Ghost Trick – hands-on

At first glance, you might not guess that Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was created by the same mastermind behind the Ace Attorney series. Not only is the art style totally different, but the gameplay bears absolutely no resemblance to the text-heavy static screens of his courtroom saga. Ghost Trick's more animated take on the adventure genre definitely feels more active, and while the controls are still very basic, timing and reflexes are often key to solving Ghost Trick's environmental puzzles. Shu Takumi's hand can be seen in the details though – Ghost Trick looks to have the same strong personalities and warm humor that hooked us on Phoenix Wright's story.

The concept of the game is deceptively simple – as a ghost, you can possess inanimate objects, and then perform a "trick" to make them move slightly, like turning on an electrical appliance or ringing the bell on a bicycle. When someone dies, you can use your ghost powers to rewind time to exactly four minutes before the person's death occurred. From there, your goal is to do whatever you can by manipulating the objects around you to help the victim escape his or her fate. It sounds straightforward enough to begin with, but often requires complex planning, and sometimes you even have to rewind the clock multiple times to layer your actions on top of each other.

In the tutorial mission, we see a girl in a junkyard confronted by an assassin who guns her down in cold blood. The object closest to us is a battered old guitar sitting in a junk pile, so of course the first thing we do is possess it and perform a trick, which twangs the strings and distracts the assassin momentarily. He swings his rifle around and shoots the guitar while the girl tries to escape, but alas, he quickly regains composure and shoots her in the back as she runs away.

So, we try again. Unfortunately, the murderer has callously kicked the girl's body down into a lower area, so when we start again we not only have to find a way to prevent the murder, but also find a way up to the main level again, since every time we rewind time we start from the position of the person's corpse. You see, our protagonist can only move a small distance between objects, so sometimes part of the puzzle is figuring out how to get from point A to B. So, with the objects within reach – an electric fan, a blender and a flag on a flagpole – we execute a carefully timed maneuver. First we possess the fan and perform a trick to turn it on, and then immediately move from the fan to the blender while the fan is still running. Then we wait for the fan to swivel toward the flagpole, where it blows the flagpole cord into the blender, and at that exact moment we turn the blender on, then quickly jump onto the flag as the cord winds around the blender's blade and the flag ascends to a position nearby the assassin. Now, all we have to do is figure out how to disable him long enough for the girl to actually get away this time. We won't go through the whole solution, but it does involving a satisfying victory via wrecking ball.

The next scenario we played skipped ahead in the story, and involved possessing possibly the cutest, most loveable dog we've ever seen in a game. While his mistress, a young girl named Kamila, sits on the couch with headphones on, unaware of her impending doom, Missile the dog (a shout-out to Ace Attorney, but not the same dog) approaches the front door of his apartment to warmly greet a guest who he assumes is a friend. Sadly, it turns out to be another assassin who shoots poor Missile dead on the spot before tying up Kamila. To save both of them, we have to find a way to get them to a safe hiding spot within the apartment.

For that to be successful though, we first have to prevent Kamila from putting on her headphones, so that she actually hears the assassin when he bursts through the door and knows to remain quiet and hidden. Without giving away the actual solutions, we ended up finding a way to force Kamila to fumble and drop her headphones into a nearby fish tank, disabling them for good. Then through an elaborate set up, we knocked a donut off its tray and opened a cabinet door as the donut was rolling to get it to ricochet under the couch. That causes Missile to go under the couch in pursuit with Kamila crawling after him, with only a moment to spare as the assassin enters the room, unaware of the two hiding at his feet.

After playing through two scenarios, it's easy to see how insanely difficult some of the puzzles in Ghost Trick could get,but we're told that often in morecomplicated situations there are multiple ways to save the victim, some more roundabout than others. That said, we're just as eager to see more puzzles as we are eager to get to know the characters of Ghost Trick, so look for more coverage in the coming months.

Jul 20, 2010

Life is nature's way of keeping meat fresh.