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Trace Memory (DS) artwork

Trace Memory (DS) review

"A young boy watches in horror as one man levels a pistol at another. Pop Cue a blood red fadeout. Over four decades later, a mother hustles her daughter into hiding. Peeking from the closet, the small girl with white hair sees only the silhouette of a man holding a gun. Another dull pop resonates. Cue another blood red fadeout. "

A young boy watches in horror as one man levels a pistol at another. Pop Cue a blood red fadeout. Over four decades later, a mother hustles her daughter into hiding. Peeking from the closet, the small girl with white hair sees only the silhouette of a man holding a gun. Another dull pop resonates. Cue another blood red fadeout.

It’s too bad that Trace Memory’s most exciting sequence occurs before you even hit the start button. This game attempts to resuscitate the graphic adventure, and what better place to perform all the pointing and hands-on puzzle solving required than on a handheld with a touchscreen? Unfortunately, although it utilizes the unique hardware, developer Cing’s initial DS outing suffers from extreme ease and storytelling that never hits its stride.

At first, the tale is an engrossing one. When we meet Ashley Mizuki Robbins, a not-really albino adolescent who loves saying her full name in all its cross-cultural glory, it’s her fourteenth birthday(almost), and to celebrate she’s sailing out to a private island to meet up with her father. Two weird things about this. First, her destination is called Blood Edward Island, and the prominent family that owned the now abandoned estate disappeared half a century ago, no doubt leading to the spooky name. Second, Ashley’s father, a brilliant scientist, is supposed to be dead, having disappeared around the same time her mother was gunned down before her eyes.

Much of the excitement flows from the questions these two circumstances generate. What has Ashley’s father been working on these past ten years, and why did he want to keep his existence a secret from her? What possible connection could his research on human memory have to a place where a family suddenly met their end? And most important, why has he left a trail of messages that urge his daughter to venture deeper and deeper into a creepy mansion?

At least, the house sort of sets an ominous air. The top screen provides a close-up view of each untouched chamber, where grimy paintings and once-elegant household items eerily remain in their proper place. Sometimes this view will slide down into the bottom window so you can probe around these objects more closely. Most often, though, the touchscreen shows a top-down view of the current location, where Ashley can be controlled either by pointing with the stylus or intuitively moved with the d-pad. There are plenty of imposing doors to unlock and secret passages to discover, and it’s expected that something sinister could be revealed inside each one. However, as you move from room to empty room, you’ll quickly realize there’s no immediate reason to be frightened; nothing is waiting to pop out and strike Ashley down. In fact, it doesn’t seem her journey can ever come to a terrifying, premature end.

And Ashley isn’t scared, exploring the premises like a babysitter burrowing through an employer’s home. She only momentarily trembles and stutters after stumbling upon the ghost of a boy her own age. However, she quickly composes herself once the apparition explains his situation. He remembers only his first initial, D, and he’s wandered the island for over fifty years trying to recall how he died. When he requests Ashley’s aid – she’s the only person he’s met with the ability to see him – she soon agrees and accepts him as a tour guide.

Because their fates are both tragic, you expect that the pair should have some profound underlying connection, some reason why they’ve met at this particular moment. At the very least, D’s amnesia and Dr. Robbins memory research suggest a strong association. Throughout their lengthy dialogue, though, Ashley remains mostly focused on her own objectives, even as D icily stares ahead, reeling off the latest grizzly recollection of his past. Rather than heighten the suspense in this tale that involves greed, jealousy and murder, these revelations whittle the pair’s link down to mundane circumstance. Perhaps it’s a rebellion against contrived conspiracies. It just bored me.

That just leaves the puzzles, and the designers cleverly made use of the hardware’s singular capabilities. Objects can be dragged across the bottom screen and tossed towards a target on the top. Dust must be cleared away by blowing into the microphone. Different pictures can be viewed in the separate windows, then overlayed and manipulated to make a clue materialize. You’ll even have to close the clamshell to transfer an imprint from the top screen to the bottom. These challenges are difficult and entertaining because they force us to think in unfamiliar terms. Each one may take up to a couple of minutes to solve.

Past those gimmicks lay more traditional puzzle solving, the kind that requires finding a specific item to match with a task or tracking down a code to open a locked door. In Trace Memory, though, the mansion is conveniently divided into groups of four or five rooms, and with few exceptions, all the objects required to clear the area are contained therein. When Ashley needs to knock a suitcase off a high shelf, a baseball sits at her feet. When she has to cut some rope, a knife is tucked across the room, and the lighter acquired earlier can’t be used to burn through it. Obviously, nobody loves excessive backtracking, but these undertakings are so simple they’re just tedious. The game is short anyway; there are only five levels that shouldn’t take more than an hour each, and most of that is reading. Even if it were twice as long, these easy tests would prevent a satisfying experience.

Still, it’s a start to establishing the genre on this platform. The story begins with an intriguing premise, and the DS introduces some nice capabilities for the user to interact with the game. If the suspense could be sustained and the puzzles constructed to provide real challenges, then we’d have a worthwhile title. This one’s fading from memory, without a trace.

woodhouse's avatar
Community review by woodhouse (June 09, 2006)

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