Back before the Nintendo DS launched, Trace Memory was announced as Another, and shipped as a Japanese launch window title under a new name: Another Code. Months later, it hit the European scene as Another Code: Two Memories. Here, another few months after its original debut, it's called Trace Memory, and its identity crisis is only the start of the game's problems. This adventure design isn't all that bad from start to finish, and it's clear that a lot of effort went into creating an engaging murder mystery slash point-and-click design, a genre that's slowly fading away into the world of gaming obscurity. But even with its high production values, this adventure is entirely too short and almost flawed in its scripting.
Trace Memory follows the story of Ashley Robbins, a 13 year old girl who's been living life under the impression that her father's been dead for 10 years. The day before her 14th birthday, however, she's faced with a shock of shockers: not only is her father alive, she's been invited to meet with him on a mysterious island. When her aunt goes missing after landing on this island, the adventure begins.
Trace Memory is much more akin to PC adventure games than what's expected in a console-style experience. The Nintendo DS system is an open canvas of features for game developers to exploit, and at the very least Cing has created a dual screen production that pushes many of the functions of the handheld system. Fans of classic PC experiences such as Myst or The 7th Guest will find a suitable offering in Trace Memory, with its focus on offering puzzles that unfold clues to the adventure's complex plot. Because Trace Memory doesn't just follow the trail to the mystery of Ashley's fragmented memories of when she was three years old, it also weaves clues to another mystery that took place years ago.
Like most DS-specific designs, Trace Memory takes full advantage of the Nintendo DS-specific hardware capabilities. Though players can control Ashley using the D-pad and action buttons, nearly all of the controls can be handled via the stylus on the touch screen. Puzzle elements show up throughout the story, each putting a function of the DS hardware to use. Some of the puzzles are simple manual labor tasks, like turning a crank or turning a lever. Others are clever challenges that requires players to overlay photographs on top of one another to uncover a clue to the next part of the adventure. The occasional puzzle even uses the microphone's now-cliché "blow" functionality. At the very least, the puzzles are fun little challenges that show some creative use of the system's features.
The tale itself, the main driving force behind player progression through the adventure, offers a good amount of suspense and is an interesting read. But two key issues really bring down the presentation, and it's really difficult to point out these faults without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say, the central plot point of Ashley's reunion with her father is almost frustratingly annoying to experience. Just as frustrating is the story's climax in the final chapter that, when you break it down to the basics, shouldn't have even happened the way it does in this script. It's hard to say if these annoying story and plot issues are due to the original Japanese game design, or in the attempts of Nintendo of America's localization team to rewrite situations with much more "western" dialogue. Either way, the final product is an almost sophomoric mystery that couldn't stand on its own as a written novella or even in a collection of short stories.
The other issue is a problem that's clearly rooted directly in the original Japanese production. Much of Trace Memory depends on puzzles and tasks that force players to unnecessarily backtrack and retrace steps, and it's clear that this is done to increase the length of an already short experience. Players are required to investigate every nook of every cranny of the mansion to trigger points within the adventure, but the design conveniently restricts players from picking up items into their inventory until they hit a trigger point within the story. This "cheat" is used throughout the production, and each instance is completely unnecessary. It's done as a ploy to force players to go back to places they've already visited, just to pick up an item they, for some reason, couldn't pick up before.
Trace Memory, like most point and click adventures, is entirely linear in its design, but doesn't do anything to "punish" gamers for doing wrong things. There's no way to lose -- no death, no wrong turns, no dead ends. And though the lack of failure may seem like a good thing, in reality it's this that shortens the experience. Only players without any basic deductive puzzle-solving skills will have minor problems getting past specific points in the story path, and very rarely will you ever get "stuck." The design is clearly aimed at the younger crowd; even at the end of the chapter where you're "quizzed" on specific facts of that portion of the story, getting an answer wrong doesn't do anything to penalize the player.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved