Game Review

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

The ghost of a much better game

There's something magical within Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir. Really, there is. You wouldn't know it by playing it, because the execution is downright terrible, but at heart, somewhere, deep inside this absolute mess is the germ of a great idea; that's the nicest thing we can say about it.

Spirit Camera is an entry in the popular Fatal Frame series, though you wouldn't know that from its title. This information shouldn't scare off any potential newcomers, however, as apart from a few winks and nods a lack of familiarity with that series won't interfere with any enjoyment you'd find here. No, Spirit Camera itself provides all the interference it needs on that end.

The plot involves you — yes, you, as you are the game's protagonist — coming into possession of the mysterious Diary of Faces. This is a tangible object that comes packaged with the game, therefore second-hand customers should beware. Without the Diary of Faces you won't be able to make any progress whatsoever in the game, so make sure you don't throw it out, or misplace it, or crease it, or spill something on it, or leave it within reach of a dog or a child. Perhaps you're starting to see why this might be a misguided concept.

The Diary of Faces is an important in-game object as well as having a physical representation in our world. This also applies to the 3DS itself, which is obviously what you use to control what's happening, and also functions in-game as the Camera Obscura, an equally mysterious device that allows you to see and interact with spirits. What's more, it takes place largely within your own home — or wherever you choose to play it — meaning that everything you view through the 3DS' outside camera becomes an element of the game as well...even if it's only as set dressing.

With all of this real-world bleed through, you'd expect this to be a pretty immersive experience. You would be wrong.

Unfortunately, just about everything that the game tries to do serves as an obstacle preventing true enjoyment of the experience. For starters, in order for the 3DS to recognise the Diary of Faces and other objects, you need to play in a consistently well-lit area. For a horror game, this is a pretty massive restriction. There's a reason very few scary movies take place during the daylight hours; when the lights are on, you can see that there's nothing to be afraid of. Spirit Camera seems to have forgotten this, or wishes that we'd forget it.

Whatever atmosphere Spirit Camera manages to conjure up — and the spooky old house to which the player is periodically transported is indeed atmospheric — dissipates the moment the game takes you back to your own home, where the lights are on and everything is clearly safe and secure. Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir wants to turn your own house into the scariest place of all, but in practice it just works against itself, and ends up depositing you regularly back in a safe haven. It can tell you that your house is infested with ghosts all it wants, but the more the game wishes to acknowledge the real world, the more hollow that possibility feels. Watching a ghost skulk about inside your couch as though it isn't there or stand humorously out of scale with the bookshelf beside it just further enhances the feeling of silliness.

The technological limitations only restrict the horror further from there. For starters, the 3DS camera isn't particularly good, and the bright lighting requirements make everything look fuzzy and washed out. You'll also need to set your 3DS down for several seconds at a time to recalibrate its gyroscopic sensor, and getting it to recognise the Diary of Faces — a regular necessity — is often an exercise in supreme frustration. Many puzzles will contain hints as to which page you need to turn to, which at least limits the trial and error of moving the 3DS towards and away from the book in the vague hope of eventual recognition, but not all of them do, and you'll find yourself trying all sorts of approaches to get it to find and recognise anything so that the game can advance.

Calling it a game is pretty generous as well, as Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a passively interactive experience at best. The profoundly abysmal The Hidden erred in one direction by requiring you to be too engaged with the game, traveling around town with your 3DS and walking endlessly in circles until the plot decided to advance. Spirit Camera is guilty of the opposite crime: asking you to sit quietly while things happen around you. Movement is often on slow rails, as you're pulled around through a strange old house: you can look around, but that's it. Sometimes something will make a noise and the screen will indicate which direction you need to face to see what it was; when you do so, the game continues. It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book that forgot to include the choices.

This misapplication of the word "game" applies to the included minigames as well, which range from pointless camera filters to fortune teller applications. There are one-off randomised battles with spirits, but they're hardly engaging and there's no incentive to complete them, making the whole thing feel like one barely glorified tech demo. If you saw the 3DS unveiled a year ago and couldn't wait to use it to take a picture of yourself with a ghost standing behind you, then this is the game of your dreams.

Battling spirits is the most interactive part of Spirit Camera, and even this consists only of spinning in circles and snapping their pictures until they die. The ghosts take more damage if you wait for them to attack first, so even these battles feel like boring quick time events, waiting patiently with your finger on a button for a prompt to appear.

