try). the game is easy to pick up and try out.
As far as the actual story goes… it’s interesting, and I really appreciate that it tries to do something different, but it seems more like a series of detours than it does a comprehensive story. Finding out who killed Sissel (while playing as Sissel) is a cool idea. Finding out how everybody else is connected is one-part annoying, one-part see-through storytelling. If not for some fluid and funny dialogue between Sissel, who he’s trying to save (if they know he exists), and a certain courageous canine, I doubt the animation could have held me over for too long before I decided to go back to saving stick figures from burning buildings in Exit.
But, alas, it did win me over. There’s an attraction to charging around town as a dead guy on a quest, even if he can be… well, lame and lacking in personality at times (seriously, how can anone say “well, guess I’m dead, not much I can do about it now” without expressing any other emotions?). This kind of game – essentially a visual mystery novel – isn’t as strong as an adventure title like 999, and might not win over too many players looking for a brand new experience, but if you can look past some small flaws in characters and some issues along the lines of a cheesy M. Night Shyamalan story (which would confuse even him), it’s a fun, little distraction for a while. Just don’t expect the next Sherlock Holmes and you’ll probably be fine.