Game Reviews

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

There are a lot of similarities between Shu Takumi's two games: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective.

Both games deal with murder, but neither is particularly nasty or morbid. The two games are completely melodramatic, but in such a way that they keep you absolutely glued to the screen until the last plot twist has twisted.

The games feature enormous casts of oddball characters, who constantly baffle the hero. In the world of Ghost Trick, that leading man is Sissel: a tall chap with a coney mop and a dapper red suit. Like Phoenix Wright, he wants to solve a murder, but in this game the stiff is himself.

Sissel is dead before the very first cut-scene, and when he wakes up in the afterlife - his head a little hazy and his memory completely gone - he's got a toolkit of nifty ghost powers with which to follow leads and solve his own murder.

Something strange in your neighbourhood

There's one more parallel between this game and Ace Attorney: in each chapter, you stumble across a corpse.

A girl who has been flattened by a comically oversized turkey, perhaps, or a yappy Pomerarian dog who's been shot by a ruthless killer. One of Sissel's top tricks is the ability to slip into that dead body, turn the clock back by four minutes, and try to change its fate.

As a poltergeist, he relies on objects to move around. In the ghost universe time stands still and Sissel can dart about the room by striding between nearby objects.

Back in the land of the living time moves forward, but Sissel can fiddle with the object he's currently stationed in: maybe swing open a fridge door or extend an umbrella.

This opens new pathways for the ghost world and lets you prevent that death: you can distract killers with noises, and lure soon-to-be victims to safety with the right objects.

Dawn of the dead

The thing is, you have to carry out your actions in real time as the four-minute countdown to the murder plays out on screen. It feels like a point-and-click adventure in constant motion. Not only do you have to figure out the solution to each puzzle, but you need to position yourself in the right place, and execute your plan at the right moment.

You get to see exactly how the death happened before you start tinkering with fate, so you'll know where the actors are going to be, and can spy possible leads to distracting, alerting, delaying, or even killing them. So each murder is about working out where to be, what to do, and when to do it.

This requires plenty of practice runs, trial and error, endless experimentation, and the odd (optional) hint from Sissel before you succeed. You can rewind those four minutes as many times as you like, but once the scenario starts rolling you need to make your actions count to save the victim's life.

In the end, on that final run when you put everything you've learned together and play out the right set of actions, saving a life is like pulling off a perfectly planned heist. It's a tense, electric thrill - especially when the decisive moment happens in the last few seconds.

Spooks you sir

It should be noted that there's only one real solution to each puzzle, and your job is simply to discover Capcom's intended answer.

Fiddling with the environment and coming up with your own solution would be fun, but that's a different type of game altogether. Finding Ghost Trick's solution is always an enjoyable experience, but there are few opportunities to colour outside the lines.

Unlike Phoenix Wright, Ghost Trick is not a random handful of unconnected murders. There's one long and complicated plot that weaves all of these deaths together.

The narrative packs more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie and many of the revelations, scenarios, and characters are more barmy than anything we've seen in the Ace Attorney courtroom.

It's decidedly Japanese, genuinely funny, memorable, and absorbing. At times I found it almost impossible to put my iPod down because I wanted to see what was going to happen next. Some App Store games steal your attention with addictive mechanics - Ghost Trick ensnares you in its engrossing plot.

While there's plenty of talking, Phantom Detective reveals more in actions than in words, and every single character is animated with wonderfully exaggerated movements.

A flamboyant detective moonwalks into crime scenes. A nervy prison guard dances up and down his patrol booth. A waitress zips about on rollerskates. Scarves flutter and toes wiggle. It gives insight into each person, and imbues the game with a remarkable sense of style.

In fact, Ghost Trick exudes more character and heart in four fateful minutes than most apps can muster in a lifetime. It isn't a particularly difficult puzzle game, but if you're willing to be taken on an adventure it spins one seriously daft yarn that's full of endearing characters and truly unforgettable moments.

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Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

A zany adventure with heart, humour, and a truly unique concept. If you missed this peerless cult classic on DS, do not let it pass you by again