Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir – Review
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir – Review


I received this very strange package the other day. A small box about the size and shape of a Nintendo 3DS game case. An ominous, white hand seemed to reach right out of the front of it to grab me. Inside, I found what looked like a standard 3DS game cartridge. However, someone had also tucked in the case a tattered old book where the instruction manual would normally be. The worn-out, purple-tinged cover gave no clues as to its contents or owner. Slowly opening to the first page, I found a blank piece of lined paper, covered with ink blots — is this someone’s diary? My curiosity grew to intrigue when I found a photo of a man standing beside someone who had been ripped out of the picture, and my intrigue heightened to unease as I flipped through and saw a boy with his face scratched out, threateningly darkened rooms, and people who seemed to be performing macabre rituals.

I was dying to find out what it all meant, but unfortunately, I had classes to attend all day. For hours, I sat there, physically present at the lecture but mentally lost in the possibilities. I was anxious to get home, because somehow I knew that I alone could solve the mystery of that book. I stuck the cartridge into what I thought was my 3DS, but was quickly informed that, in actuality, I was holding the Camera Obscura — an occult camera that can reveal the ghosts hiding all around me. After adjusting a few settings, ghostly text asked me to take a picture of my face. A little apprehensive, I nonetheless soldiered on and took a snapshot. At this point, I was greeted with this little bit of sunshine: “Your face has been taken.”

 

Delightful.

Next, I was told to take a few pictures of objects in my environment to reveal their ghostly nature. I was seriously unnerved when I took a shot and saw the purple spectral energy pulsating out of my Master Chief bobblehead doll. That’s nothing, however, compared to when I was told to look behind me. I swivelled around on my office chair and, looking through the lens again, was taken aback to find that a ghost had taken up residence in my bedroom. Luckily, she’s of the Casper variety, and just wants to talk. It seems that her name is Maya, and she doesn’t remember how she got there — although she thinks she may have come from the diary. We agree that the book must have special powers, and that it’s time to investigate. Pointing the camera at the first page (the one with the blank paper), I see some words appear — ‘never escape’. What I see next almost makes me fall off my chair.

I see my own face, with eyes and mouth sewn shut.

If you don’t mind, I’d rather not relive the details of the next gruesome four hours of my life. Suffice it to say that it was now personal — Maya and I had to solve the mystery of the Diary of Faces and break the curse of a spirit called the Woman in Black, or else my face would be lost forever.

Ghost stories aside, I can think of only one word to describe Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir: fascinating. The game uses a combination of augmented reality, gyroscope technology, and a believable reason for why you can only see this reality through your camera in order to put you in a heightened state of unease. If you can suspend your disbelief, then this is not a video game. The diary is real. The ghosts are real. Your curse is real. It is the type of technology demo that makes me excited to see how new forms of interaction will be used to immerse us in games in the future.

 

It really is amazing, all of the things this game does to create atmosphere. The graphics are top-notch for the 3DS, and sound design is excellent, with bloodcurdling screams catching you off-guard just when you thought the coast was clear. When you point the camera at the appropriate pages, the effect is mesmerizing. Ghosts seem to rise out of your physical book, pictures rearrange themselves, and people who were looking away are suddenly staring at you and shouting like a depraved Harry Potter painting. Moving behind the book (or turning it around) turns the image appropriately, and the game admirably adjusts for any angle you view the diary from. At one point, you can see blood dripping onto the pages. Protip: aim the camera at the ceiling. Yikes.

It’s when it goes beyond the gimmicks and tries to be a game where Spirit Camera comes up a little short. Most of the time, chilling atmosphere aside, all you’re doing is talking to Maya, flipping through pages, and watching stuff happen. You rarely even need to really search through the book, either — you start at page 1 and, with few exceptions, move through page after page until the end. That’s not to say there’s no real gameplay — one inspired puzzle has you selecting the right photos via a character’s clues, while others involve you physically manipulating the book in creative ways. There are also periodic fights with ghosts that should play familiarly to fans of the Fatal Frame franchise that Spirit Camera belongs to.  As in older titles, you damage enemies by snapping pictures of them, with more damage awarded for keeping them in-frame longer or hitting them just before they attack. The difference here, of course, is that in order to find the ghosts, you have to physically look around your room by moving your 3DS.

 
 
The puzzles and fights are fun and make creative use of the system’s features, but the problem is they make up so little of the game. There are only six or seven enemy encounters in the entire game, and each takes only a couple of minutes. Likewise, there are just five or six sections that can really be called puzzles, and only one of them held me up for more than ten minutes. The rest of the time, you’re talking to Maya, watching stuff happen in the book, or walking around a spooky house in an on-rails pattern, able to look around by aiming the 3DS but unable to affect anything.

The only time I can really imagine any of the puzzles in this game being a problem for anyone is when the technology fails them. The aforementioned puzzle where the boy was hiding in a picture only took me longer than the others because the game simply wouldn’t recognize the photo I was taking a picture of. It turned out that my first guess was correct, but the minimal lighting in the dark room I was playing in meant the 3DS couldn’t properly ‘see’ the picture. In general, I got along just fine playing with the lights off and placing the book under a lamp, but issues like these popped up from time to time to jolt me out of the game. It’s antithetical to the idea of a horror game to have to keep the lights on, and this issue should have been ironed out.

There’s really not a lot on offer in this package once you complete the main storyline. You can play through the game again on a harder difficulty that provides more details about Maya, or battle any of the enemies again. Perhaps the most enjoyable extra feature is a standard ‘camera’ mode that has you taking pictures of friends’ faces, in 2D or 3D, and revealing the demons that possess them.

 
Honestly, it’s difficult to render a verdict on Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir. Actual, traditional gameplay only takes up maybe two hours of the story, and yet the fact that it’s actually you flipping through a real book, looking around your environment, and affecting what is happening onscreen more than justifies the decision to make this a game rather than a horror movie. True, I’d have loved for the book to be three times as long and filled with elegant Augmented Reality puzzles. However, what is here is a unique combination of intense atmosphere and innovative new forms of game interaction that must be played by anyone with even a passing interest in how new interface methods can change — in a positive way — the way we play.

Disclaimer: This review was written via touch-typing. The author would have loved to see his work with his own eyes, but his face was taken by the Diary of Faces. Play at your own risk.

This review is based on a copy of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir for Nintendo 3DS, purchased at retail.

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir – Review on gamrReview

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