Freaky Phantom Photographs – Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS

Augmented reality is something we’re seeing more and more in our games. Having covered previous titles like Fireworks and Cliff Diving on the Vita, it’s time to turn our attention to the 3DS for a more serious game: Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, a spin-off of the Fatal Frame series. This horror title seeks to transform the user’s living room into a suspenseful nightmare, but does it catch the perfect photo or does it turn out all blurry?

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir tells the tale of people who have come into the possession of a terrible item: The Diary of Faces. Rumor has it that if you read the first blank page of the book, and words appear, a woman in black will come and take your face, removing your eyes and mouth. Wondering if it’s true? You’ll soon find out, as you’re next to hold the book! Every copy of Spirit Camera comes with its own copy of an AR book, and each page is essential to the story.

The player’s part in the story starts out very vague: you’ve simply stumbled upon the Diary of Faces and the Camera Obscura (which is a fancy name for the user’s 3DS) one day. Curiosity takes its hold and soon you’re looking at the pages through the Camera’s lens, only to find that you’ve been dragged into a horror story that may very well end in you losing your face!

Players will quickly meet Maya, a girl who was trapped in the book but was brought out through the Camera Obscura. Right off the bat, she gives a warning: if you’re not careful, you may become cursed and suffer the frightening faceless fate that befell many before. As the story progresses, the player will come into contact with many spirits, some of which are benevolent, others, malicious. However, each character plays a crucial role in solving the mystery about the woman in black, often giving a new piece of equipment or giving you information on the creepy hag.

Who is this woman? Where does she come from? Why is she taking faces? What is the Camera Obcura, and how does it fit in with everything? These are questions you’ll be asking yourself throughout the story, and while it’s not a grand work comparable to Shakespeare, it does a wonderful job of setting up a great horror-mystery atmosphere.

To accompany the narrative is, of course, gameplay – which takes three forms: exploration, interaction with the book, and combat. During exploration, players need to look around their rooms through the Camera Obscura (using the 3DS’ gyro feature) to either find a point of interest or a character to speak with (like Maya), which are imposed on your screen as though they were in the room with you. In some cases, the player may be dragged into a different environment for an on-rails scene, where they’re free to look about as they automatically traverse the location.

Of course, a key aspect of gameplay is to interact with the Diary of Faces. Certain parts of the story call for different pages and others require certain unlockable lenses to be interacted with. As you bring your Camera Obscura towards the right page, two rings will appear: a fixed blue one and a moveable white one. Simply line the white circle up to the blue and the page comes to life through various means, like text appearing on blank pages, photographs of people coming to life, and even objects or people coming out of the book into your play space!

This feature showcases how AR can enhance our gameplay beautifully, taking a fictional object and making it quite real. The Diary of Faces is literally in your hand, and if you’re not careful, you may actually lose your face, as the game points out through some fun use of self-portraits. Should you allow yourself to become immersed in the game, you’ll find events actually quite chilling, with some moments even surprising you into jumping or screaming (I was shocked a few times myself).

Some of the beings that come forth from the book may in fact be hostile, and this is where combat comes in. Battle is quite simple, and gamers will pick it up fairly quickly: hold the lens’ circular cross hairs over the spirit or object you’re facing, and a series of orbs around the ring will start to glow, charging up the shot – the more that are lit up, the more powerful your attack will be. When they are full, or you’re pressured into attack, simply snap a picture of your foe and their health will go down.

These hostile forces will fight back, closing in to take a swipe at you. There is one moment, however, just before their attack connects, where they are weakest. This is called a Shutter Chance, and is indicated by your lens circle turning red. Snap a picture at this precise instance and your enemy will receive extra damage.

While combat can be fairly heart-pounding, having spirits coming at you while in the safety of your bedroom, there is a bit of a problem. The entire game is designed around a 360 degree radius, and is built with standing in mind; this creates the illusion that your adventure is real, and that there is something looking to inflict actual bodily harm to you. While this immersion would normally be praised, it’s what happens when you’re this immersed that actually totally ruins the illusion.

