Our full review of this Nintendo adventure game for the DS.
Rather than whip up some fancy shmantsy introduction to this review of Nintendo's latest DS title, Trace Memory, I was going to inform you how totally awesome it was that the game's main character, Ashley Robbins and I share the same birthday, but it was not meant to be damnit! The point at the beginning where the game says when she was born is actually due to some not so clever trickery where it reads the birth date that you've programmed into your DS, so save yourself from being fooled and dismiss all of the coincidences. So now that I've tossed this unimportant piece of information your way, the review shall begin.
Trace Memory is an extremely slow paced adventure title where you, playing as one Ashley Robbins, must search for your father and solve a murder mystery Robert Stack style on a placed called Blood Edward Island. Partnering up with a ghost named D (who's been dead for like, 57 years) and using a specialized DS (called a DTS) that sort of functions like a PDA (with photographic abilities), you basically just walk around the island, collect clues, solve puzzles using the DS' touch screen and microphone, and sit through enough cut scenes to make Solid Snake experience deja vu. Seriously, there's a lot of talking in this game and that's sort of cool because it has a decent story to tell, yet at the same time there's a lot of nonsensical BS to wade through and if you're like me, who can't stand excessive and pointless dialogue, it becomes extremely monotonous. If it's not yap, yap yapping between Ashley and D it's between Ashley and a salty sea captain or someone else. There just really needs to be a SHUT UP button, but this is where you should just stop reading this review if any of this turns you off. If you're looking for fire balls, monsters, and copious amounts of gore, Trace Memory is one of the last games you should buy.
To this game's credit, the puzzles are actually rather enjoyable. You'll blow into the DS microphone to trigger events, move rocks with the stylus, turn levers, and do other neat things, and some of the puzzles feature interesting solutions, yet that winds up leading to one of Trace Memory's biggest faults, which is it really sucks being stuck. There's just too much backtracking in this game and it's made worse by the fact that you can't interact with things whenever you want. In other words, you'll need to set one event in motion before being able to check out a certain item, even though you will pass that area where the item is and then have to go back. That, coupled with the boring dialogue really makes it hard to play Trace Memory. This isn't the type of game that anyone should play on the bus, standing in line, or at a sporting event. It requires your full attention, so warm some milk, grab some cookies, and hop into bed, as any distraction will make it incredibly difficult to enjoy.
That's really the biggest issue with this game. Its genre is a dying breed, and compared to similar titles such as Myst and 7th Guest it's not exactly too engaging. I forged onward because I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery and some of the puzzles are cool, but for the most part Trace Memory is a one way ticket to bored-ville. People say stupid crap, lame things happen, you'll stare at something that no one should find interesting, and you'll back track. But I always had the desire to keep going. I always wanted to see the next puzzle or new area.
I'm also impressed with this game's visuals, which are a mixture of 2 and 3D styles. Whenever characters converse their images are presented as these really attractive 2D drawings, and when you happen upon a puzzle or take a gander at something it's also presented as a still frame. However, Ashley moves within Trace Memory's 3D engine and it's an extremely solid piece of technology. Viewed from a top down perspective, the trees, grass, buildings, and other pieces of scenery look pretty sweet on the bottom screen, and moving Ashley through the game's world is extremely easy. All you need to do is drag the stylus across the screen and she'll move in that direction. It works quite well, especially since the developers put restrictions on where you can go. Even though you're exploring this huge island you can't just wander off. I always felt like I was on a path and that gave me peace of mind.
Props must also be given to Trace Memory's composers. Whoever scored this game did a pretty decent job. Granted, it's nothing that's particularly memorable and I'm not humming this stuff while on my way to work, but for the game it's decent.
Trace Memory came very close to receiving a 2 out of 5 because I always needed a perfect (meaning quiet) setting to get into it, but the more I thought about it, the puzzles combined with the neat music and 3D engine was enough to get this title over the hump, but just barely. I'm certainly not singing its praises, but I will say that if you manage to get into this game it creates this desire to forge ahead, because even though what may ensue just might make zero sense to you (and in some cases it'll be absolutely ridiculous), getting to those points as well as wanting to see what happens next makes this a solid pickup, though like select foods it's an acquired taste. Nintendo's come through with yet another intriguing DS title but just barely. If a sequel doesn't improve upon the original I won't be as kind.
What's Hot: A few puzzles and enjoyable music.
What's Not: Being a smart man and still feeling stuck too often.