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Review – Trace Memory

posted on April 23rd, 2007 by chris

I’m not usually a big fan of the point-and-click adventure genre. Myst never managed to keep my attention, despite the rave reviews it got way back when, and the one Kyrandia game I played only managed to entertain because of the constant humor. I haven’t even gotten more than half an hour into The Longest Journey in the two years I’ve had it.

Oh well, looks like the game’s over.

Trace Memory, though, managed to keep me engaged through to the end. Even when Puzzle Quest failed to interest me, I continued to play Trace Memory. It could be that the medium keeps the idea of the game interesting. This was my only DS with a particularly compelling or deep story I hadn’t beaten, and I think that was a big part of what kept me motivated. I enjoy playing story-heavy games, and they aren’t very common on portable systems, so I try to play as many as I can get my hands on.

Trace Memory’s story starts off in standard mystery-adventure style. The main character, Ashley, sets out to explore the apparently-abandoned Blood Edward Island on her own in search of her long-lost father. Before too long, though, she finds a companion that accompanies her for much of the game.

This companion mechanic allows the game to do two things in particular that are nice for the player. First, it allows Ashley’s character to develop without making her talk to herself all the time. Second, the companion becomes a sort of guide, giving occasional hints and fleshing out the plot for the player.

Many of the puzzles aren’t difficult enough to merit the hints. Several are simple tasks such as scraping away rust on a plaque or tossing a ball to hit something. All, however, require the use of some feature of the DS – usually the stylus – to solve. This is a double-edged sword. Sometimes the puzzles are really neat, but other times they can be just annoying. For example, like the last case in Phoenix Wright, one of the puzzles in Trace Memory involves blowing into the microphone. It’s awkward and the system isn’t very sensitive, so that particular puzzle was probably my least favorite.

Since none of the puzzles is particularly tough, Trace Memory is disappointingly short. It took me a little over five hours to beat the game, and I struggled with a couple of the sections. Part of this brevity is because there’s very little backtracking involved; generally, if you need an item to solve a puzzle, it’s in the same area. There are only a couple of times where you need to go back to the area the previous chapter was in.

The plot is well carried-out. At the end of each chapter, there is a brief recap of the main events of that chapter, and when there is a particularly plot-heavy scene, both screens of the DS to show what is going on with very nicely-drawn artwork. Although not everything is explained in detail, by the end of the game you know both what happened on Blood Edward Island in the past and what happened to Ashley’s parents.

Another sign cut into perfectly reconstructible pieces.

There are a couple of annoyances that hold Trace Memory back. First off, most of the puzzles involve finding an obstacle and then finding something to get past it. Although this approach certainly makes sense, it can become annoying because of how linear the game is; if you haven’t seen the relevant puzzle, you often can’t pick up the item required to solve it, regardless of how useful the item might appear (1. It’s a knife. Why would I need this? 2. Oh look, a rope is holding this door shut. If only I had something to cut it with. 3. Oh, knives can be useful after all!).

Another disappointment is actually one of the features of the game; the DTS device that Ashley uses (designed to resemble a DS) has the ability to compare photographs. It’s a really cool feature, but it’s only useful a couple times in the entire game. It would’ve been nice if they had made better use of this mechanic to make more interesting puzzles.

Despite these problems, though, I really did enjoy Trace Memory. It may be a little bit short, but the story was enjoyable and some of the puzzles were interesting. If it’d been a bit longer, it might have been worth its original pricetag. As it is, though, it’s now a budget title, selling for $15 or less. If you enjoy puzzles, adventures, or just a good story, and you haven’t picked up Trace Memory yet, you should give it a try.

5 Comments

  1. Matt said on April 24, 2007:

    Yeah, I enjoyed this game too. It was simple, just like those point and click games, but some of the DS-oriented puzzles were neat in execution. They got even better in Hotel Dusk. And I liked the fact that it was short. I couldn’t imagine the game being much longer, so it seems they had that in mind when planning it.

  2. matt said on April 25, 2007:

    I just noticed something in your review. You lost interest in Puzzle Quest?! What heresy is this?! Explain yourself there, mister.

  3. chris said on April 25, 2007:

    Puzzle Quest quickly became very repetitive, with the same formula of 1)get quest, 2)find quest monster and lose because I’m 5 levels too low, 3) grind on random monsters until I can barely beat quest monster, 4) GOTO 1. Trace Memory, by contrast, had varied little puzzles and a more engaging story (PQ is painfully cliche, although well done).

  4. faye said on May 1, 2007:

    can someone help me im not a gamer and this is the first time im playing a game like this and im only in chapter one and i dont noe how to go into the mansion plzzz helpppppppp

  5. chris said on May 1, 2007:

    To get into the mansion is kind of tricky. It’s hard to see, but when you’re looking at the gate there’s a small keypad on the right side of the pillar. If you check that, you solve a puzzle that’s based on a couple of the Edwards Mine logos you see around.
    If you haven’t explored all the way up to the mine entrance you have to do that first, though.

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