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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review

By Neilie Johnson, 1/19/2011

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Dead people don't get a lot done. They don't talk or argue or travel or work—unless they happen to be dead people in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. This new logic puzzle/adventure game by Shu Takumi, creator of the Ace Attorney series, tells the story of a guy named Sissel, who sixty seconds into the game finds himself unexpectedly dead, and as a ghost, imbued with the power to change people's fates. Killing off your hero at the start of the game? Who does that? It may seem like a wacky decision but without question, it sets the tone for the rest of this unusual and absorbing game.

Having completely lost his memory, Sissel sets out to find who he is and why he was murdered. Playing as Sissel you start by learning how to move your “core” – represented as a glowing ball of flame – around using the cores found in inanimate objects. (Don't ask why some objects have a core and others don't. It appears to be totally arbitrary.) To do this, you enter the “Ghost World”, a place parallel to the real world where time stops, enabling you to look around at your leisure. There you can open doors, flip switches and knock things over, but why would you want to? Because though initially completely self-centered, you soon learn that it's in your best interest while researching your own murder to help other people avert their own dire and often messy fates. Your ghost powers enable you to step back in time to four minutes before the moment of death and rearrange the environment around you in order to stop explosions, avoid car crashes or make gunshots go wide. And every fatality you avert uncovers another piece of what looks more and more like an international conspiracy while bringing you another step closer to discovering your identity.

For fans of the Ace Attorney series, Ghost Trick will engender a sense of deja vu in many ways. In spite of its ghostly angle, it's impossible to avoid comparing the investigation aspect of the game to that of the Phoenix Wright/Apollo Justice/Miles Edgeworth games. You spend a lot of time examining locations and talking to people (although you do have to save them from death in order to do it), trying to convince them to give you the information you need. Also familiar is Ghost Trick's brand of bizarre humor which strongly echoes that of the Ace Attorneyfranchise. You'll run into a range of memorably hilarious characters from the weird flyer-happy hippie dude to the inmate with the sausage-shaped head to the police inspector who expresses his arrogance by dancing like Michael Jackson. The game's character design is distinct (for the most part) from the quasi-anime style of the Ace Attorney games but no less appealing. You'll also get to meet Missile, the perky pomeranian (rumored to be based on designer Shu Takumi's own pet) who's also made guest appearances in the Ace Attorney games.

In addition to the game's humor and character art, its background art and animation are also worth note; both are extremely well done and Capcom even went to the trouble to mocap every character, despite them being all of half an inch high on screen.Ghost Trick's music cues and sound effects are very reminiscent of those in the Ace Attorney series and add the same kind of pacing and punch to the experience. Finally, the game offers the same great writing fans of Shu Takumi's games have come to expect. The mystery sucks you in utterly from the first five minutes and keeps you on edge till the credits roll.

Of course, even though there are many similarities betweenGhost Trick and Ace Attorney, there are enough significant differences in the game's mechanics to make it it's own thing. The main thing is the Ghost World mechanic which adds a whole new perspective to solving puzzles. Throughout the game, the puzzle design is really clever and solving puzzles not only requires recognizing how to use the environment around you, but how to time your movements and actions to take full advantage of it. Later in the game you also learn an additional trick that allows you to swap objects of similar shape, which makes for even more varied and interesting puzzles. The difficulty of these puzzles overall is perfectly pitched; while definitely brain-teasing, you'll never find yourself feeling the solution to a puzzle was unfair or contrived.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is the epitome of what a good spinoff title should be. While fictionally unrelated to the Ace Attorney games, it borrows heavily from the best aspects of that series while adding enough new game mechanics to make for a completely fresh gaming experience. Ghost Trick has it all: great art, great writing, great humor and great gameplay. For adventure/puzzle game fanatics, things just don't get any better.

Overall: 10 out of 10



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