The writing is bad, but acceptably so. After all, horror is rarely conducive to brilliant dialogue. But Spirit Camera makes the bizarre choice to voice some of its dialogue, and leave the rest text based. We wouldn't normally complain about this if it were consistent — for example, voicing one character but leaving another silent — but Spirit Camera changes its mind several times throughout any given monologue, having a character speak a few lines, displaying the next few lines as text, then back to a voice, and then to text again. It's bizarre, and it makes the game feel unfinished.

There's also the matter of the game spoiling what could have been its creepiest moment by signposting it far too clearly. When Spirit Camera begins it requires you to take a meticulously accurate picture of your face. Then, within one of the earliest sequences, it's revealed that there's a creepy woman going around stealing people's faces! We wonder what will happen!

The game is full of bizarre choices along these lines, which seem almost engineered to prevent you from experiencing the horror the game repeatedly claims you must be feeling. In reality, though, it's clearly the case of good intentions gone awry, with no attempt made to iron out the practical problems of a game that undercuts itself at every corner. Spirit Camera had every chance to integrate the world of horror with the place we call home, but instead all it does is keep it at bay.

Conclusion

While Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir has a genuinely interesting premise, it's let down early by its own technological limitations, and the disappointment is fairly consistent from there. For a game so proud of its heavy AR integration, it's somewhat ironic that this is also its major weakness. Repeated calls for calibration, dodgy camera recognition and the requirement that you play in a well-lit area all work against the moody and immersive atmosphere Spirit Camera wishes to create, and its short length makes it feel like more of a tech demo than a satisfying gaming experience. Players are likely to see everything the game has to offer well within five hours, and we can say confidently that there's not much incentive to stick with it even that long.

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User Comments (70)

Yrreiht

#3

Yrreiht said:

Geez, i wasnt interested into getting it, but the idea seemed great. Oh well

Geonjaha

#4

Geonjaha said:

Good Review. Kinda saw this one coming. Retail games based solely on AR arent going to be decent for a while at least.

Shotgunryugan

#5

Shotgunryugan said:

I can't say i didn't see this coming because i did,but ouch a 3/10,definitely staying away from this one.

Whopper744

#7

Whopper744 said:

I think it would help if the specs for the camera itself were a little better. Too bad they can't really fix that through updates or anything.

Victoria

#8

Victoria said:

@sc100 - I second that "OUCH!" That really surprised me. I thought it would have had a much better review than that.

ArcanaXVI

#9

ArcanaXVI said:

Quite honestly, I rather like the game. It has its shortcomings, yes--actual gameplay is sparse, the 3DS does frustratingly struggle to recognize the Diary of Faces at times, and yes, the lights do have to be on--but despite these, I've been enjoying Spirit Camera since I picked it up. Granted, I'm the sort of person who will fight through irritating game mechanics just to enjoy a unique experience, which not everyone is.

While the plot does indeed signpost itself right at the beginning, the atmosphere created works wonders. Everything in the game is sufficiently creepy--even intimidating at times. I feel that the developers' intent was for the screen to show the "real" world, giving the illusion that the lighted room hid secrets that the naked eye could not see. If you're the type who can experience true immersion in a game (for example, if Skyward Sword had you convinced for any length of time while playing that you were Link), you can probably enjoy this just fine. For best effect, I recommend playing it at night with the window-blinds open, and the dimmest lighting that the AR will still respond to. Personally, I didn’t find the core Fatal Frame series to be particularly frightening during the day, either--but at night, it came alive.

I will concede that the 3DS camera’s portrayal of the room is on the fuzzy side, but it also makes the room look darker (so if you focus your attention on the screen instead of the room around, the illusion works magic). Additionally, there were a few moments in the game that did break the immersion for a short time--a fight with a hand that emerges from the diary was the first that I encountered. The hand will turn away from you and cease to attack until you walk around the diary to face it again, and while this makes nice use of the AR, it was confusing at first, and just isn’t even the slightest bit scary. (Coincidentally--to those few of you who will buy the game, I recommend setting the diary on a table that a. holds the diary at a height where the 3DS can recognize it while you are standing, and b. is small enough to walk completely around.)

The game may not be particularly long, its plot may be a little predictable, and its gameplay may delve into some cheap gimmickry every now and again, but if you like games that offer unique experiences or have the ability to achieve total immersion in a game, Spirit Camera is still worth a shot. Wait for a price drop if you must, but there’s no need to shrug the game off altogether.

Malkeor

#11

Malkeor said:

I think it's just frustrating that people can't play the way they wanted too.
But to make up for under-par cameras and turning the lights on....I mean the game can be fun, and not necessarily scary.
It's mainly disappointment overall though from what i heard.

JustAnotherUser

#13

JustAnotherUser said:

My solution to fixing the light problem is be in a dark room with a table lamp. Turn on the table lamp so only the book is illuminated.