Say a man appearing zombie-like is running towards you, what do you do? There are many answers, including running away, sidestepping, or simply backing up, but none of these are possible with SC:TCM. Regardless of how you move, your enemy will still be the same distance from your screen as they were before. While this makes sense from a technological standpoint, as anything different would require a more realistic virtual reality simulation, the game tries very hard to make you think you can. Moments of what should be pure horror quickly remind you that it’s just a game, as players simply stand there in the middle of the room, more like a robot than a person.

Outside of the story mode there are two other game modes that attempt to scare you: Area Play and Book Play. The former is a set of features which interact within the area around the player. Gamers are able to take a photo of their play space and possibly have spectral images superimposed onto them, snap a shot of their face to see which spirit haunts them, or take a picture of another person’s face and battle the resulting spirit, each with its own stats, like speed and power.

Of these three features only one is really worth any time, and it’s the last. Battling the ragged and vicious spirit of your otherwise timid three-year-old sister has a bit of fun in it, and the mode may actually bring out some laughs if you stop looking at it seriously (and start taking pictures of your pets). On the other hand, the remaining two feel more like tacked-on gimmicks than an attempt at expanding gameplay. The reason for this is that they’re not terribly unique, or entertaining – we’ve seen this kind of thing for free in Facebook apps that allow you to “zombify yourself.” This time however, it’s a crying dead girl slapped on screen, in an attempt to make you feel haunted – a sensation which many gamers are not going to be able to claim.

Alternatively there is Book Play, which utilizes the Diary of Faces, where players will be able to play different mini-games using specific pages of to book. Most events are locked at first, but become available after certain parts of the story. Games in this mode task the player with objectives such as following eyes on masks, or memorizing a certain doll then picking it out from a crowd of others. Every game has many different difficulties, including an unlimited Nightmare setting, which continues until the player loses. Unfortunately though, these games have very little entertainment value, mostly due to the fact that they’re pulled directly from parts of the story. Players will be doing the exact same things they did while progressing the narrative, except without the suspense, horror, or joys of continuing an adventure. Chances are gamers will give these a quick once-over, then abandon them completely.

From a graphics standpoint, SC:TCM is a fairly good-looking title. Character design is very well conceived, with haunting faceless people, bloody disembodied hands, and the pale, hunting lady in black. All this is reflected in the accompanying AR book which contains the same scratched out faces, as well as demented childhood drawings, eerie totem masks, and various other creepy things. Textures and animations are also pretty detailed with no graphical errors to be found.

One issue does present itself, however, which is caused by a core mechanic. As mentioned earlier, gamers are expected to stand during the entire duration of play. Should you wish to sit down, characters will bring themselves down to you, always remaining at eye level. This causes characters to float inside the ground or appear to float weirdly, which is disappointing on two levels. First, it stops players from being able to simply sit and enjoy their game; and second, it creates a visual anomaly that not only distracts from gameplay but just looks plain sloppy.

If there is one thing the title got correct though, it was audio. The soundtrack is a combination of ambient noise like wind chimes and creaking wood, haunting string work and shimmering piano lines, all played in a generally chaotic way. Filter in the groaning of spirits and believable voice acting, and this twisted combination of sounds helps bring about a great deal of suspense, which is sure to creep out gamers.

When the tale comes to a close, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a decent AR title that will help send chills down your spine. It may not be a perfect game as it tries to be ahead of its time, sporting a few design flaws, but it does present a fun and suspenseful horror tale that will give gamers more than a few chills. Just note that once you’re done, there isn’t much to keep you coming back. If you’re a fan of both AR and horror games, this is definitely one to check out.

Final Score: 4.0 / 5.0 and a bloody, severed hand.

Our Rating
out of 5.0

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