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Ghost Trick is one of those curious little Japanese games that few people have even heard of and even fewer played. Although it has been released on other platforms, it was certainly not one I had come across, but it has certainly found a good home on the iPhone.
Produced by long time arcade specialists Capcom, Ghost Trick is something of a curio - a sort of hybrid of an arcade game and old fashioned point-n-click adventure. The plot is instantly intriguing, since it sees your character killed in the opening seconds by a mysterious hitman. Somehow, though, you come back as a ghost and have to protect a young woman who is also a target of the hitman and unravel the mystery as to who is behind the murders.
Of course, being dead, this is slightly tricky - which is where the Ghost Tricks of the title come into play. You have the ability to "possess" objects and manipulate them, as well as an ability to possess recently deceased corpse or wind back the last four minutes of their life in an attempt to save them. Your job is to work out how to use these skills and when.
This all adds up to an innovative game mechanism which makes Ghost Tricks look and feel unique. Sure, at its heart it's just a mild spin on the old point and click adventure game, but it feels fresh and new. Each screen contains a puzzle that you must solve using the objects or people available to you and work out exactly how you have to manipulate them. It's a game that will make you think, but always remains fun.
Puzzles initially start off pretty easy (and the game provides you with liberal clues whilst you get the hang of things). Later they become a lot trickier, with multiple interventions needed on your part to achieve the goal and get out of a tricky situation and even a few puzzles that rely on careful timing. True, all the puzzles essentially boil down to a case of identify the right object to use and the best way to use it, but it's a lot of fun working it all out, and (in the finest traditions of adventure games) some of them are quite ingenious. They will have you puzzling over them for quite a while, but you get a real sense of satisfaction and achievement when you work out how to solve them.
Of course, as with any game of this nature it can be frustrating if you get stuck on a particular puzzle and are unable to progress until you resolve it. Thankfully, if you get really stuck, there are plenty of hints or even walkthru's on the internet!
This does, however, bring us onto one of the game's limitations. Although the puzzles do get trickier, most can be solved relatively easily with a bit of logical or lateral thinking. The very nature of this type of game is that it is pretty much a one-play affair. Once you have solved a puzzle, there's no real incentive to go back and play it again.
Whilst it is fun to play in the short term, Ghost Trick is rather lacking in long term appeal. Even if you choose to buy all the different episodes (more on that in a moment), it's still quite short and won't take experienced adventurers that long to beat it. Even less experienced gamers will get there pretty quickly, if only through trial and error.
Where Ghost Trick really shines is in the presentation which is incredibly slick. The graphics look fantastic, with gorgeously detailed backdrops and manga-style characters which are full of personality and superbly animated. OK, so most of the objects on screen are simply there as background and can't be interacted with, but the attention to detail the various locations have been give really helps to create an authentic backdrop for the slightly off-the-wall action.
This slick presentation is backed up by some superb cut-scenes which move the story along. Like the main adventure, these can be slightly quirky (the opening features a talking anglepoise lamp!), but this oddball nature is in keeping with the rest of the game. The impressive animation in the cut-scenes shows characters' features expressing a whole range of emotions, including surprise, fear and joy, which helps you to become engrossed in the game and care for your character. There are some slightly odd "Engrish" translations, but these add to the quirky charm. Some of the cut-scenes (particularly in the exposition-heavy early stages) are a little long and sometimes repeated, so you can feel that you are reading several minutes' worth of text for every single action you perform. The ability to skip animation sequences would have helped enormously.
Sound is a little more disappointing. Effects are relatively limited and although a series of different tunes accompanies various sections, at best these tend to be forgettable and at worst repetitive and annoying. Having said that, they are appropriate to the tone of the game and help to create a strong sense of atmosphere. It's certainly not one of those games which is so ear-splittingly bad that I have to play it with the sound turned off, but neither is it brilliant.
Controls have been excellently implemented to make good use of the touch screen, usually requiring you to perform simple actions like touching an object onscreen and dragging to another spot to make the two interact, or pressing the appropriate on-screen button at the correct point. They are relatively few in number, simple to remember and easy and responsive to activate. They capture the essence of the old point and click adventure games, but simplify them even more to make the game immediately accessible to pretty much everyone.
There's good and bad news when it comes to the price. The good news is that the game is free to download. The bad news is that that only gets you Chapters 1 and 2, in a game consisting over 15 chapters. In other words, little more than a taster. If you want to find out how the full story unwinds, you will need to fork out three instalments of £2.99 to unlock the remaining chapters bit by bit or £6.99 to unlock everything. Suddenly, it doesn't look quite so good value, does it? And that's a shame: it's a good game, but the elevated full purchase price is likely to put many people off.
So there we go: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective - an oddball little game that combines superb presentation with fun (if short-lived) gameplay. It's not going to offer much of a long-term challenge, but the important thing is that you'll enjoy it whilst it lasts.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012