An all new mystery for PC adventure fans to unravel.
Trace Memory (known as Another Code in other territories) follows in the footsteps of classic PC adventure games such as King’s Quest, Myst, and Broken Sword. While the genre has been around for ages, originating in purely text-based journeys, games in this style have all but disappeared in the past decade. Now, with touch screen input making point and click controls on handhelds more accessible, Cing and Nintendo are revisiting the genre with an all-new mystery.
The story centers on Ashley Mizuki Robbins, a thirteen year old girl who is being raised by her aunt, Jessica. She has grown up believing that her father and mother died when she was young, and is shocked when a package containing a strange device (oh c’mon, it’s a DS – called "DTS" in the game) arrives in the mail from her father. She then journeys to Blood Edward Island, an abandoned family estate where her father has apparently been doing research all these years. However, her father is not at the shore to meet her when she arrives, and in her search for him, she encounters D, a ghost who has wandered the island over fifty years without any recollection of who he once was. The two travel together, searching the estate for clues leading to D’s past and Ashley’s father.
For those who haven’t played this type of game before, it’s important to note that there is no real action in the game whatsoever - no running through death traps or executing combos against the undead. The gameplay consists primarily of finding clues to advance the story and solving simple but challenging puzzles.
When exploring, you’ll use the stylus or cross pad to guide Ashley through 3D areas on the lower screen, and detailed 2D close-ups will show on the upper screen as you move around. Any time you’re in a place that you can study in detail, you can press the magnifying glass icon to move the still down to the lower screen. The stylus can then be used to tap on items in the room and get further information or closer looks.
The DS hardware does allow for several new variations on the genre. Aside from the simple point and click exploration, the touch screen is also used to interact with puzzles, toss items to the upper screen, punch keypads, or scrape off plaques covered with rust. The microphone is used a few times in some basic ways, and even the DS’s ability to sense when it’s closed is used in gameplay. A nifty camera feature utilizes the dual screen arrangement to superimpose one picture you’ve taken over another, combining two parts to find a much needed clue.
As the US title suggests, memory is a key element in the game, not only in the story, but some of the gameplay elements as well. Unlike most adventure games which allow you to pick up just about anything, whether it seems useful or not, Trace Memory often will force you to remember where things are by not allowing you to pick up an item the first time you examine it. A fireplace may not hold any clues at first, but go back later, and you’ll be able to pick up some much needed charcoal. In addition, the game has a multiple choice quiz, oddly enough, at the end of each chapter to help keep you from forgetting important plot details that you’ve learned.
One adventure game trait Trace Memory does carry faithfully is obscure puzzles. While most puzzles take just a bit of thought to figure out, there are a few that everyone is just about guaranteed to get stuck on. The clues just don’t do it. (Too bad I can’t give examples without spoiling them.) There is one spot that I will spoil where the precision of the touch screen works against the player: you can easily think you’ve examined everything in this china cabinet, except you forgot to tap on one single glass that happens to be the item that you don’t know you’re looking for. It’s a cabinet across the room with no other dishes of significance. I touched the items all around it and in every little window, and then ended up searching the rest of the island to try to figure out what I had missed. These kinds of frustrations are pretty standard for the genre, though, and the game doesn’t suffer too much for it.
The only other minor complaint is that the constant in-game presence of the DS/DTS may detract from the experience more than draw you in. It’s a launch title gimmick, featured in a game that released late in the US. Treating the DS like some secret device while having messages recorded on DS cards scattered about the house just seems silly and hard to get past at times.
Being a mystery makes Trace Memory a little easier to spoil than most games, so there’s not a much else that can be said. It doesn’t take a heck of a lot of time to finish, but you can run through a second time for some slight variations and extra plot details. This is a cool little adventure, especially for anyone who misses this style of gameplay. Hopefully, adventure game fans can look for more titles like this to come.