It sucks to be you. Not only were you just murdered, but now that you’re dead, you can’t even kick back and take it easy. You have until morning to solve the mystery of your murder, so get crackin’!
That’s the premise of the stunning new adventure Ghost Trick. You play Sissel, a hapless soul who finds himself a spirit in a junkyard staring down at a lifeless body. Quelle drag! And if that weren’t bad enough, the next thing that happens is that you start getting orders from a desk lamp.
Yeah, that wasn’t a misprint. A desk lamp. The desk lamp turn out to be your tutor for the world of Ghost Trick. Indeed you are dead, and you are racing against the clock to solve not one, but several murders. There’s a fiendish plot to unveil. But what’s a mere ghost to do? Turns out, there are some things you can do.
First of all, you can go back a few minutes in time. Exactly four minutes before a murder victim’s death, to be specific. Rewind the clock, so to speak. First you watch the fatal events as they unfold. Then you rewind and try to nudge events just enough to change the outcome.
How do go about nudging? As a ghost, you can jump back and forth between the real world and the “ghost world.” In the ghost world, it turns out you can inhabit small inanimate objects that are close by, and sometimes you can manipulate them in different ways. If you jump into a lamp, maybe you can turn the lamp on. If you jump into a ball, maybe you can roll it a little bit. With luck and practice, perhaps you can alter the way that things turn out.
This game mechanic is pretty ingenious and turns Ghost Trick into a captivating puzzle adventure. While it’s true that all of the puzzles are timed, you get as many do-overs as you need, so generally after failing a few times you figure out what you need to do.
These “ghost tricks” eventually evolve so that you’ll have a larger choice of possible things you can try. You even meet other ghosts who may become allies.
In addition to the fun puzzle-solving element, the game has two other big strengths:
First, the presentation is absolutely superb. The characters are beautifully animated (it looks like they actually rotoscoped or used some form of motion capture). The production values are high and the feel of the game is quite cinematic. The characters are frequently outlandish but consistently entertaining. There’s a dancing detective, a drama-queen security guard, a brave little doggie, and many others.
Second, the story is complex, convoluted and compelling. A big part of the story is simply trying to figure out who the hell you are and how you fit into the labyrinthine plot. There are other murder victims to save (human and otherwise), motives to reveal, and lots of injustice to correct.
The game’s story is very concerned with themes about identity. Are you a good guy or just a bad guy with some missing memory? What are your motives? How much, if any, of this big mess is your fault? The game even plays with the concept of the player’s identity in a tricky way reminiscent of SouthPeak’s underrated Temujin from 1997.
If you have a Nintendo DS and you like adventures, and you’re ready for something new and a little strange, you owe it to yourself to give Ghost Trick a chance.
Final Grade: A