"FaceRaiders With Ghosts"
Though the possibilities of recent augmented reality technologies are impressive, they've barely been realized. This is because many of the games using AR utilize it only in facile ways that the game designs don't require. For example, Skylanders would be just as playable if the characters were accessible without scanning expensive hordes of plastic toys, and the Nintendogs aren't any more compelling interacting with real-world footage than they are against digital backgrounds. But both of those games are fundamentally decent despite their AR gimmicks. Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, on the other hand, is little more than a tech demo stretched too thin, and the result isn't nearly enough to justify a full purchase.
A spiritual successor to Tecmo Koei's Fatal Frame series, Spirit Camera casts the player as the protagonist and their immediate environment as the setting. Their tools also have immediate real-world analogues, with the ghost-fighting Camera Obscura represented by the 3DS' internal cameras, and the mysterious "Diary of Faces" included as a 16-page AR booklet that the game often prompts you to use. Even the game's controls reinforce the "haunted reality" theme, as the game is controlled by the 3DS' gyroscope. In order to turn the game view, you have to physically turn yourself and the 3DS to change perspective.
Like many augmented reality games, this sounds much better in theory than it plays in practice. The AR requirements of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir prove more burden than boon, and they make it a thoroughly non-portable portable game. In addition to requiring the AR booklet (which, while rather small and thin, is another piece of equipment to carry and is unfortunately easy to lose), the game also requires you to physically turn the system in 360-degree arcs. This is incredibly uncomfortable from a sitting position, and more than a little embarrassing in public. Worse yet, the game's backgrounds are almost always taken from the 3DS' cameras, so whatever survival horror atmosphere the game attempts can be easily ruined by your surroundings. No matter what grainy filter the game projects, you won't get a fright from the dog park on a sunny day.
All of this would be forgivable if there was a decent game within Spirit Camera, but unfortunately, that just isn't here. There's a thin story mode where you team with a mysterious waif named Maya to fight the evil spirits in the Diary of Faces, but it doesn't have a particularly meticulous world, and the combat engine is painfully shallow. Battle with the ghosts consists of repetitive photo-taking duels, where the shutter must be clicked at just the right moment. It would be weak as a mini-game, much less a full release. Despite its ambitious presentation, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir offers little more than the AR games built into every 3DS, but at least those games benefit from the low expectations of built-in tech demos and don't cost an extra $40 to play.
GameDynamo's Score for Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (3DS)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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