Preview: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Ghost Trick begins where most games come to an abrupt end -- with your death. It's of the intriguing, unexplained and very undignified variety, and leaves your spirit separated from your sharply dressed body. As Sissel, a sarcastic smooth talker who's cool enough to wear sunglasses even after death, you interact with the living world as a ghostly apparition in the hopes of preventing others from sharing your fate.

Coming from Phoenix Wright designer Shu Takumi, Ghost Trick is almost as fun to describe as it is to play. Youthful and witty dialogue is the obvious commonality between Takumi's new adventure and the Ace Attorney series, but there's a more subtle connection too: both are traditional adventure games that reconsider the role of inventory objects. In the case of Ghost Trick, the inventory becomes the entire stage.


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As a poltergeist, you're able to freeze time and leap between highlighted, inanimate objects in the environment. It's a simple connect-the-dots game before you consider that vectors must be within a specific range before they allow traversal. And that's where "Trick" comes in. While possessing an object, you can revert back to the real world and cause your host -- whether it's a bicycle, a traffic cone, a lamp or a long-in-the-tooth guitar -- to briefly come to life in a manner explained by the DS' top screen. For example, you can cause a ladder to extend by "tricking" it, thereby allowing you to reach and possess an object that was previously out of range, or you can elicit a startling ring from a bicycle bell in order to distract a would-be murderer.

In the real world (i.e. when you're moving between objects and not using a trick) time elapses as normal, which means that your impromptu interactions can interrupt or distract the living just in time. You can travel back by four minutes if the situation turns grim, but you're encouraged to have a plan before you exit the ghostly realm and initiate a trick. At its most complex, Ghost Trick has you jumping between several objects, manipulating them and then responding again when things change position or when the situation turns upside-down. In the tutorial level, we had to save a threatened girl from a near-sighted hitman multiple times, with the puzzle changing each time she escaped and became cornered again. (If you have Sissel watching over you, it's such a convenience to be imperiled in a junk yard.)

It's worth mentioning that Ghost Trick's distinct art and unique characters are brought to life with gorgeous and incredibly deliberate animation -- and not a frame of it is motion-captured. People kick out their legs as if they're walking the Cancan, twirl their guns in the air and (finally!) justify use of the phrase "rotoscoped mimes." Because that's what they look like!

Though Capcom remains cryptic enough about the game's plot, it's already easy to see Ghost Trick's big and incredibly unique picture. When you jump between objects and then cause them to interact with each other (as well as the characters within the environment), it feels like you're constructing a weird Rube Goldberg machine that saves people. If that sounds exciting, you'll probably agree that Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective's winter release date means it's already late on arrival.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.