Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ghost Trick and the Gym Floor Lake of Fire

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
System: Nintendo DS
Developer: Capcom
NA Release: January 2011

Back in elementary school, I appreciated any physical activity that didn't involve dodge balls bounding off my face or making my best impression of a spastic pendulum at the bottom of the gym class rope. My favorite game was more cerebral; something the teacher not-so-creatively dubbed “Mission: Impossible.”

The class was separated into two teams, one on each side of the gym. In the middle of the floor, what seemed like the entire contents of the storage room were dumped into a haphazard pile: mats, cones, jump ropes, hula hoops, bean bags—you name it. A few of these items were also given to kids on each side. At the teacher's mark, the teams had to use their starting items through whatever means necessary to reach the cache in the middle and form a bridge to the other side of the room. The floor itself, in pure childhood form, was imagined to be lava and would force any player who touched it to start over.

The true fun in this game was the way it made us kids look differently at the items around us. Floor mats became scootable ships. Bean bags became a revolving set of stepping stones. The hula hoops... well, the hula hoops were junk, but you get the picture.

Ghost Trick, a clever and sadly overlooked DS title, runs much on the same improvisational mentality. As a freshly made ghost, players are confined to jumping from object to object around them, manipulating them in ways to open the path forward and save various characters from suffering the same ethereal fate. What were once simple tasks while alive must now be carried out with proper planning and precision using whatever is at hand. A smart style and sense of humor (think Phoenix Wright—it's the same creator) make for a fascinating, interwoven mystery to unravel, one item hop at a time.

In the "Ghost World," the items you can leap to are marked in blue.
Muse beyond the games, though, and both Ghost Trick and “Mission: Impossible” (I'm mildly ashamed to have to call it that) carry some sentiment to the ways we may look at life. Sometimes, we are hopeful we can hop to our goals, step by step; using a less-than-ideal A to get to B to reach the dream of C. We try to view and predict how it can all make sense, afraid of hitting a dead end or falling off into failure. Or, perhaps, we see ourselves more as the characters who need saving by the specter, hoping there is something behind the scenes pulling all the right invisible strings to ensure our welfare and success.

It's not a new idea.
And the fact is, there are paths that have been made that lead to goal, and there may also be something that guides the circumstances around us specifically to a plan. But whereas the other side of the gym and the end of the game are clearly laid out objectives, we are never privileged to know fully where our stepping stones may lead.


  1. Scribblenauts is a fantastic concept that initially wasn't executed well, control-wise. The sequel cleared that issue up pretty well and did a better job with getting people to explore using new words. This blog is going to concentrate on games I'm playing currently, so maybe I'll revisit one of these titles in the future.