Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Review for Nintendo 3DS

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Review for Nintendo 3DS

This Will Haunt You… Briefly.

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.

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Screenshot

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).

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Screenshot

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.

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Screenshot

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.

There are still chilling moments to be had though. Walking through the haunted house elicits a sense of helplessness, and I personally got a chill using the Spirit Photography minigame, where I took a snapshot of my backyard which revealed a dark figure in the distance. I then took a picture of the same location and the figure had moved closer, and the third shot showed him a mere two feet away. Creepy.

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Screenshot

The music and effects are so close to being perfect that I really want to ask the developers why they couldn’t add a little bit more to make it so. The background orchestrations are perfectly somber and reserved, shrieking the strings at just the right moments. But it’s the moans from the spirits and eerie laughter from the masked boy that are truly disturbing. If you can brave putting on some headphones (and hope nobody sneaks up behind you), you’ll probably more fully enjoy the disturbing backdrop.

The issues come with the limited voice acting. It is done superbly, just not completely. Maya will begin to talk to you, and then halfway through the conversation you have to resort to subtitles. Also, you collect voice files throughout your journey, but instead of being vocal recordings, they are simply brief notes.

In the end, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is summed up as a tragic shame. The game offers up incredible potential, both for new creative possibilities in design and in unorthodox but engaging controls using the AR and camera feature of the 3DS. However, after the few short hours it will take to have done everything possible, you’ll agree that the forty-dollar purchase price was the true horror of the game.

It’s somewhat creepy, but doesn’t look realistic, and thus is not as disturbing as it could have been. 4.0 Control
Although the camera controls are not perfectly fine-tuned, they’re still an orthodox but engaging variation of the norm. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Except for unfinished voice work, the rest of the game sounds perfect. 2.0 Play Value
Clever ideas, I just wish there were more of them. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • The included “diary of faces” is a gateway into the game’s absorbing Story Mode. When viewed through the lenses of the Nintendo 3DS camera, each page of the book displays a variety of augmented-reality experiences.
  • Some pages of the book come to life in the form of video segments that reveal past events and shed light on the game’s central mysterious storyline. Others appear to send spirits floating into players’ real-world surroundings. Some page even summons players to virtually enter a haunted house where Maya is hiding.
  • Additional modes let players use the system’s camera in spooky ways. In Spirit Photography, they can take photos at their leisure and watch as haunting visions appear within the pictures. Spirit Check lets them snap pictures of themselves and their friends to uncover the eerie spirits that surround them. In Spirit Challenge, they can put their own face or a friend’s face on a spirit and then battle it.
  • Players can also use the notebook with their Nintendo 3DS system to face other challenges involving a mix of memory, hide-and-seek, and other gameplay elements, all with a supernatural twist.

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