Another Code is one of those games you shouldn't judge by its cover -- or rather, by reading the back of the box. It will tell you it's about a 14 year old girl named Ashley who must find her long-lost father on a remote island. This father, incidentally, spent years researching human memory in a secret government lab. While this description is correct, the words "secret government lab" led me to expect some sort of cheesy sci-fi/mystery affair in which one would ultimately Save The World From A Dangerous Experiment™. Instead, Another Code (entitled Trace Memory in the US) revealed itself to be a quiet and intimate character-driven story punctuated by simple, though often quite memorable, puzzles.
Since the PC is traditionally the genre's home turf, adventures on other platforms might feel like a compromise. I certainly don't envy whoever had to redesign a point-and-click interface for direct-control, such as the case with Syberia on the Xbox or Broken Sword on the Game Boy Advance. Rest assured, controlling Another Code with the touchscreen and stylus of the Nintendo DS is smooth as butter. The bottom screen of the DS shows a birds-eye view of the world, where moving the cursor will take the character in a certain direction. The top screen shows first-person views depending on the character's position in the world, e.g. facing a piano in the top-down view would show a picture of that piano on the other screen. Pressing a magnifying glass button will then copy the top screen down to the touch-sensitive bottom screen where it can be swept for hotspots. Double tapping, or leaving the cursor on the hotspot and selecting the magnifying glass once again, will have Ashley examine it. The interface fits seamlessly with the system's unique properties, yet it could hardly be more approachable for anyone accustomed to PC adventures.
I should stress that Another Code is a small game ideal for playing in short sessions, which comes as no surprise given its platform. It is anything but epic, and seasoned adventure gamers should have no problem completing it in five or six hours. But while there could have been more to this game, I never felt like there should have been. It left me more satisfied than other games of much greater length have.
Gentle is perhaps the best way to describe the story. It's fairly thin in terms of the immediate action, but there is a wealth of backstory to uncover, mostly in the form of lost memories. Upon receiving a package from her father, presumed dead eleven years ago, Ashley follows instructions to go to Blood Edward Island. Her aunt Jessica is along for the trip, but when she scouts ahead on the island and does not return, Ashley is left alone to explore the island and gain access to an old mansion. There is a strong air of melancholy as Ashley gradually uncovers her own history, as well as the histories of the mansion's one-time occupants. She will also meet D, an amnesiac ghost who wishes to recall his identity as well as the circumstances of his death. D will be Ashley's sidekick for the rest of the game, though it appears only she can see his ghostly form.
All the different plot threads tie together elegantly towards the end, though when circumstances force Ashley to reevaluate her past and rely much upon herself, it's her coming-of-age that gives the story an emotional core. Although there is ultimately a murder mystery to be solved, it is a means to an end rather than the focus of the story, and it's refreshing to see the emphasis on the characters instead. Another Code is surprisingly mature when it comes to these characters. Ashley is presented as inquisitive but also vulnerable, which seems realistic given her age. Other characters are given fairly believable motivations and personalities.
The Nintendo DS obviously affords many different types of interaction, such as scratching with the stylus or blowing into the built-in microphone. The game uses all the DS tricks in the bag, though contrary to some other DS games, these bring real added value to Another Code. For instance, early on Ashley has to remove a heavy obstacle, which has you dragging across the object, moving it a little bit at a time. Interactions such as these might not make for big challenges, but they do a good job of involving you further in the experience. The puzzles are a mixture of inventory, mechanical, slider and cryptographic puzzles, with occasional photo manipulation puzzles for good measure. Most of these are very easy, though on the flip side they are never frustrating. A few of the later puzzles are quite challenging, however, and some use the DS system in ways that can only be described as ingenious. There's nothing I can say about these puzzles that won't immediately spoil them, but suffice to say they require some good old out-of-the-box thinking.
Another Code's graphics are a bit of an odd concoction of prerendered stills reminiscent of Myst, rooms rendered in real-time 3D, and drawn anime-style characters. This wide range of techniques turns out to be quite congruent, however. My only caveat with the overall presentation is the music; what's there is really good, but there's just not enough of it. There's a single tune for each chapter in the game, which gets repetitive really fast. It's made worse by the fact that there's only sporadic sound effects, and obviously no voice acting (it wouldn't fit on the cartridge), so the music is often all you've got. Another criticism, though minor, is the DAS computer that Ashley carries with her, which looks nearly identical to a Nintendo DS. Ashley uses it to record photos and access memory cards hidden throughout the mansion, but its familiar appearance is a bit too cute and contrived for my liking.
Undoubtedly some reviewers will score this game lower because it's shorter than most games, and doesn't have very difficult puzzles. But I'm not going to rate this game based on quantity. Another Code is an understated, compelling, fantastic little game. It might not be The Longest Journey, but it is the most focused and heartfelt journey I've experienced in a while. Certainly this is the best adventure game I've played this year (granted, there hasn't been much competition) and it makes for a wonderful genre debut on the Nintendo DS. If you are traditionally a PC player, then buying a DS just for this title would obviously be too much of an expense -- though with the courtroom adventure game Phoenix Wright and the survival adventure Lost in Blue on the horizon, as well as the promise of a (homebrew) DS ScummVM emulator, buying a DS together with a copy of Another Code might be well worth considering.
What our readers think of Another Code
Posted by TimovieMan on Mar 3, 2013
The first game to make full use of the DS functionality!
A great title by Cing, and given its release date, the first adventure game to make FULL use of the DS functionality. I mean it has everything: stylus control to tap/slide/nudge/bounce things, blowing/yelling in the microphone and even closing the DS (the...