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The conventional wisdom in games is when you die, game over, press continue. In Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, the latest offering for the Nintendo DS, your death is just the beginning.
In Ghost Trick, you play as the recently deceased-come-ghost Sissel. He has no memory of who he is, why he was killed, or who would even want him dead. These questions are the driving throughout the game as Sissel hunts down clues that unravel a single thread of the whole mystery surrounding his death. Soon, he finds that his murder is just part of larger plot that involves not only him, but also the lives of several others. And to add to his troubles he has until the sunrise to solve his death before his soul disappears forever. So the game becomes a race against time get to the bottom of this puzzle.
While being a bodiless spirit could be seen as bothersome, Sissel does have a special power: ghost tricks. With his death, Sissel gains the power to possess inanimate objects and manipulate them in various ways. For example, he can possess a fan and make it turn on or a ball and make it roll. While this may be a small power, the key of Ghost Trick is being to use this power to make a series of chain reactions – a nudge there, a roll there – to alter the fate of those around him.
Using his powers to change fate leads to another facet of his abilities and the game as a whole. Sissel is able to enter the soul of a dead body and go back four minutes into the past before their death, and try to save their life in the past which will resurrect them in the present. The first time he does this is to save a young detective from a mysterious assassin. And don’t worry if you mess up, because you are able to rewind the event and start over until you get it right. Trial and error and a keen eye at what you can manipulate is central to solving the puzzles which range from simple to downright nerve-wracking battles of timing and coordination. At first, I was just confused trying to keep track of it, but after a couple levels, I was instinctively peering at each and every item in the room trying to map out a plan of attack.
The challenges of the puzzles are both the highpoint and low point of the game. While each stage is full of items and paths, the game is very linear in that there is only one correct path to victory in each and the point is trying to figure out that single path. This can become very frustrating near the end where you are forced to do things at perfect timing or placement or suffer a game over. However, the legitimate sense of “Eureka!” moments you get when you do find the right path is rewarding after every level.
What makes the game really worth going through the puzzles are the characters and overall presentation. Every character in the large cast filling the game has a unique and separate charm to them. Their animations are smooth and fluid and the dialogue is clever and quick. Everyone from the flamboyant Chief of police who copies Michael Jackson moves, the rigid straight-laced cops, even the minor bit characters who are only shown once or twice all ooze with a particular air of personality and appeal. Plus the story which, slowly hooks you in and pulls you along a twisting road of shocking turns and surprises keeps the game from turning into a boring puzzle-fest.
If you’re looking for a unique game with a great story, unique gameplay, and likeable characters you owe it to yourself to pick up Ghost Trick, you won’t be disappointed.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10
Special and rewarding gameplay
Puzzles are very linear
Teeters between challenging and frustrating
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