Review by Darkstar Ripclaw
A high-priced tech demo.
As a tech demo, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is an excellent piece of programming, making extensive use of three of the Nintendo 3DSs internal features: gyroscope, camera, and 3D. In a two-hour jaunt, the potential for each of these functions for use in other games is broadly highlighted; programmers, take note.
Too bad Nintendo did not price it like a tech demo. They priced it like a full game, with a $40 price-point. Steel Diver, eat your heart out.
Had it been initially priced at $20, a price-point Nintendo has not had problems with giving to other handheld games in the past, notably the Brain Age series of games, or had it significant replay value, it would have been more forgivable. But neither of these are the case. Spirit Camera would not have worked well as an e-Shop title, either: one of the major focus points of the game is an AR Book packaged in with each copy of the game. By scanning pictures from each page of the book, the player is able to advance further into the story. While a collection of all the pages can be downloaded online, it would still be a hassle to scan the pages off a computer screen instead of a more mobile small booklet.
The scandalising MSRP the game opened at is also highlighted by the amount of graphics work in Spirit Camera, or rather, the lack thereof. You see in-game backgrounds for about five to ten minutes total of playtime, mostly very cramped corridors and small rooms. One imagines it took a couple of artists a few days to spit this out. During the rest of the game, the 3DSs camera is constantly working, using your real-life surroundings to create a pseudo-immersion of real life with a couple of ghostly character avatars. This is a fairly nifty novelty, but still does not excuse the complete lack of effort in developing basically any graphical content in the game besides the aforementioned handful of backgrounds and about a half-dozen character models.
Gameplay is similarly hashed out. Throughout the course of the game, you will encounter several ghost enemies. To defeat them, you need to turn around in your real-life environs full circle to find the malicious spirit. Initially, a spirit will be complacent, but over the course of several seconds become aggressive, its mood indicated by a colour-coded circle: once the circle turns red, you need to take a picture of the ghost with the titular Spirit Camera to cause damage to it. With a few more snapshots, the ghost will be felled and exorcised, banished from this worldly plane.
You need to enact a handful of these types of fights in the game, with only a few minor deviations in how the battle set-up works. On the way to the final battle, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir presents a surprisingly fleshed-out horror story that actually has bite to it, with the primary villainess trapping people from the real world in a creepy extradimensional mansion via a book known as the Diary of Faces, and stealing their faces. It gets to be a tad disturbing at times this reviewer had to double-check the game case more than a couple of times to reaffirm that it was a T-rated game, not an M-rated one.
In the end, the game is felled on its own petard of needing to show off the 3D, gyroscope and camera. In particular, its heavy leaning on the AR booklet can frustrate. To scan a page out of the AR booklet, one needs a sufficient amount of light to scan the picture. Many a time did a Picture not scanned error message come up, and if you watch a short scene following a scanning and your camera loses proper alignment, the scene is interrupted, forcing you to re-scan the image. Fighting the inevitable spirit after scanning a page is not quite so scary when it is brightly lit wherever you are.
And really, that is what Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir seems to be all about: a good technical showcase of what the 3DS can do, but with little expended effort to fleshing it out and giving it more content than a two-hour glorified demo.
Product Release: Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (US, 04/13/12)
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