|Dev: Tecmo Koei, Nintendo|
|Release: April 13, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Blood, Violence, Suggestive Themes|
by Sean Engemann
The Nintendo 3DS is rife with many atypical applications designed to spur the creativity of developers. Augmented Reality, gyroscopic controls, touchscreens, and camera functions are all becoming standardized components on portable devices, but when their original purpose is contorted for a specific theme, it brings something fresh and enticing to gamers. Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir does exactly that, creating a survival horror that puts you (and I mean you personally) in the center of the nightmare. Making strong use of the system's AR software, spirits come to life in your own surroundings. There are extremely clever ideas in Spirit Camera, but sadly a brief adventure and little replay value makes you crave more for your money.
The hero and setting are you and your home (or wherever you're playing), respectively. A sixteen-page book called the "diary of faces" has somehow made its way to you (hint: it's in the game case if you forgot to look), and is full of disturbing imagery and scrawled pages. Legend has it that if the blank first page suddenly displays text, a curse has been placed upon you and you are doomed to have your face ripped off by a malevolent and mysterious woman in black.
Near the beginning of the game you meet a trapped soul named Maya, who guides you throughout the journey, trying to find answers herself and help rescue the past readers of the diary who have failed to exorcise the curse and met a gruesome demise.
The game does a terrific job of shifting the action and context of gameplay. At one point the screen becomes the hallways of a haunted house, but inspecting your surroundings requires physically turning the 3DS, which translates into your first-person perspective responding accordingly in the game. This was one of the more engrossing control aspects, and it was very easy to suspend disbelief and feel like you were in the creepy halls. Then you're suddenly back in reality, but the spirit of Maya has joined you, floating beside you in your own home. She'll warn you of an approaching threat, which could be a sinister spirit that has also breached the boundaries of your home. It is then your job to locate that spirit in the room (also by physically turning the system), hold the specter in view of the screen to fill a power meter, and then take a picture with 3DS, which in the game is transformed into a camera called the Camera Obscura, a special device able to penetrate the supernatural dimension and damage its evil dwellers.
To find more clues about the curse and hopefully remove it, you must scrutinize the pages of the diary through the lens of the 3DS, which, like the AR games, come to life with different hair-raising animations. Sometimes you must play hide-and seek within the pages, or play a shell game with masks, or even defeat a zombie hand that reaches out from the page to attack (as displayed in the game's cover art).
These are all ingenious design permutations with a fresh feel, but each one of them has flaws. When inside the haunted house, you have full control of head movements but no control over walking. And it is a slow walk, with no sense of urgency. The same holds true when battling spirits. They may move around your living room and then move in close for an attack, but you have tons of time to build up a powerful shot at them. You never feel a sense of dread over the fact that you may not point and click in time. The puzzles throughout the story are remedial at best, with mundane consequences. You simply die and try the puzzle again, but it's nothing you'll feel worried about.
Of course the biggest flaw is that there's simply not enough content. The story can be completed in just a couple of hours and the minigame diversions won't hold your attention much afterwards. Haunted Visions let's you play around with the camera function in different ways, such as turning your friends into spirits that attack you or taking pictures with some evil backdrops pasted in. Cursed Pages takes the puzzles found in the story mode and adds a few extra levels of difficulty. They're all cool little extras, but "little" is still the predominant adjective.
Another major issue is the handholding from Maya throughout the story's entirety. She guides you and commentates as a method of narration, but aside from a couple of multiple-choice answers, the progression is completely linear. Also, should you happen to get stumped, she always has a helpful hint to keep the ball rolling. Now, I realize that the Teen rating targets a younger audience looking for a horror thrill, but the coddling here borderlines on demeaning. The game adds a couple different lenses as you progress (giving the screen a different color scheme) and has you manipulate the diary at times, turning it around, sticking your hand between it and the camera, or tilting it, but these clever ideas are basically one-trick ponies.
The overall aesthetic takes on an Eastern style, which works for setting the mood, but is obviously not designed for realism. As such, you'll never truly immerse yourself in the game, since the art design is clearly anime-based. The immersion is lessened still by the fact that this game must be played in a lighted room. This may be a flaw due to the hardware requirements, but for a horror game, you'd much rather play in darkness.