Trace Memory

November 17, 2005

Adventure games are enjoying a kind of renaissance, with companies expressing an interest in dipping their creative toes in the pools of a genre many consider past its prime. However, the recently release Indigo Prophecy and Cing’s Trace Memory for the DS both prove that there is still a lot of adventuring to be had. Trace Memory is an engaging story about a young girl who, up until recently, believed her father had passed away. Ashley, the girl in question, recently discovered that not only was her father, a scientist researching human memory, was still alive, but that he wanted her to travel to a remote island so they could meet after several years. However, her father is nowhere to be seen when see arrives at the island in question, and the ensuing adventure to find out just what is going on proves to be a short, sweet and endearing tale that is punctuated with both puzzles and a splash of mystery.Cing’s attempt to take a genre considered by many to be more at home on the PC and instead have players experience it on Nintendo’s touchable handheld succeeds more than it stumbles. Using the stylus and touch screen in combination with the buttons and d-pad proves itself to offer both smooth and intuitive gameplay. The bottom touch screen depicts the action from a top down perspective, and allows players to either move Ashley about by touching where on the screen they would like her to go, or by using the d-pad in a more traditional manner. The top screen, on the other hand, shows a still picture of the area Ashley is facing at a point in time. For example, walking up to a painting on the bottom screen would result in a picture of that painting appearing on the top screen. In addition, clicking on the magnifying glass icon on the touch screen replaces the top down view with the contents of the top screen. Here players can use the stylus to click on and examine the view more closely, uncovering items, clues, and the occasional puzzle. This interface plays perfectly to the strengths of the handheld, and is ideally suited to the DS.

The gameplay is based not around action, but rather is very evocative of Cyan World’s Myst in both its design and execution. The narrative is paced in a very leisurely manner, and even when the mystery begins to unravel players can still pick up and play the game for a few minutes at a time without feeling rushed or otherwise racing against any sort of clock. This is helped by the ability to save anywhere, which again suits the platform and players’ tendencies to turn it on and play intermittently between real-world activities. Likewise, the majority of the game’s puzzles are quite easy, which makes them more of an interesting diversion rather than the frustrating roadblocks found in many adventure games. However, this also equates to an experience that is far from challenging, and players looking to give this brain a workout might come away less than satisfied.

The game’s simple yet effective controls echo that of the story, which is likewise constructed to deliver a worthwhile experience over the course of its few hours of adventuring. By PC gamers’ standards the story is sure to come off as noticeably short winded, but for a handheld the length is ideal. However, while the amount of time it takes to see Trance memory to conclusion is but a few hours, the time spent on Blood Edward Island is nonetheless worthwhile. What begins as simple search for her past really begins to take on a much deeper meaning as the plot develops, and soon the game is as much about Ashley’s own self-exploration and the evaluation of her present self as it is about discovering the whereabouts of her father.

Trace Memory is certainly refreshing, and is one of the best adventure games to come along this year. It is the game’s endearing story and characters, coupled with an intriguing adventure that help to make Trace Memory succeed in being truly memorable, pardon the pun. The game makes excellent use of the DS platform’s unique attributes, and tells an endearing, if only short-lived tale of exploration and self-discovery. Trace Memory comes highly recommended.

Score: 5/5

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