I really like Trace Memory. Something about video game novels just does it for me. It gets me immersed, holds my attention, keeps me empathically connected to characters, and all that other good stuff. A puzzle game in any perspective, Trace Memory isn’t terribly difficult, nor is it meant to be. A curious, explorative demeanor is quintessential to getting the most out of this game, however. If you just blast through expecting all the secrets and subtleties to fall into your lap, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
I should mention that Trace Memory was released almost precisely one year after the first Nintento DS was released in North America. This is one of the original, experimental 3D games on the DS, not any of that sequel-infected movie/Disney channel crap you see all the time on handheld consoles. It’s an easy to enjoy DS classic.
Several reviewers complain about the game’s lack of replay value. Several reviewers apparently don’t understand the meaning of “video game novel.” This is a game that tells a story, not a game that offers pulse-pounding high-intensity combat. Come on, people. You don’t need to border having a seizure to enjoy yourself.
I will give credit to complaints regarding the backtracking flaw, however. Although many puzzle-related items are available before even accessing the puzzle area, players will be unable to pick up and store these items until they have become necessary. While this does prove to be a minor irritation/hindrance, I don’t think it constitutes a gamebreaker. Let’s talk briefly about the plot while I avoid giving away ANY plot/puzzle spoilers.
Ashley Mizuki Robbins is a 13 year old girl that has been raised by her aunt Jessica since her parents vanished when she was 3. Two days before her fourteenth birthday, however, she received a package containing a DTS (Dual Trace System). This is actually a DS with some minor visual edits, a clever little thing the developers incorporated into the integral plot of Trace Memory. Have to appreciate a DS within a DS. Perhaps it could be called… DSception? Okay, that’s lame, and I’m off topic.
The DTS is programmed to read only Ashley’s biometrics, and when she accessed it, she discovers a note from her father. This enigmatic electronic letter states that her apparently-not-dead father is awaiting her at Blood Edward Island, an island off the coast of Washington in the US. She travels there by boat, accompanied by Jessica, though finds that her father isn’t waiting for her when she arrives. Jessica goes in to explore, and does not return. After hearing a scream, Ashley decides to investigate. This is where the adventure begins.
Following the initial character familiarization shenanigans, the player is faced with a wide array of puzzles, ranging from visual recognition to memorization of sounds, and everywhere in between. Expect to use your DS in every way imaginable, from closing the screen to blowing the mic. Details are an important factor here, as at the end of every chapter, Ashley goes through all the major details in the form of a three possible answers per question quiz. Though impossible to fail, it is possible to miss a question entirely by not having collected a specific bit of information throughout the course of the chapter. Long story short, be thorough and meticulous. If you want to know the whole story, take your stylus and poke the hell out of everything. Everything.
As should be expected of an adventure/novel game, Trace Memory is full of top-notch plot twists and turns. In the short term, replay value is critically low. However, if you’ve owned it or plan to own it for as long as I have (since 2005), you’ll find reason to play it again out of nostalgia/fondness for the plot and characters, and the satisfaction of remembering all the tiny details and getting the best ending possible. Trace Memory won’t waste your time, I promise.
Stuart Reddick of NintendoLife’s got the right idea with his 7/10. It’s a short, loveable game that’s more about the nostalgia of familiarizing yourself with your first DS than it is competing with Myst. I saw many reviews that compared Trace Memory to Myst, and I don’t think that’s a very fair comparison. Thankfully, this one didn’t and offers a rational review of what I believe to be a wonderful starting game for the Nintendo DS. Here’s the review link: http://www.nintendolife.com/reviews/2009/04/trace_memory_ds