Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review

Shu Takumi is a brilliant man. You may know him as the mind behind Ace Attorney, the series of quirky lawyer games where you must prove a client innocent against improbable odds. His most recent work, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, was released for the Nintendo DS in 2010. This gem won Handheld Game of the Year awards from many major websites, and now Ghost Trick has found its way onto the App Store, where it’s better than ever.

Ghost Trick’s story is tough to sum up without giving away any major twists, but the premise is that you play as Sissel, a ghost who has the special gift of using Ghost Tricks. These allow him to posses objects (but not corpses), talk to other dead souls, travel through phone lines, and go back to four minutes before the death of another soul. However, Sissel can’t remember anything about himself, so he tries to figure out who he was, who killed him, and why he was killed. He only has until daybreak before he ceases to exist, so he must move fast.

One persistent poltergeist.

The story’s excellent writing keeps you guessing up until the last minute. Whenever you think an answer has been made clear, new information comes to light that changes everything. At no time does the story drag its feet, and it’ll keep you gripped throughout its 18-chapter story arc. The game, on average, takes around 15+ hours to complete. You’ll want to play until the credits roll, as the ending is something to behold.

Along the way, you’ll meet a large cast of eccentric and unforgettable characters that will stick with you long after you’ve completed the game. Among these is the smooth-walking (and dancing) Inspector Cabanela and Missile the Pomeranian. Part of what makes these characters and the world they live in shine are the detailed graphics, incredibly smooth animation, and a fitting soundtrack. The other part of the equation is in the dialogue, and how characters interact with one another.

Backing up all of this is original and wholly unique gameplay that just works. Using Sissel’s ‘ghost’ ability, you can enter a ghost realm where he can jump between objects in the environment. In the physical realm, he can perform a ‘trick’ on many of these objects. Using these mechanics, Sissel can make his way around the environment to solve puzzles and get people to act a certain way. For example, in the first level you must activate a fan and blender on either side of a flag, and then jump to its core in order to move the flag up the pole, allowing you to access another part of the level.

Starring Missile the Pomeranian.

Later in the game, you gain access to a second ghost who has a longer reach between objects and has the ability to swap two items of the same shape. Using this ghost’s ability in conjunction with Sissel’s object manipulation makes for some extremely clever puzzles. You’ll rarely have to perform the same solution in different puzzles.

Most chapters involve one or more deaths for you to view four minutes back in time and prevent. These start off by showing you a playback of the four minutes, and then give you the reins to manipulate the environment to change the outcome. Changing the event creates a checkpoint, so you don’t have to restart the entire four minutes if you make a mistake.

Controlling Sissel is simple. You can drag him between interactive objects, and move between realms or perform tricks with buttons on the bottom corners of the screen. The controls feel more natural than they did with the stylus on the DS, making this the superior version. If you own an iPad, we recommend playing it on the bigger screen as long as you can deal with minor letterboxing.

Ghost Trick on iOS uses a free-to-play model that gives you the first two chapters of the game for free, with two ways to pay for the rest. The first option gives you the whole game for $10, while the second breaks the game up into three $5 packs, coming out to $15. We don’t recommend the latter option for obvious reasons: It’s more expensive, and you’ll want to play through the entire game.

Ghost Trick isn’t just a great game– it’s nearly perfect. In fact, Ghost Trick is so exceptional that you may see it again in our year-end “Best of” lists. With two free chapters, you have to give Ghost Trick a chance, and you won’t be sorry that you did.

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