Review by Exhuminator
Sometimes creativity counts more than polish.
One day you receive a mysterious package. When you open the package, you find a cryptic old diary. Opening the diary, you decide to take a picture of one of its pages. But the next thing you know, you're sucked into a mysterious old house. As you wander its halls, you meet a desperate spirit named Maya, who warns you to leave this place. Maya and you both jump back through the diary into your own world again. Except something has followed you both. It turns out the diary is a portal to a hellish old mansion, with a malevolent female spirit haunting it. She has seen your face, and now you're cursed. Your own world is no longer safe, angry spirits now fill your own home, and the dark phantom has vowed to steal your face. You must use Maya's guidance and your camera to put an end to the vile diary's curse, and all the angry spirits coming with it.
Such is the premise of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir. This is an augmented reality survival horror, an offshoot of the Fatal Frame series. Tecmo works the 3DS here like no other 3DS game has since. The diary is a physical object which comes with the game itself. The diary is used like AR cards traditionally are. Every page has its own special purpose. Some pages are puzzles, some reveal movies, and some act as gateways for spirits to enter your home. Once a ghost is in your reality, you must chase it around your physical surroundings, taking magic pictures of it to exorcise it away. This is harder than it sounds, as timing is critical. You have a life bar, and can "die" if you screw up too much. Yes this means you will see evil ghosts flying around your own living room. When you're not fighting ghosts, you're helping Maya figure out what's going on. (She's an amnesiac, of course.) And when you're not doing that, you're solving crazy and creative puzzles from within the pages of the diary itself. Your camera gains various lenses that act as filters, adding further complexity to the game design.
Not everything is perfect, of course. For one thing, you must play Spirit Camera in a very well lit area. That's so the 3DS cameras can actually see the AR diary pages. It's kinda hard to be scared of ghosts in a brightly lit room. There are also technical problems at times, just little things that flake out now and then, no big deal. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for some was how short this game is. I beat it in about two hours, and I wasn't rushing. Spirit Camera does offer mini-games outside the main story mode, so maybe that can pad the length if you care about that stuff.
While I don't by any means think Spirit Camera is a perfect game, I came away mostly impressed. Tecmo put a lot of work into designing something that (in 2012) could only have worked on the 3DS. There's a lot of innovation in Spirit Camera's design, it was more than just a glorified tech demo. Spirit Camera's goal was to make its player feel like part of the experience. This game accomplishes that goal. Seeing ghosts climb out of the diary's pages, and then stalk my gaming room, was really cool. Spinning around fighting them was a physical experience that felt tangible. Unraveling Maya's tale of woe and misery was legitimately interesting. In many regards, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is one of the most unique games I've ever played. It is rather fun, it is super creative, and it is tremendously idiosyncratic. Too bad it's not scary.
Product Release: Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (US, 04/13/12)
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