Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: June 30, 2023


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PC Review - 'Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 30, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Ghost Trick blends fun logic puzzles with the world of the supernatural, making for an entirely new and unique experience in the handheld gaming space.

I adore the Ace Attorney franchise. It has some of my favorite moments in video games, and its weird blend of drama and humor is constant engaging. If you asked about my favorite game from Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi, I wouldn't point to Phoenix Wright and his ilk. I'd point to the semi-obscure Nintendo DS game, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. It's one of those absurd niche titles that never achieved the success of its lawyer-based bigger brother but remains a cult favorite to this day. Thankfully, it got a second chance at life with the new HD remaster of Ghost Trick, and the game remains as engaging as the day it was released.

Ghost Trick opens up in quite a pickle. You, a blond-haired man named Sessel, are dead. A red-haired woman is being menaced by a gunman, and you're forced to watch as she is tragically gunned down. All is not lost. Sessel quickly discovers that he might be dead, but he isn't gone. As a ghost, he can manipulate the world and even go back in time to change the fates of others. Unfortunately, he'll only linger in the world until the next sunrise. Using his new powers, he has to solve the mystery of his own murder and prevent a string of tragic deaths.

The concept might sound dark, but Ghost Trick is anything but. It's a cartoony and colorful game full of bright humor and lovable characters. Death is treated as a serious thing, but the presentation of everything else is so cartoonish that it prevents the game from feeling morbid. Ghost Trick is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and makes great use of its cast to the point that you never think too hard about some of the dark scenarios. It has an engaging dramatic story in the middle, but it's the sort of game where you'll squish an assassin with a giant wrecking ball, and their flattened cartoon body will roll away with the ball.

The basic gameplay of Ghost Trick is built around … well, ghost tricks. Sessel isn't lucky enough to be a ghost that floats around freely. He's able to possess objects, but not every object can be possessed — only those with special cores. Sessel also has a limited reach. He can only move to an object that is a few feet away from the object he's currently possessing, so to get from location to location, you need to figure out travel paths to get around.

Beyond movement, you can also manipulate certain objects, but that's usually limited to a single action. You can make a fan turn on, a bell ring, a light turn on, and so on. Manipulating objects is a deceptively simple ability that goes an incredibly long way. Do you need to bridge a gap between two cores? Open the cabinet you are possessing to get a little further. Sometimes you can even combine the actions of two cores, such as an early puzzle where you need to turn on a fan, raise a flag while the fan is active, and hop into the flag while the fan blows it up. Timing is an element, but it's usually lenient.

The primary use of manipulating objects is to interact with characters in the world. Sessel's ghost tricks are primarily used to avert the tragic death of one or more characters. When a character dies, Sessel can go back in time four minutes, and he needs to spend those four minutes finding ways to avoid a tragedy. This means using your poltergeist powers to distract gunmen, guide characters through danger, and use small actions to make big changes.

This creates a simple but very engaging gameplay loop. You have a time limit, but it's generous and is mostly designed to skip forward once you complete certain objectives to minimize downtime. This keeps the puzzles brisk and fast-paced and prevents the game from feeling like a lot of waiting around. Even if you mess up, you can usually restart and try again, so the time pressure is more of a fun gimmick than anything that puts too much pressure on the game.

The puzzles fall in that sweet spot of being engaging without being overly complex. Many times, you'll probably figure out what to do in a few moments, but the constant barrage of new necessary actions keeps things exciting. There are a couple of times the solutions to puzzles felt a little bizarre, but like Ace Attorney, it's mostly a case of trying out limited options until something works. There are enough amusing "failures" to prevent it from feeling annoying, and it's rare to get stuck for more than a few moments.

The game is also good about adding twists to the basic concept. I don't want to spoil these sections because they represent some of the game's best moments, but there are fun moments when you get to do absurd things or play around with a different set of powers. Ghost Trick is very good about remaining engaging and using its simple concept to its full extent.

Arguably the only real downside to the game is that it's relatively brief. You can probably finish it in a single sitting if you dedicated the time. I'm not willing to call this a flaw because the game is extremely well paced. It lasts just long enough to avoid its ghostly trickery from wearing out its welcome, and the plot and characters remain silly and engaging the whole way through. If you're hoping for something as heavy as an Ace Attorney game, you might be disappointed, but Ghost Trick is the definition of short and sweet.

Ghost Trick's graphics remain an absolute standout. The game uses an overly exaggerated cartoonish animation style that drips with personality. Every movement is a little (or occasionally a lot) overblown, and it adds a flair to the game. The HD version retains all of that, converting the DS graphics to be more crisp and clear. If I had one complaint, it is that the animations feel just a hair faster than they did in the original title, which can feel odd, but even that might just be the difference between a crisp HD image and a blurry DS one. The soundtrack is excellent, with remixed tunes that update the original's music without losing the flavor that made it work.

It's been over a decade since Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective came out, and the game remains as charming and delightful as the day it was released. The HD remake does a fantastic job of updating the title for modern displays without losing the style that made it so engrossing in the first place. When the biggest flaw is that I wish there was more of it, that says a lot about its quality. It's weird, it's silly, and it has the best darn Pomeranian in video games. If you like the Ace Attorney games or colorful puzzle titles, you owe it to yourself to give Ghost Trick a try. Now if we could just get a sequel ....

Score: 9.0/10

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