At this point I think it’s pretty clear that January is no longer fucking around. What used to be known as the dumping ground for games that wouldn’t stand a chance during the holidays, has become a treasure trove of fantastic titles. It really started last year when the first week of January gave us both Bayonetta and Darksiders, two undeniably great games. Although we got a break the first week of this year, January made up for it the following week with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective for the DS.
I don’t usually like to show my hand too early but this time I don’t care – this game is fantastic. Seriously I won’t take any offence at all if you simply stop reading right now, so long as the reason is that you’re leaving to go buy this game.
For those of you who are perhaps stuck at work or in class and can’t go right now, we can spend some more quality time together and I’ll tell you all about the wonder that is Ghost Trick.
You begin the game mere seconds after your character, Sissel, has been murdered in a junkyard. You have no memory of who you are, what you were doing there, or why anyone would want you dead. The primary focus of the game is to fill in the blank spots of who you are, but there is a lot more going on that I don’t dare spoil here.
The story in Ghost Trick is probably its greatest strength, and it has many. It’s from the team behind the Phoenix Wright series, so a strong story is certainly not a surprise, but even still I was blown away. This is the video game equivalent of a page-turner. At the end of each chapter you will have such an insatiable need to know what happens next that it often becomes damn near impossible to shut the game off. The story is thoroughly engaging with a ton of memorable characters and most importantly, it stays strong until the very end.
As fantastic as the story here is, it is thankfully supported by equally strong game play. As Sissel, you navigate the environments by jumping from object to object. You can only reach objects within a certain range, which is where the “ghost tricking” comes into play. The majority of objects can be manipulated once they are possessed and will perform a specific action. This helps you traverse the environment and solve puzzles. For example, in one scenario you need to ensure a young girl is not wearing her headphones so that she can hear an intruder break in. To do this, you possess an umbrella that is perched above her headphones. When she goes to reach for them, there’s a key moment where she fumbles with them a bit. At this precise moment, you manipulate the umbrella to extend, knocking the headphones into a fishtank. Voila, problem solved!
The game play in Ghost Trick can be summed up in a term that I don’t often get to use in my reviews – truly unique. Seriously it’s tricky to think of a game to compare this one too. The closest I can think of is Haunting on the Sega Genesis as there you could possess and manipulate objects, but it’s nowhere close to an accurate comparison. It’s a great central concept and the game thankfully makes great use of it. It never becomes repetitive and about 2/3 into the game they expand on it even further by introducing new ways to manipulate the world.. If anything, the game probably could have been a little longer because it felt like there was even more that could be done with these ideas. Fingers crossed for a sequel.
I mentioned earlier that this game is by the team behind Phoenix Wright and nowhere is this more apparent than in the music. Anyone familiar with the PW series will no doubt hear the similarities between it and the music fromGhost Trick. However it is not just similar in sound, but also in AWESOMENESS! I loved the music from Phoenix Wright (I’m only partially ashamed to admit that nearly the full soundtrack is on my iPod, actually fuck you I’m not ashamed at all) and Ghost Trick receives equal love in the music department. It’s full of great music and can join the very exclusive club of game soundtracks I may actually have to purchase.
The praise train continues as we move to graphics. While the character models and environments are certainly impressive, what really stands out is the animation. Of course there is a lot going on with just the objects you are possessing and manipulating, but it’s the actual character animation that struck me. It’s all incredibly smooth and fluid, made all the more impressive by the sheer amount of movement some of the characters are performing. A detective who incorporates dancing into all of his motions is a particular highlight.
At this point I really don’t even think I need to continue on as I think I’ve made my feelings abundantly clear. This is a great game that easily ranks amongst my favourite DS experiences. The only real flaw I can think of is that I really do wish it were longer, and if a game leaves you wanting more than you know it’s doing something very right. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a terrific way to kick off 2011 and I would not be surprised at all if in 12 months this thing came back up in my top ten list for the year. Go buy this game.