Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Review
Made2Game Spirit Camera Review Score: 5/10
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Reviewed by: James Bowden
Tech demos. A system’s formative year is always full of them, sneaking their way onto store shelves under the guise of full retail titles. Early DS games and Wii games were particular offenders – touch and waggle fests alike – and it’s always a hard time to think truly critically. ‘That’s a really nice idea’, ‘that’s kind of cool’, ‘I see where they’re going with that’. You don’t want to recommend people short or patchy experiences, but at the same time you don’t want to dissuade developers from tweaking and perfecting strange, original ideas. It’s one tightrope that no-one wants the honour of walking.
So let me say this – you really should play Spirit Camera, its use of AR is both appealing and inventive, but it’s not all that long and it’s a touch rough around the edges. It’s no classic, but it’s certainly worth sampling.
So, what is Spirit Camera? This is a spin off of Japanese horror series Fatal Frame/Project Zero that has your 3DS assuming the role of the ghost busting Camera Obscura. Included in the game box is a little book, dubbed the purple diary, which you use to access every section of the game. It’s all Augmented Reality stuff, similar to the Face Raiders and AR Games that every 3DS owner will have toyed with, just with a hint of horror and a few more clever tricks up its blood soaked sleeves.
The main attraction is the story mode as this is where you’ll be unearthing the secrets of the diary, flicking through it and discovering what its pages hide. Story play is separated into two clear chunks, diary snooping and spook battling.
Sifting through the diary shows Spirit Camera at its most interesting. You’ll be sucked into the pages, have your face leer back at you, spin it around to solve puzzles and even decipher riddles based on its pages. The game is at its best when it’s toying with the reality of the pages within your personal space, the 3D effect actually giving the image a strange reality that a flat screen alone can’t provide. Having a physical object to tinker with while your camera, sorry, your 3DS cackles at you is a wonderfully unique way to play a game. Especially a horror game – it makes some of the scares feel all the more personal when they’re happening directly to you and around you.
In comparison the ghost battling is somewhat standard fare. The spectres that emerge from the diary will circle around you and you simply have to keep them in focus by pointing the 3DS at them to build up ghost banishing power, aiming to take your shot just as they attack in order to push them away and deal big damage. They may be faceless ghouls but it doesn’t avoid the fact that every foe is just fancy dressing on the static turret versus boss monster mould. Unfortunately dull.
What Spirit Camera ultimately lacks, however, and its biggest downfall – well, it’s biggest downfall aside from requiring near perfect lighting conditions to play – is its agonisingly pedestrian presentation and progression. Diary pages only react to the camera when it’s their turn to. You must talk to your ghostly ally when prompted in order to move on. New camera lenses are added as and when they’re needed. You should be able to explore the diary at your leisure. You should be able to find pages you can’t access yet and see things you can’t interact with yet to help fuel the ‘reality’ of the object. The diary should be a Spencer mansion or a Silent Hill, a paranormal Pandora’s Diary full of mystery and intrigue that you slowly unravel. Instead Spirit Camera’s tale is no more than a haunted house; stay on the track, arms inside the carriage at all times, please look ahead for the scheduled scares.
And it’s a shame. The tech here, the funky puzzle solving focused Augmented Reality, is great and fun and original for the two to three hours that the story lasts, and everyone should sample it. While the story is criminally short there’s plenty to round off the package if that’s a concern – a hard mode for the main game is joined by four mini-games that explore the plot’s more entertaining puzzles, even trying the 3DS’ hand at a spot of lightgun shooting. Three silly camera modes are also included which let you see spooks wandering around your house and staple your mum’s face onto a rampaging spectre. You can even play any of the ghost battles at any time if you’re that way inclined. If we’re number crunching everything you could possibly do in the game then there’s probably about ten hours tops, and that’s if you really, really, really like Spirit Camera.
But even with all that said, you absolutely should play it. Is it perfect? No, but it is very interesting. And a little bit brilliant when it wants to be. And that’s the bottom line – as is often the case with great tech demos – there’s an outstanding game lurking under here, trying to summon the courage to push out. Spirit Camera has some really nice ideas, it’s kind of cool, and I see where they were going with it. Spirit Camera may not be brilliant, it’s got its share of problems, and slapping a big score on its would be doing you a disservice. But you really should play Spirit Camera – it shows that AR gaming might just have a bright future, and not just because you need ample light to play it.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)