Trace Memory
(also known as Another Code—Two Memories)

Review by Old Rooster
October 2005

Trace Memory, the first adventure title for the DS, is a triumph! It presents an engaging story, with creative and mostly relevant puzzles, using fully the unique capabilities of the DS system. Let's explore why Cing, a relatively new adventure developer, was able to create a game I consider essential for your DS library.

"It's Not a Real Memory, Just a Bad Dream." —Aunt Jessica to Ashley

You're 13 years old, being raised by your aunt. You have unpleasant dreams and recurring memories of your parents leaving 11 years ago, under mysterious and even frightening circumstances. Your aunt won't reveal any information but, near the day of your 14th birthday, you receive a package from your father, enclosing a greeting and a peculiar device called a DTS.

There's a message. Your dad is alive and needs to see you. He's at Blood Edward Island, can't get out, and wants you and your aunt to come there.

Ashley's journey begins. We find the youngster and her aunt on a ferry heading to the infrequently visited island. Several interchanges occur between Ashley, her aunt and the boat captain. The island has a rather dark history, not the kind of place you would want to spend the night. It's been virtually abandoned for many years. The captain will wait until nightfall, but no longer. In spite of being an experienced seaman, he's clearly not comfortable there.

You land. Jessica ventures out to explore, leaving you at the dock. She doesn't return and doesn't respond to your shouts. In spite of cautions given by the captain, you need to do your own exploring, trying to find Jessica and your dad.

"You're a Curious One, Aren't You?" —Captain to Ashley

Trace Memory isn't a port from another system but was designed for the DS from the ground up. The story and some of the puzzles would perhaps translate to another system, but it is the unique capabilities of the DS that help to make this game outstanding.

After an intriguing introduction, we're presented with beautiful 2D scenes on the top screen, and a 3D movement screen on the bottom half. These top drawings aren't always static, with the boat gently rocking and Ashley's hair blowing, for example.

In the top-down view of the bottom screen, Ashley can be moved with classic button keys or, best of all, with the stylus. Simply "drawing" the stylus in the desired direction moves Ashley along at a rather quick rate. The top scene changes as she enters new areas. Movement is a full 360 degrees, without restrictions. You can move ahead until blocked by a puzzle to be solved, and you can move back as much as you desire. Indeed, sometimes required step retracing can become a bit tiresome.

Although you'll only encounter half a dozen or so characters, resulting conversations become critical to advancing the story. A "talk" symbol appears as you move toward another "person," with a simple tap of the stylus starting the discussion.

A magnifying glass, in the upper right corner of the lower screen, lights up when Ashley is close to a significant object or location. Double tapping brings a close-up and the possibility of action on your part. As with most adventure titles, careful exploring of your locations is helpful, with the magnifier turning yellow if you approach something potentially significant.

Shortly after arriving on the island, your DTS gift from your father becomes activated. Accessing this from the lower screen allows for several options. You can view photos you've taken, DTS cards you'll collect, and your inventory, as well as save your game. Fortunately, you can save anywhere within the game, with two save slots being available. Also, closing the DS case while playing pauses the game without draining very much power. This is very helpful in enabling the puzzle-solver and reviewer to make notes!

"Where Are They, and Where Am I?" —Ashley

The puzzles themselves are typically quite straightforward, reminding me of the type found in Nancy Drew games, for example. Yet the DS and its idiosyncrasies can be integral to solving them. For example, without giving much away at all, very early on a drawbridge, depicted on the top screen, raises before we can cross. As we approach the entrance, our magnifying glass lights up. We click and find the top screen picture now at the bottom. There's a rusty handle which we click and now find enlarged. Using the stylus, we painstakingly turn a squeaky wheel with circular motions, until the bridge is now lowered. Then we can proceed.

