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It seems I've been living in a cave for the past couple of years because until this week I'd never come across Capcom's Ghost Trick Phantom Detective before. And after getting hugely excited over its iOS release and preparing to tell the world about its greatness and how they ought to seek out this hidden gem, little did I realise that it had actually already seen a full retail release on Nintendo's own DS and was almost two years old. As ever, it would seem, I'm late to the proverbial party.
If, as I'm hoping, I'm not the only one to have never heard of this game, then let me expound a little. Ghost Trick Phantom Detective can best be described as Phoenix Wright crossed with Source Code, Final Destination and The Butterfly Effect. Quite a heady combination I'm sure you'll agree.
Ostensibly a point and click adventure game, Ghost Trick Phantom Detective sees you trying to solve the mystery behind the main character Sissel's death. Playing as his ghost, you come across various at-first seemingly-random encounters and try and affect the ultimate outcomes by possessing various in-game objects and manipulating the surrounding environment. The comparisons with Phoenix Wright are largely because the two games share the same creative lead - Capcom's Shu Takumi - and there are plenty of obvious visual and stylistic crossovers - but also because there's most definitely been a recycling of sound effects somewhere between the two games. I kept half expecting someone to dramatically shout "OBJECTION!".
The Source Code comparisons arise because the game lets you re-live - in this case the last 4 minutes of the in-game characters' lives - before their untimely deaths, usually at the hands of the mysterious Spy vs. Spy-like assasins. While the Final Destination and Butterfly Effect comparisons are because while there's initially a pre-ordained or fated outcome, you have the ability to affect that conclusion by changing the course of destiny along the way. It's extremely high-concept stuff but delivered and presented in a delightfully colourful and well-animated cartoon style that adds a lot of charm and humour to a game where a lot of people meet an often unexpected and grisly demise.
To tell you any more would serve only to spoil what's an original and engaging storyline, but what I can tell you about is Capcom's unique, and with any luck, trend-setting pricing structure for Ghost Trick Phantom Detective. You can download the first 3 chapters of the game completely for free, and let me tell you that those 3 chapters alone are longer than you'll spend on most iOS games. After that, you're given the option to buy any of the further 3 chunks of chapters for £2.99 each or the entire game for £6.99. It's an inventive and revolutionary way to charge for a game but demonstrates admirably that Capcom stands firmly behind Ghost Trick and believes in its inherent quality, as it's gambling on you liking the game sufficiently enough to splash out further cash, when an initial price-point of £6.99 in the maelstrom that is the App Store would otherwise be a hard sell. It's a gamble for sure, but it's an inspired one and I had no hesitation in forking out for the full game, as for the first time in as long as I can remember, it feels like a proper game on iOS as opposed to a passing curio or short-lived mini-game.
Ghost Trick Phantom Detective is well worth your money, then, but if you're still in any doubt then head on over to the Nintendo website where you can play an online flash demo and get a good feel for the unique feel and mechanics of it. With its gorgeous pixel-perfect animation, extremely likable characters and unique premise, this feels like a real shot in the arm for the adventure genre and is perfectly at home on iOS devices thanks to its easy port from the similarly tactile DS. Worth £6.99? No shit Sherlock.