Spirit Camera: the
Cursed Memoir is definitely unique. This is a game that resides
neither in the cartridge slot nor the screens of the 3DS. Its soul is
well-hidden between the sixteen pages of the AR book included in the thin white
plastic box, a replica of the titular Cursed Memoir you find at the beginning
of the game’s predictable story.
While this is a spin-off of the
cult-classic Fatal Frame
series, this time around, instead of immersing the player in a horror
adventure, Tecmo Koei soaks the real world with ghostly presences -- as the box
says, “blurring the line between reality and the supernatural” -- using the
vastly unexplored augmented reality, or AR, potential of the 3DS. The handheld acts as a pretend camera
obscura – Fatal Frame’s gameplay
hook -- and during the vast majority of the game the two screens will simply
show an “augmented” version of the environment you’re playing in. The core
gameplay lies in the interaction between the player, the 3DS, and the book.
To make your way through the
story, you’ll have to examine your real-world surroundings and perform tasks in
the game, which range from finding characters hidden behind your seat to
solving interactive puzzles that appear when the pages of the book literally
come to life under the camera eye. Despite its legacy ties
to those other games, Spirit Camera is very different from its Fatal Framepredecessors. Fans
of the series will find nothing more than a handful of familiar plot devices:
young, scared Japanese girls, haunted mansions, gory sacrificial rites and, of
course, that camera obscura -- a device capable of imprinting
otherworldly presences on its film to fend them off.
The story mode, in fact, takes the form of a simple text
adventure. It centers mainly on the monologues of Maya, one of the main
characters -- who also happens to be a ghost inhabiting the pages of the titular
Cursed Memoir. Even if
the writing is rather shallow and confusing, and the story is nothing but a
series of phoned-in clichés, there is still definitely something interesting
about this game, something capable of sucking in the player from start to
finish – and that’s all despite a number of problems that afflict the overall
Of course, everything works fine only when the memoir is
placed on a flat and evenly-lit surface; otherwise the game may fail to detect
its pages. This can be easily solved using, say, a cheap Ikea lamp, but even if
Spirit Camera is not particularly spooky in the first place, it’s
annoying to be hampered by the constant need to adjust the booklet while trying
to figure out which page to read and expose it to the right amount of light.
It’s a lot to ask.
The story mode is not that long; it clocks around three
hours. This is both a curse and a blessing. Spirit Camera is a
disorganized gameplay experience that sometimes peaks with great ideas -- at
one point, you’ll push a door open with your hand in real life -- and sometimes
becomes terribly dull and uninspired, slowed down by unclear and vague hints
about how to proceed or what to do next.
A great example of this inconsistency is the boss battles
against the ghosts trapped in the book’s pages, which are reminiscent of the
free app Face Raiders, which comes pre-installed on the 3DS. At first,
these sections seem interesting and well-made, but they grow tired and repetitive
very quickly, since you’ll rarely have to adopt a new strategy. Once the
novelty of the wedding between 3DS motion controls and the camera-based battle
system wears out, they turn into nothing more than a boring chore.
As you can probably imagine, the most fatal of Spirit
Camera’s issues is the lack of content and variety. A handful of extra
modes and costumes don’t add much to the experience; this game would have been
better as a digital download. As it is, the game provides an original and often
even amazing way to interact with the player, but eventually the repetitiveness
will tire out even the most enthusiastic horror fans, leaving the bittersweet
feeling that it could really have been great with just a bit of extra polish
and some diversity in design.
Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Spirit Camera: the
Cursed Memoir is that, with its ups and downs, it completely fails to keep
your interest and attention dead or alive. In that sense, it really is a
game that embodies Schrodinger’s paradox, and, sadly epitomizes a missed