Spirit Camera: Cursed Memoir
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2012-05-07 Nintendo 3DS Augmented Reality T (Teen) Tecmo Koei / Nintendo

I love ghost stories and supernatural-related books and shows. My husband is aware of this, and one of these days when I wasn't feeling so great, he brought me home something to cheer me up. A spin-off of Fatal Frame, one of the scariest things I've ever had the pleasure to play, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir was my first game for the Nintendo 3DS and my first experience with augmented reality.

There are three game modes to play in Spirit Camera, two of them using the Diary of Faces, the augmented reality booklet included with the game.

In Haunted Visions you don't need the Diary of faces, and you have three mini-games to play. Spirit Check lets you take photos of people to see if they are haunted and what's haunting them, with special appearances of some Fatal Frame ghosts. Spirit Challenge turns your face or other people's faces into attacking spirits. Spirit Photography lets you snap random pictures of your surroundings to see what kind paranormal activity appears. I had a blast with this one going around the apartment and the building to see what sorts of spooky things I could find (see screenshots 6 and onward).

Cursed Pages requires the booklet to be played, and consists of four of mini-games that interact with the pages of the diary to reveal hidden images and exorcise ghosts.

The story mode takes you to an old house where many spirits are trapped. A friendly amnesic ghost, Maya, serves as your guide and gives you hints throughout the adventure. You use the Diary of Faces to enter the strange house, but she stops you from going through a certain door, warning you about the Woman in Black who resides within. You are then brought back to your own world and begin exploring the diary with Maya, in hopes of returning her memory and discovering all its secrets.

As you investigate the diary and snap photos of the pages, you will reveal ghostly images that you must then "fight" by taking photos of. To find the ghosts you must turn in all directions until you see it, and then press L or R to snap a picture. Just like in Fatal Frame, the longer you focus on the ghost, the more the retina charges your Spirit Power, and the more "damage" you do to it when you take the picture. Make sure you have enough room to move around though. I found myself backing up against walls and tripping over furniture while attempting to move away from really creepy visions that would creep out from behind my husband's desk or that seemed to enter the apartment from the balcony door. Not ten minutes into the story and I was falling backwards into the sofa, much to my husband's amusement!

I did have some issues with the lighting. The game doesn't seem to register the AR pages very well in artificial lighting, so playing indoors at night wasn't a very good idea, as everything seemed covered in static (Remember that typical grainy Silent Hill look? Like that, but worse!) and faded in color.

Pardon the spoiler ahead, since I can't explain this without specifying. There was a particularly annoying moment where a ghostly hand comes out of the Diary of Faces, but every time I focused on it to take a picture and exorcise it, the hand would end up too far away from the page and it was impossible to catch it back on camera. I went around and around the dining table, trying to snap pictures from different angles, even hopped on chairs hoping to catch it from a higher perspective, only to be able to progress.

Sometimes, the light would reflect off the pages and the camera wouldn't register the Diary then. This is a pretty big contradiction for horror games, as you absolutely MUST play in well-lit surroundings, so you don't benefit from the creepiness of dark places that is usually tied to ghost sightings.

Further annoyance came from repeatedly having to set the 3DS down on a flat surface in order to recalibrate the gyroscopic sensor. It kept breaking the pace of the already brief story, which lasts at the most 3 to 4 hours.

Not so much a game but more of a very short interactive experience, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir has an interesting concept and a lot of potential, but falls short in its execution. In the moments when the AR works flawlessly, I was presented with short clips and clever puzzles, and some genuinely creepy moments as ghostly figures reached out in my direction. But I was hoping to see more of the old house, meet more spirits and learn their stories, and find more things to interact with in-game instead of in my living room.

Annoyances and technical difficulties aside, I still enjoyed my experience with it, but I found myself favoring the mini-games over the actual story, particularly Spirit Photography just to see what would appear. I sincerely hope that another Spirit Camera will come along in the future, sporting a lengthier, more immersive story and better technical execution to justify the $39.99 price point.