Mok

#15

Mok said:

I was kind of expecting this. I was never really interested in this title anyway.

Ren

#17

Ren said:

Ha! Looks pretty funny, but not for that much money. Takes me back to the "SwordQuest" games on Atari where you had to have the crappy comic that came with it to know what to do at some points. Not a good idea for a digital thing to be tied to a cheap dated Physical thing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pf0s1PvnVQ

Hardy83

#19

Hardy83 said:

I don't think AR will ever be good with the 3DS because, frankly, the cameras suck.
I'm not saying a 12MP camera, but something that isn't grainy as heck would definitely help.

Course then again, I don't know if AR will ever be good unless it's some sort of headset that covers your whole vision.

SkywardLink98

#21

SkywardLink98 said:

It's always disappointing when a "Big" game doesn't deliver. Ah well, I was never really interested in this.

blooper_88

#22

blooper_88 said:

I was thinking of buying this game. But now im not to sure. Im going to have to think about it now.

lonlon-milker

#23

lonlon-milker said:

That's sad I feel sorry for the developers who tried so hard. This game can't be that bad though Nintendo power gave it a 7/10

Graph

#24

Graph said:

Totally have to disagree with this review. I give this game a 7.5 out of 10 easy. I bought the game on day one and It's the 3DS game I had the most fun with so far. I truly enjoy having to look through the book and moving around to attack the spirits with the camera.

Its like FATAL FRAME, but you're the character instead of moving someone with a camera. I truly recommend this title.

WaveWarlock

#26

WaveWarlock said:

Nintendo Power scored this one with a 7(might of been a 6)
I'm still going to check this one out regardless, but it's just dissapointing you can't play it in the dark....I mean who plays Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Fatal frame in the bright light?

MagicEmperor

#27

MagicEmperor said:

I want a true blue Fatal Frame game, not this kind of AR spin-off. I might get it anyway if the eventual bargain bin price is very slight, but I'm still disappointed that this wasn't a full-fledged FF title. In the meantime, I'll just keep playing Mask of the Lunar Eclipse.

CaPPa

#29

CaPPa said:

I haven't had the chance to pick up Spirit Camera yet, but provided there isn't any other big games releasing at the time then I'll definitely be getting it. I knew that review scores would be low, as it is very flawed in being a horror game that you have to play with the lights on, but I love the Fatal Frame series and simply cannot pass up the chance to have my very own 'camera obscura'.

sinalefa

#31

sinalefa said:

This one screamed tech demo all the way. The Iwata Asks even made it sound interesting, so it is sad to see that the technology itself limited it.

lanabanana

#32

lanabanana said:

3/10?!?!?! Really?! I wanted this game cuz it looked really cool in the trailers, but with a rating that low... :/ i think it should've received 5/10... :P

pariah164

#35

pariah164 said:

Ouchu.

I almost picked this up; glad I didn't. More in my pocket for July Rhythm Spree!

Knuckles

#41

Knuckles said:

l only had to see Chicken Brutus name to know that this game was trouble...
On a sarcastic note, I cannot wait for the full retail download of this game! :P

Shayse808

#46

Shayse808 said:

Never knew the series anyway but also didn't like the how the ghost look. They look like dolls or clowns (both creep me out).

thefabfour64

#47

thefabfour64 said:

should've been an e-shop title with the amount of content it has or just not exist at all, oh well

Jono97

#48

Jono97 said:

If nintendo can somehow make a program to detect walls and windows apart from the ground, this game could have been fabulous. AR simulator.. If this comes true, it can turn your home into a haunted house. :3

DStroke

#49

DStroke said:

And I say it again: NINTENDO put better technological stuff in your devices damnit!!!

stratocastx

#52

stratocastx said:

I tried this game at a recent demo event and really enjoyed it. I was impressed with the new ways Spirit Camera uses AR, doing things with it that I didn't even know were possible. As soon as the game starts, it uses AR in a way that truly surprised me. Also, I had no trouble getting the AR to work consistently. I certainly hope they continue to make more games that use the same ideas presented in this one. Playing it for a few minutes encouraged me to buy it from Target ($20 after doing the trade-in special this week) despite the reviews, and I'm so glad that I did. Even though it's short, I know I would replay it once in a while because it's such a unique experience. I'd encourage everyone who's interested in this game, but dismissing it based on reviews, to give it a chance if they see a demo somewhere, or at least reconsider when there's a price drop. Otherwise you might be missing out on a game that you'll really like.

