Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Highlights how the Mobile Era has Shaped Game Design

Posted in Kulturecade by - January 29, 2018
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Highlights how the Mobile Era has Shaped Game Design

Over the holiday break, I traveled to South Korea to eat bibimbap and drink beer in a country where the outside temperature was much more tolerable than the 40OC days we were experiencing in Australia. There’s about twenty hours worth of stop-start commuting to get from Brisbane to Seoul, so of course one of my highest priorities was loading my iPhone 6 full of mobile games to keep me entertained throughout the trip.

I don’t follow the mobile gaming news as much as I do for console and PC games, so whenever an opportunity like this presents itself, I frequently rely on poorly-written listicles to give me a sense of some of the more interesting mobile games released in the past year or so. It came as a surprise to me to find so many DS, GBA and Playstation-era games officially ported to iOS and available on the App Store. I was shocked to see games like Phoenix Wright and The World Ends With You available and all reviewing quite well.

I decided to check out Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, as it was a game that I played very briefly when it first came out in 2011, and one that I’d always wanted to get back to because the premise was so interesting.

Soon after takeoff on my flight from Brisbane to Cairns, I whipped out my phone and loaded up Ghost Trick for the first time. As we began our descent 90 minutes later, I had barely started the second level.

In the six years it had been since I’d last played Ghost Trick, I completely forgot just how excruciatingly long and drawn out that initial tutorial stage is. There’s a deluge of pointless dialogue overexplaining the game’s mechanics, which is frustrating because it takes less than five minutes to understand exactly how the game works. Plus there’s the ridiculously contrived narrative and character development crammed into the tutorial sequence, which only adds to the frustration.

I was curious if I was feeling frustrated simply because I was already familiar with the game’s mechanics and wanted to skip the onboarding process, so I asked my girlfriend to play through the first level as we sat in the Cairns airport lounge, waiting for our connecting flight to Hong Kong. She had the same reaction as I did.

“Why is there so much talking in this puzzle game!?”, she asked in rhetorical, bewildered frustration. After getting through the first level, she lost interest in Ghost Trick and went back to Monument Valley on her phone.

This experience really highlighted for me exactly how much game design had changed since the days of the DS.

When Ghost Trick was first released in 2011, it was a full-priced DS game, which came with a number of expectations from consumers. Specifically, it came with an expectation of content, which at the time was commonly manifested in the way of story. As a result, the game took me about 15 hours to beat, and I’d estimate about 7 hours of that was buttoning through dialogue and exposition.

If Ghost Trick was made today for the mobile market, I’d wager the game would only take around five hours to beat, it would be almost completely devoid of dialogue box-based story exposition, and instead would probably have a narrative structure similar to that of Gorogoa – a story told subtly, that obviously takes a back seat to the puzzle solving.

I bet it would sell pretty well too. The gameplay in Ghost Trick is fantastically unique and perfectly suits the mobile interface. You could streamline that game to make it a level-based pick-up-and-play situation that is controlled simply with touches and swipes.

I still highly recommend playing Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. It may be painfully slow, the story may be terrible, but the gameplay is fun and it sure is unique. I’m actually surprised that a mobile-based spiritual successor hasn’t come along and swept the world off its feet by inhabiting a bicycle, which eventually causes a boom gate to swing open and knock the world on its ass. What an awesome game.

This post was written by
He is a gaming staff writer for Kulture Shocked and the site’s unofficial southern hemisphere correspondent. When he’s not on the run from customs for importing Mortal Kombat games, you can find him slapping the bass in his Psych-Rock band Neptune Estate or enjoying the beautiful Queensland weather from the safety of his couch.

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