While some puzzles are of the classic inventory usage, most use the unique features of the DS in sometimes wildly creative ways. You'll be doing some unusual things with your stylus, microphone, and the system itself. I found a few of them difficult, though smiling when the solution finally became apparent. But, hey, I sometimes find Nancy Drew puzzles hard as well.

We suggested earlier the graphics are excellently done. To elaborate, given the capability of the DS, I think Cing did an outstanding job. The artwork with the more static scenes is detailed and lovely. Indeed, I took a couple of DTS pictures just for the sake of it. Once used to the 3D aerial view of the lower screen, these graphics become equally pleasant and involving. Occasionally a bird will fly overhead or some other action will occur that gives depth to the presentation. Character depiction on the top screen is detailed, with frowns, smiles and other facial contortions clearly setting the mood of the conversation. There are myriad places to visit, including a large mansion, with all artwork nicely conveying a sense of place and story.

Music and ambient sound are also superb. As with most DS games, Trace Memory has no spoken word. The reflections of Ashley and discussions with others are laid out textually, which works fine. There are musical themes often present, which can become a tad annoying, but they serve their purpose. Indeed, there are occasions when the music will simply stop cold, causing a startle, implying something important is about to happen. Ambient noises are plentiful and nicely worked in. These range from a cold wind blowing to birds, splashing waves, squeaky handles and locks.

"No One Remembers Me, Not Even Me" —D

Soon into the game, Ashley meets a pal, D, a ghost of a boy who died 57 years ago with absolutely no memories of himself. Together they form a partnership in their respective quests for memory and identity.

As with any good mystery, there are surprises, twists and turns, unexpected outcomes. The story and script are very fine, nicely translated and redone from the original Japanese. Further, character development is nuanced both with the script and, more subtly, with the graphics. When Ashley's aunt comments: "Don't be difficult, Ashley," we are clearly shown a petulant teenager. The youngster, like most teenagers, can be awkward, stubborn, difficult, and yet always elicit concern in her quest. This is a child about whom you care.

"Death Has No Expiration Date" —D

Trace Memory is a cracker-jack adventure game developed and beautifully suited for the DS system. It's not at the level and complexity of the best adventure titles for the PC, but it's not reasonable to expect that for a handheld title. What it does bring to the table is an engaging, wonderfully done and integrated story with facilitating puzzles. It can be played, given save-anywhere capability, in short sessions. My total completion time was around eight hours actually on the DS (not off it thinking), but others may need less. Although a bit brief, it's well worth the money, with even some replay potential.

My DS library has 11 titles. Trace Memory reflects the maturity of game development for the system. Unlike some early titles (Madden 2005), it's not a "poor reflection of the original" port. Also, it's not just a bunch of exercises designed to show off DS characteristics (Feel the Magic). Rather, TM feels like a tightly created game with the developers integrating the strengths of the DS, not just to show off or be gimmicky, but rather because these attributes worked to advance the story they wanted to tell, the game they wanted to make. Congratulations!

I'm pleased to award this outstanding game a Gold Star and, as mentioned earlier, strongly urge this to become a part of your DS library, particularly if you love adventure games. Given the teenage heroine and nature of the script, I could easily see this as a fine first adventure for a youngster, although it's a bit more mature than the typical Nancy Drew effort (T rating). In that regard, the Drew games would nicely translate, with a little work, to the DS system. I'm hopeful that Trace Memory is but the first of several adventure games for the DS, given the system's unique capabilities, so well suited to an effective adventuring interface and general gameplay progression.

What I Liked Most About Trace Memory

  • Engaging, involving Nancy Drew-like story;
  • Creative and full use of DS features;
  • Slick, efficient interface;
  • Gorgeous 2D still scenes and 3D world;
  • Realistic ambient sounds;
  • Save-anywhere feature.

What I Liked Least

  • Some required backtracking was a nuisance;
  • Can't pick up an observed item until needed;
  • Musical themes can become repetitive. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Cing
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: September 26, 2005 (Trace Memory in North America); June 24, 2005 (Another Code in Europe)

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