• Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Review - Nintendo 3DS (Shinrei Camera: Tsuiteru Techou Review)

    Shinrei Camera: Tsuiteru Techou (Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir), to give it it's full title, is a spin-off from the Fatal Frame (Project Zero in PAL territories) series of games; Survival Horror titles based around the concept of defeating enemy ghosts using a special camera, this game takes that core concept and puts it on 3DS, with a heavy emphasis on the system's Augmented Reality capabilities. Does it make the transition to the handheld well or is this a title that only dedicated fans of the series will want to play?

    The Story Mode is where most of the content can be found. Taking a picture of themselves using the 3DS camera, the player assumes the role of the protagonist, with the game being played from a first person perspective. Upon finding a purple diary and bringing Maya, the main Non-Playable Character, into the world through the magic of AR, the player works to unravel the mysteries of the diary and help Maya regain her memories. With a physical copy of the diary included with the game, each page can be scanned with the camera in order to make scenes come to life and be played. Maya will provide hints throughout the game of what page needs to be scanned and there are some inventive and impressive uses of AR on display here. In most cases, once a page has been scanned it will provide the player with some context, such as a video, and a ghost will be generated and required to be defeated in order to progress.

    With the 3DS taking on the role of the 'Camera Obscura' (the name for the camera that appears throughout the series which allows ghosts to be exorcised), keeping the AR ghost in its sights will cause a circular meter to fill. When the sights turn red, the L or R shoulder buttons can be pressed to take a picture and deal damage to the ghost. The amount of damage dealt will depend on how much of the meter has built up, the proximity of the enemy to the camera and so on. The enemies, once generated, aren't afraid to disappear and move around the environment and the best way to play the game is to stand up, making sure there is ample room to be able to turn around to try and spot the specter. Indeed, an inlay in the game box also suggests this technique, so those who are used to playing their portable systems on public transport may need to make this a game they play indoors – talking to your Nintendog on the bus is one thing, but it may be harder to explain that you are involved in an exorcism as you manoeuvre around it on the trip into work in the morning. The 'combat system' is one that is both unique in the Survival Horror genre and also one that does a lot to drag the player into the role of the protagonist, giving them an engaging viewpoint. This, in addition to the fact that the ghost actually 'exists' as an AR representation in the real world and the creepy sound design and setting all mean that there is a fantastic atmosphere throughout, even if the character models in-game don't compare to the detail of those in the console games.

    It's something of a shame then that scanning and making use of the AR cards proves problematic without the right setting, in this case that being a lot of light. Whilst it wasn't much of an issue the first time the player took their new 3DS out of its box to try out the Nintendo character AR cards and built-in software such as Face Raiders, for a horror game that relies so much on a gripping atmosphere - especially when the game does so much to provide this – it undoubtedly takes a lot of that away and removes much of the immersion. For as much as the game does to impress, particularly with regards to its setting and ability to engage the player, there are unfortunately some other issues besides the at times fiddly act of scanning pages. The one that is perhaps most important is the lack of content that is on offer here. The Story Mode may provide some AR use that should be celebrated, but it can be finished in a couple of hours at most and the low overall difficulty does little to extend this in any way. Admittedly there is a harder mode that becomes available after the game has been completed once, but it is debatable whether the average player will want to play through the story again, especially once all the AR quirks have been experienced. Also frustrating is that the places where the game does shine and impress are fleeting moments, leaving the player wanting more. An example of this is where, from time-to-time, the game provides a guided or 'on-rails' section. The 3DS can be moved from left to right and up and down as a hallway or corridor is automatically traversed in order to take in the surroundings and having more of these, with the player able to move at their own pace, would go a long way to increasing both the atmosphere and interaction of the game.

    Bulking out the game's meager content are the Ghost Camera and Horror Notebook modes. The former lets the player snap a picture with the camera of whatever they want and see a ghost appear on it. These pictures are then saved onto the SD card in the system where they can be viewed separately. It's not something that will convince anyone to buy the game, but as with so much of the rest of the content, it makes good use of the capabilities of the system. This mode also allows a picture of the player, or their friends and family members, to be taken and after something of a lengthy wait, the person becomes posessed with a ghost which must be removed. The best is saved for last however where a picture of anything in the real world – another person, pet, inanimate object – is taken and a unique ghost generated with varying stats (HP, speed, attack power and so on) that is 'created' in the real world and must be defeated the same way enemies are defeated in the story mode. There is a lack of variety in terms of the appearance of enemies generated, but the fact that most will differ in terms of stats means that it is something that can be dipped into every now and again.

    The Horror Notebook mode expands on this idea of taking elements of the story mode and making mini-games out of them. One option here sees the player revisit a mischievous child ghost from the story as he hides himself away in one of four masks on one of the pages in the diary, the player given a short amount of time to read his clues and identify where he is hiding. Similarly, another page of the diary can be scanned, generating a doll figure that takes residence in the real world and hides amongst other slightly different looking copies. Early on the player has a generous amount of time and relatively few dolls to look over in order to identify and take a picture of, but as it goes on the difficulty increases, the player forced to spin three hundred and sixty degrees, frantically looking for the ghost with the blue ribbon, long hair and blood stains, or whatever the give-away signs may be. Although just a mini-game, there is an addictive nature to this particular mode and although similar to the Face Raiders game built into the 3DS, it is better.

    Shinrei Camera is a short game, there is no getting away from that fact. Impressive AR use, a few brief examples of 'pop-out' 3D done well on the system and one particularly addictive mini-game go some way to making it more appealing, but it is a game that would have been best released on 3DS launch day, where it's shortcomings may have been forgiven as players were pulled into a unique setting. Fatal Frame series fans and those with a particular love for traditional Japanese horror media may find more reason to give the game a go than others, but even its lower than usual price at Japanese retail can't hide the lack of content. Announced recently for release in the US in April under the title “Spirit Camera – The Cursed Memoir”, it remains to be seen what price the game will be released at. A budget price point is almost essential, even if what is on offer here should be held up as good use of Augmented Reality.


    - Inventive use of AR.
    - Some fun mini-games.
    - Not full price.


    - Can be tricky to scan pages without the right setting
    - Very short experience.
    - Little replay value.

    Score: 6/10