Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS, iOS
Genre Ghost world point and click
MtAMinutes to Action 4
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

I'm a huge fan of the Ace Attorney series, but after the fifth and latest game, Miles Edgeworth, I feel that the series is in dire need for a reboot. We may get that later this year in the bizarre pairing of Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, but my wish might have come even earlier with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. Created by the original Phoenix Wright lead, Shu Takumi, Ghost Trick seems to be where the creative juices are being funneled into now.

Released last week outside of Japan on the Nintendo DS, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective replaces the Ace Attorney game we usually see released around this time of year. Buzz was high for this game, but after watching a few videos, I had no idea what to expect out of this title. The main character is dead, there are timed puzzles to save people from dying, and you can possess objects a la The Haunting: Starring Polterguy or Geist. It all just seemed so... weird.

But I trust the Ace Attorney developers, so I'm going to give Ghost Trick a half-hour of my time to see if it's worth playing. Here are those first 30 minutes with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective.

Minute by Minute

00 - I select New Game and the first half-hour of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective begins. “Chapter 1: 7:02 PM.” Some text says that I've been unconscious for a while, and that there’s a woman on his left, and a man on his right holding a gun. The woman puts her arms up, and then our narrator reveals to us that he is dead (spoilers for lots of movies where the narrator is already dead).

01 - The man is about to kill the woman, but our hero asks how he can help? Suddenly, someone interjects his narration monologue and says we’re the only one who can help. “Welcome to the Ghost World, the land of the dead.”

02 - We’re looking at a side view of a junkyard with our hero lying dead between the man and woman with his butt in the air. His body is glowing blue, that’s his soul, known as a core in Ghost Trick. I’m told to drag his core from his body to a railroad crossing gate... odd. I am now the crossing gate, and can “use” it.

04 - As time goes from frozen to unfrozen, I poke the “Trick” button which throws the gate up into the air, knocking the gun out of the man’s hand. In a bit of really fluid animation, the woman knocks the man over and runs by him, but he quickly picks up the gun again and points it at her back. I performed my first “ghost trick.” The title of the game now makes sense.

05 - When in ghost mode, you can see all the different objects you can possess, but you can’t just wildly jump from one to another, they have to be within about a meter or so of each other.

Ghost Trick Phantom Detective Hourglass Before Death06 - I inhabit a guitar and make it strum some notes, it spooks the crook but he he’s quickly got his gun trained on the woman again. She just can not get away.

07 - Without any other options, I jump back to my corpse and use the trick option on myself, nothing happens! Oh crap, the guy shot the woman in the back and she falls off the ledge! A phone rings and our bad guy slowly makes his way down to it, but not before kicking my corpse off the ledge too.

08 - The man reports into the phone that he’s “done.” Must have been a professional hit.

09 - With all hope seemingly lost, a desk lamp perks up and points itself at my body, and then begins talking. The lamp was the voice in my (dead) head earlier telling me I can save her. Apparently ghosts can speak to one another, and this ghost is a bit of a mentor.

11 - So the lamp thinks we can still save her, but I need to possess him (seems like it would be a bit crowded in there). I can’t reach the lamp directly, but I hop around to a few objects. Whenever you highlight an object it tells you what trick you can perform. Some objects don’t have any trick, but this folding cot can “unfold.”

12 - I unfold the cot and am able to easily reach the lamp. We compare our corpses now, mine and the woman’s. Mine is emanating something, and the lamp tells me it’s because I’m special and can use the ghost trick powers. The woman can’t. She’s just... dead, I guess.

14 - I’m asked to possess the woman’s corpse, but her core is unconscious. While out of it, the lamp says we’ll save her life. Explain this one already!

15 - OH! We can go back in time four minutes before her death to try and save her. We rewind time and we’re back on top of the junkyard, it’s 7:01 PM. She’s kneeling over my dead body, checking my vitals. I’m already dead. The man with the gun approaches, seems like the scene is about to play out again.

17 - Yep, things play out pretty much just how I manipulated them with the crossing bar and the guitar doing their part. But she still dies. This was just for me to see all the events unfold in real time though.

Ghost Trick Phantom Detective Kitchen18 - Looks like it’s time for me to intervene for real, let’s do it! Oh, I have to start at the bottom of the junkyard, where her body ended up landing and where I possessed it. Considering this is four minutes before it even landed there, this is a bit odd. But the game is going to make me work to get back up there.

20 - There’s an hourglass on the top screen counting down to her death. The sand falls down as her death approaches. Keep in mind I don’t really have four minutes because time stops when there’s dialog, this is all just a gimmick to limit the number of actions I can take and how long I can let real time play out.

21 - I “trick” a wheel into rolling and propping a mannequin back up, then I jump into a refrigerator. Opening the fridge reveals... a blender?

22 - The game scrolls up to the action and a bit of the man and woman’s dialog plays out. I possess a fan, which turns on and whips a flag straight out. The flag needs to travel up the flag pole though if I’m going to get up and save our lady in distress.

24 - Ah, I trick the blender on, which cuts the rope to let the flag go up, and then I turn the fan on, and quickly jump over to the flag in ghost mode. The flag goes up, and I now have access to the main level. The moment I enter it, the big scene plays out with the crossing bar and guitar. I am possessing a bicycle right behind the man now.

Ghost Trick Phantom Detective Police25 - Woah, now there’s a three second countdown! Of course, time stops in ghost mode, but I need to figure out this solution quickly! I ring the bike’s bell and it distracts the assassin long enough for her to run off, her fate has changed and the counter stops!

27 - I pedal the bike over to where they ran to, and then trick a lever into rotating a giant wrecking ball right over the bad guy’s head. Haha, this is not good for him.

29 - After a bit of ghost mode jumping, I trick open the claw holding the wrecking ball and it falls right onto the assassin, crushing him. It’s not violent or gory, even as the ball rolls away with him comically stuck to the underside of it. Yeah, he’s done for. The woman falls to her knees in relief.

30 - We saved the woman, “Fate Averted!”

Half-Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 4

What I loved: The animations are absolutely stellar. It's not really like anything else I've ever seen, they are 2D sprites and not very detailed, but every single action is carefully animated. It reminds me somewhat of Out of this World (Another World), that is probably the best comparison.

The whole concept of the game is great, I love the idea of stopping someone's murder by possessing objects and messing around with the world. This idea has a TON of potential and will probably be bled to death by Capcom over the next few years, but I'm going to embrace and love it right now.

What I didn't like: Not a lot... but a bit of voice acting could have gone a long way. It might have been really cool to keep tabs on the crime going on above me by listening to their conversation instead of cutting over to it to display some talk-bubbles whenever they wanted to progress the scene.

Would I Keep Playing? Oh yeah, this was a great half-hour! The whole reason this column exists, in fact. A complicated game explained its premise quickly and efficiently while letting me have a lot of fun along the way.