This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Trace Memory, known in Europe as Another Code: Two Memories, is the game which Japanese developers Cing produced before the excellent Hotel Dusk, and is in a very similar vein. You’re a teenage girl whose parents died – or disappeared – under mysterious circumstances when you were very small. After receiving a mysterious note and a technological device that looks curiously like a Nintendo DS from your father, you and your aunt trace him to the mysterious Blood Edward Island, at which point your aunt disappears and you have to rescue her, find your dad, and help a ghost boy named “D” to recover his own memories. The DTS’s special capabilities – among which is a camera function – is helpful in this regard, as is the Nintendo DS’s – like in Hotel Dusk, the full range of the DS’s capabilities and properties are used to full effect in the various puzzles presented (there’s one which relies on the reflective properties of the two DS screens – how cool is that?).
Nonetheless, while it is presented in a very similar manner to Hotel Dusk, it isn’t quite as good, for a great number of reasons. The most obvious is the presentation; it simply isn’t as innovative as Hotel Dusk‘s. It lacks the sketchy animation style which made the graphics look much better than they actually were, and it lacks the intriguing holding-the-DS-sideways feature which fools you into thinking you’re reading a book. The next feature that Dusk veterans will probably stumble over is the somewhat shakier technical implementation. While the camera feature is fun, there’s two problems with it: you’re limited in the number of photos you can take (why? All the images are stored on the DS memory cart anyway, so it can’t be a memory issue), and whenever you delete photos to make space for new ones the new pictures appear not at the end of the album – that would be too logical – but in the slots where the old pictures used to be. Some of the puzzles where you have to turn keys or spin zoetropes are a little difficult and fiddly to control, and for the wrong reasons.
There is a greater problem, however, and that is the game’s structure. Compared with the beauifully byzantine Hotel Dusk, the main plotline is pretty simple, and is literally linear: you proceed along a set path throughout the game world, eventually leaving the island when you get to the end (and for some reason the appropriately-named Captain decided to relocate his boat to the island’s north beach as opposed to the southern pier where you left him and where you would presumably expect him to wait). By the end, you’ve solved the problem of your father’s mysterious science project. You might also have solved the mystery of D’s origin if you clicked on every single object in the gameworld in the correct order. Although some of the puzzles are in fact more imaginative than Hotel Dusk‘s this benefit is hampered by the fact that you’re essentially only solving one puzzle at a time.
The major leap that Dusk made, in fact, was limiting the action to a single reasonably small building and relying heavily on re-using locations and NPCs in order to make a rich gaming experience. This made the place feel like a real, genuine hotel with believably cluttered rooms inhabited by real, genuine people with believably cluttered lives. Conversely, while much of Trace Memory is set in a big mansion it feels like it’s actually set in a long corridor with a series of locked doors, wherein you are pretty much guaranteed to find the key to the next door sitting in front of it trapped inside a little puzzle-box. There’s one bit where you have to backtrack, and it’s just irritating, because you have to tramp through a bunch of boring rooms where nothing much new is happening. Frankly, it’s not quite enough to convince me to replay the game in order to unlock all of D’s memories and allow him to rest in peace, and when the main story takes less than four hours to play through I personally don’t see the point, especially compared with the genuinely epic nature of Hotel Dusk. Yes, that was four hours, not fourteen, not 40, but four. Call me crazy, but that’s hardly enough gameplay to justify the price of a new (or even a second-hand) Nintendo DS game.
Even though you won’t waste much time on Trace Memory, it’s still a bit of a waste of time. While the writing approaches the standards of Hotel Dusk it isn’t quite enough to justify the mediocre gameplay. While the puzzles are fun and innovative and interesting, they’re left hanging in a desperately flawed framework. Go back and play the Hotel again instead, and if you’ve not already played Hotel Dusk, what the hell are you thinking? It’s the best mystery-adventure game on the Nintendo DS.