Review: Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (3DS)

Will your face be taken?

Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: April 13, 2012
Score: 2.1/5

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq_gH_jG7Q4[/youtube]

A thunderstorm hit as I was near the end of my playtime with Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir.  The game, billed as a survival horror title, heavily uses the AR functionality of the Nintendo 3DS. I found during my playthrough that while it may not be scary, the atmosphere was certainly unusual.

When starting Spirit Camera, you’re introduced to a book known as the Diary of Faces.  This book contains strange photos and imagery that can only be deciphered with the help of the Camera Obscura, which refers to the Nintendo 3DS itself. Maya, a spirit that escapes when you use the Camera Obscura on the Diary of Faces for the first time, attempts to help you solve the mystery of why she was trapped inside.  She floats around randomly, so you’ll need to spin and look around the room with the camera to find her at times.  Also of note is the fact that she is petrified in fear of the woman in black, who is the cause of her and all the other imprisonments of those inside the diary.  Throughout each chapter and story progression, your game is automatically saved.

The Diary of Faces, which is an AR book included in the game case, is essential to the game.  Thankfully it’s printed on thicker quality paper, so it looks to be able to take abuse.  Playing essentially boils down to finding the correct page the camera lens reacts to and lining up the circle targets that show up correctly.  It sounds easy, but the problem is that the camera requires a certain amount of lighting in order to even vaguely recognize pages.  To play the game, I found myself with all the lights on standing in my kitchen.  Admittedly, once the light was decent and the system was able to recognize the pages, the effects the game had were interesting.  In one instance, a photo on the page was missing details, but when the Camera Obscura looked at it, the photo details were filled in and it started to look complete.  A few times throughout, I found myself doing a double-take at the augmented reality and how convincing it was, especially in 3D.

It’s not all looking at the Diary of Faces through the Camera Obscura in this game, though.  At times, there will be puzzle aspects that will need to be solved before the plot will advance.  These puzzles can be slightly tricky at times, but none too difficult for those who excel at games like the Professor Layton series.  To help solve the puzzles, the player can make use of different types of lenses on the camera. Unfortunately, this small handful of lenses isn’t really utilized as much as they could be.  The result is one of several aspects of the game that feels tacked on.

Once a puzzle is solved, there usually is some dialog to introduce whatever spirit you’ll be facing in the action portion of the chapter.  Much like locating Maya, to find enemies you need to move around in circles while looking through the Camera Obscura.  In this section, space is key if you want to do well due to all the spinning around.  The combat is simple: you locate the spirit that’s trying attack you, then keep the Camera Obscura aimed on it while a circle with smaller circle appears on the screen.  When the tiny circles start to light up, that’s the time to attack. It’s better however to wait until all the circles have filled to launch a powerful assault on the enemy.  Each spirit doesn’t sit tight and allow you to keep attacking them constantly, though. Instead, they’ll float around and occasionally lunge at you, which causes a crack on the screen to be displayed.  After a certain amount of hits, it’s game over.  Luckily the counter to this is simple: wait for the enemy to attack and at a certain point, the circle around them will turn red.  Once it’s red, take a picture with the R button and watch as they fall back in agony.  Defeating spirits was quick and smooth for me, perhaps the only portion of the game without any real issues, aside from the fact it’s difficult to use the 3D feature while moving around.

I was extremely disappointed with how linear the game felt.  The Diary of Faces is used without any real skipping around, which made it feel less eerie than I had hoped.  The mechanics throughout didn’t help this either, with the way the main story feels formulaic.  It felt as if there were story sections interspersed with puzzle aspects, with more dialog sprinkled in before combat.  The shortness of the game also added to this as it seemed the developers were rushed for time.  Upon completing the main story mode for the first time, my playtime was at two hours.

Throughout the game, there is a ton of dialog, mostly by Maya herself.  Occasionally a spirit or two will have a few words, but mostly they’re so deranged that their dialog is focused on one aspect or another of their entrapment.  I found that the voice acting was decent and convincing, however in the videos towards the end, the lip syncing could have been better.  Accompanying Maya’s speech was the eerie music that set the tone throughout the game and for the most part was decent.  There were a few instances where the music was replaced by irritating noises where I couldn’t get to the volume slider quickly enough to mute it.

When the main portion of the game is finished, there are a few options.  There’s an “extra” mode that allows players to go back through the game at a higher difficulty.  Why anyone would play again after the mystery is unraveled, I’m not sure.  The other options are a few mini-games of sorts, which include going back and revisiting whichever spirit fight you want and doing it once again.  Other modes include use of the camera where you take photos of faces, yours or those of people around you, and discover what spirits may be haunting them.  You can also take photos of faces and battle against them.  Lastly, there are mini-games that involve the use of the Diary of Faces which seem to be rehashes of portions from the main story.  About the only real interesting thing I found through the extra play modes was the fact that in some modes, you’re allowed to take actual photos of spirits and yourself that are saved to the SD card.

In the end, the experience of Spirit Camera is heavily flawed.  Although there are a few points where it’s actually fun to play, mostly in the mini-games, it’s marred by repetitious mechanics and uninspired action sequences.  It’s also insulting to think that this game commands a price of $39.99 when it’s shorter than many eShop games, which are priced at a fraction of the cost.  If you must have this game, wait for it to hit the bargain bin.

Nintendo graciously provided a copy of the game for review purposes.