Blaze

#54

Blaze said:

Personally liked this. Shame it received a 3,7 would be my rating. On a side~note, owners of the game (me included) do seem to regard the game quite highly! :)

MeloMan

#55

MeloMan said:

Wow... severely missed opportunity for something great-- but a great opportunity to catch up on other stuff I've been meaning to play :)

LittleIrves

#56

LittleIrves said:

If you're at all interested in this, check out comments #9 and #24 for alternate takes on the game. I played this at PAX East, and even in just about the worst possible environment for such a game (blaring music, bright lights, thousands of people milling around) I totally got sucked in. At home, with no one around, I think this would be a cool little unique experience. Should have released at $19.99, maybe.

WingedSnagret

#57

WingedSnagret said:

Maybe is the camera on the 3DS was at least a little better, then games like this one that rely heavily on the AR feature would do better. But alas, it's very difficult to take a decent picture with that thing.

noxusprime06

#58

noxusprime06 said:

so glad i read this i was gonna get this with the last of my money but now im gonna pass and get need for speed the run

LEGEND_MARIOID

#59

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

Hmmm, sounds like it simply didn't work out for some - however for others it DID. Like the Nintendo Gamer crew who surprisingly gave it 71%. Its a shame its TOO sensitive to the environmental conditions. However, when they ARE right, it sounds like a unique and very innovative game to me.

Content levels appear a bit low though

GreatCrippler

#60

GreatCrippler said:

It's an interesting game at the very least. It was a step towards something new. A 3/10 for its clunkiness seems harsh. 5-6 I would have understood.

Gilius

#61

Gilius said:

Think i'll just take a look on YouTube and see some videos on this. I'm not going to get this if it is not such a great game. I rather play Resident Evil then this.

Gioku

#62

Gioku said:

I'm disappointed, this seemed cool! :( I think we'll only have a really good AR retail game when Nintendo makes one, they tend to know their own systems best, and can create the best experiences for them. Maybe we'll have an AR Kirby game, kind of like Kirby Canvas Curse, which was meant to show the capability of touch screen games.

Kitsune_Rei

#63

Kitsune_Rei said:

Ouch. I'm glad I read reviews on most games before buying. I was really intrigued, but also concerned, and it looks like it couldn't get past limitations.
I think some of the other comments are enough I'd pick if up if I saw it on discount, but I'm glad I didn't pre-order and pick it up for full price. There are plenty of games I'm still playing or looking forward to, so for now my money is better spent elsewhere.

I do hope this doesn't dissuade any further games with this type of play in other genres.

geneon101

#64

geneon101 said:

ehh. played this at a gamestop promotion for a diff game. couldn't quite get it to play smoothly. and the florescent lights were being read as if they were the book that the game come with :

roflcap

#65

roflcap said:

wtf t rating esrb is ##%$d up its a m not a t lets see blood scary a mentaly #$#$# up game that plans you scar the liveing #@#@ out of kids nintendo are

you on lsd

CaPPa

#66

CaPPa said:

Picked up Spirit Camera and I'm enjoying it a lot. The initial set up was incredibly difficult as even with all the lights on it had trouble detecting the book, but once detected it seemed to pick it up much easier.

Not a game for everyone but it is different and will briefly satisfy my need for a real Fatal Frame game.

DemonnPrincess

#68

DemonnPrincess said:

southern accent awe DAMN! >.< regular accent I really REALLY wanted this game, and my cousin was gonna buy me one in return for doing his chores for him, but when I said "I want Spirit Camera" he was like "I dunno...that sounds really boring. How about Kid Icarus? It's interesting like Zelda, and you loved Zelda" but I was like "No, I want SPIRIT CAMERA! DX" So he got me Kid Icarus which is interesting and very hard to work with(which I happen to like because if it's too easy then I get all bored, but if it's too hard then I get bored too) But then I look at Spirit Camera's rating and see how they are mostly poor, it's like "oh my goodness" HOWEVER I happen to always LOVE the games that reviewers love to hate(like Chronicles of Vampires and so on) and CaPPa said he or she likes it so that is enough for me to go ahead and try it.

Rod64

#69

Rod64 said:

I decided to ignore all the reviews and just get the game
Oh God, what a waste of money it was.
The worst part is that the game wasn't cheap...

netroz

#70

netroz said:

Underrated. Not the best Fatal Frame, I agree. But c'mon... play it with headphones, alone and you'll feel it's real. The ambient sounds are great and since the 3ds is the supposed camera it kinda feels you're living the game. For moments I really forgot about my family being in my house, and suddenly seeing them made me bump.
Glitches? nah.. not any significant one... just keep the book well lighted, a good lamp can do it.
I'd give it a 7/10. It's fun, it's different from other games, and that's something. Games are not what I'd call original lately

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