Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a unique augmented reality adventure game that uses the features of the 3DS extensively. The gyros, the 3D effect, the external 3D cameras and the inward-facing 2D camera are all used to create a short but effective story in the Project Zero (or Fatal Frame) universe.
The Cursed Memoir is a book called the ‘Purple Diary,’ which is really the insert included in the game box. It’s a 16-page colour book with a variety of interesting artwork in it that is used extensively during the adventure. The 3DS itself is the Spirit Camera, also known as the Camera Obscura. The combination of the Spirit Camera and the Cursed Memoir enables you to go into the diary and see people’s memories. It also allows spirits or items to come out of the diary’s world into this world. Through the Camera Obscura, you are able to see Maya, a girl who is trapped within the Purple Diary and is trying to get her memories back.
Fight spirits by taking their picture
The plot of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is mostly moved forward by talking to Maya and interacting with the Purple Diary. To talk to Maya you first need to point the 3DS at the right location – Maya is near you but can only be seen through the Camera Obscura. Looking at certain pages in the diary through the camera lens will cause things to happen too. Sometimes you enter in and see memories of people caught in the diary, and other times spirits come out of the diary and attack you.
You can fight these spirits off with the 3DS camera – first you must find the spirit, focus on them for a time and then take their photo. If you take the photo at just the right time you knock off a lot of health, but if they hit you the camera’s lens will crack. With each new spirit that you fight there are a few more wrinkles in the gameplay, but it never gets very complicated. The sense of immersion is great – the idea of the 3DS being a camera in an alternate reality is something that I welcome being explored more.
The other gameplay element in Spirit Camera is some puzzle solving using the diary. Sometimes this means finding the right page of the diary based on a clue, and other times it means using the correct lens to see things that aren’t there with the normal lens. The puzzles are all well-made and pitched just right. In fact, everything that’s included feels polished, the only downside is that there is not much in the adventure – it’s all over in just a few hours.
Day or night: Neither are ideal
The 3DS cameras themselves also let the game down, especially when playing at night. If you play in a well lit environment the augmented reality works very well – pictures in the diary will change or spirits will come out of the book as they are meant to. If you try playing at night or in a poorly lit place, however, you will be frustrated because the cameras can’t pick up the book’s images well enough so you constantly have to adjust your position to keep the AR scenes going.
I’d recommend only playing during the day if you want to minimize irritation, but the story itself benefits from being played in the dark, especially when fighting off the spirits around you, so there’s no perfect time or place to play the game. Better outer-facing cameras on the 3DS hardware might have made games like this even more engaging – as it is the augmented reality can be frustrating at times.
There are a few mini-games included in Spirit Camera that use the book in a variety of ways. The most interesting one is a variant of a part of the story, where a little boy gives a clue about the page he is hiding in, and you have to select the right page with the camera. Another bit of content allows you to use the 3DS as a camera that can photograph the spirit world – take a photo of a normal scene and the software adds something odd to it. This is just a curiosity really, and fun for a few minutes as it can produce some weird looking pictures.
Spirit Camera approaches the feel of a truly interactive book, and I can see the idea having a lot of interesting applications for gameplay, some of which are explored in this story. I think the difficulties of not being able to play easily at night have to be overcome before adventures like these can be truly immersive.
The content included in The Cursed Memoir is high quality and intriguing but it’s an experience that is over in just a few hours. If you’re bored of the same old games then Spirit Camera is a great change of pace, but not if you’re looking for an adventure to really sink your teeth into – just as it gets going all is revealed and the game is up.