Another Code: R - A Journey into Lost Memories review
When Another Code (Trace Memory) was released on Nintendo DS, it was heartily welcomed at the time as the first original adventure designed for the handheld. Although criticised for its brief length, many were willing to overlook its shortcomings and appreciate its tight-knit story, coupled with inventive puzzles and excellent characterisation. Now four years later, Another Code: R - A Journey Into Lost Memories has arrived on the Wii, and while the console sequel is an enjoyable enough experience, it lacks some of the elements that made its predecessor so great.
Another Code: R is set two years after the first game, which saw a young teenager named Ashley learn about her mother's death and its connection to the memory project ‘Another’ that had the ability to implant false memories. This time round, Ashley Robbins has been invited to a camping resort at Lake Juliet by her father, who is keen to tell her something more about her mother, Sayoko. A mysterious email linking Sayoko to Lake Juliet was sent to him, and he has invited Ashley to see if her memories can help determine why she accompanied her mother to the resort many years earlier. These recollections prove a main catalyst in progressing the storyline, presented as flashbacks in the form of black and white drawings. Meanwhile, the discovery of the existence of an alternate version of ‘Another’ leads to even more questions for Ashley and how it relates to her own family.
It isn't essential to have played the original to understand Another Code: R, as very early in the adventure, Ashley's father asks some questions about the events of two years ago, leading to a summary of the previous story so newcomers won’t be confused. While a couple of years older now, Ashley is still emotionally struggling to come to terms with the absence of her mother and the distant relationship she has with her father. At times she appears to have matured, gaining new interests like playing the guitar in her own band and reasoning logically about different topics such as her father's work, but at other times still demonstrates a more childlike frustration with her father's behaviour. Her struggles with her memories and her relationship with her father make her easy to relate to without portraying her too much like a stroppy teenager.
Much like in the original game, Ashley's father Richard is a likeable workaholic, who is well meaning but consistently fails to pay adequate attention to his daughter, leading to many tense conversations. As the adventure progresses, you'll encounter a runaway named Matthew Crusoe, who absconded to Lake Juliet to look for his father, himself mysteriously disappearing five years ago and last seen on the island. After some false starts, Ashley and Matthew become friends and it becomes apparent that his background and journey are very much entwined with Ashley's memories. The dialogue between the two is well written and at times humourous, with each teasing the other about their weaknesses (mostly involving Matthew's annoying habit of running off unexpectedly and Ashley's daydreams every time she remembers her mother). There is an assortment of other characters as well, from the friendly island ranger Dan Maxwell, stuck-up Elizabeth and her more friendly band members, Princess the dog and the mysterious Ryan Gray, who seems to know more about Ashley's mother than he lets on. Unfortunately, while these characters have a lot of dialogue in their interactions with Ashley, none feel as if they have anything really important to say, lacking the depth of characterisation seen in the main trio.
From a visual perspective, it is clear that a lot of work has gone into making Another Code: R a charming experience on the Wii. The entire game has a pastel-coloured painted look, and the more rural areas of Lake Juliet are particularly pleasing to the eye – you can almost visualise them as being real places to explore. Close-up character portraits retain the similar cartoon style of the DS game, but here boast more detail, although they only have very basic animation. Background music is pleasant, providing quite a relaxing feel and never intrusive. At one stage Ashley receives an mp3 player on which it is possible to listen to the entire soundtrack, which is a nice touch. Although the music never really builds up to be menacing in any way, at key moments it is silenced and replaced only with sound effects, some of which will be familiar to fans of the original game and do a good job of creating an atmosphere of suspense. Somewhat surprisingly for a full-blown console adventure, none of the characters are voiced, offering dialogue text only, which is disappointing considering the Wii is certainly capable of speech.
Despite the series switch from a handheld to home console, the Wii controls are intuitive and easy to come to grips with. An onscreen pointer is controlled simply by moving the remote accordingly, and arrows placed around the screen indicate what directions it is possible to go by pressing the A button, without any need to control Ashley manually. Any interactive items flash upon being touched by the cursor, and a simple button press will examine the object further. Using items in your inventory is just a matter of clicking on your bag icon and then selecting an item, while a combine icon allows you to merge two items together. An in-game map is a useful reference point that can be accessed at any time, but it is purely for directions and can't be used to skip travelling time. Thankfully, as the resort isn't huge, it doesn't take long to travel between each location.
Quite early on, Ashley is equipped with two key items: the TAS and DAS. The TAS is a controller shaped like the Wii remote, which acts as a sophisticated electronic lock breaker that proves essential in overriding the security of most doors. Security codes must be deciphered based on clues you’re provided and entered using the buttons on the Wii remote itself, starting off quite simply and gradually increasing in difficulty as more complicated button combinations are required. The DAS is effectively shaped like the Nintendo DSi, which has built-in email and a camera function, along with receiving live feeds from the security cameras located on the resort.
The game is structurally split into nine chapters, much like its predecessor, and Ashley will recap what has taken place at the end of each, asking the player questions on the storyline to summarise (without any penalty for getting the answer incorrect). Progress is incredibly linear at the start, with many paths blocked off for the first four chapters until Ashley has spoken to the relevant characters and advanced the storyline sufficiently. At this stage, the locations on the island begin to open up so there are more places to explore, including other people's cottages by the lake, a clock tower, abandoned shacks, and eventually Richard’s workplace. A lot of emphasis on interactivity has been given to each location, as almost every item can be examined, from the tubes of toothpaste in the bathrooms to the contents of drawers. Although most of these items cannot be picked up, merely providing a line of descriptive text instead, clearly a lot of effort has been made to create a believable, fully-realized world.
The biggest problem with the game is that the pace of the storyline is so incredibly slow that you begin to wonder if there are any mysteries to solve. The first few hours consist of Ashley befriending the various characters she encounters on the island, and there are few puzzles to really get your teeth into, with just a handful of fetch and carry tasks, recycling soda cans, opening doors and lighting barbecues taking up your time. Other puzzles later on are more actively motion-controlled, such as rotating the remote to turn handles or throwing a life belt over a bag in the lake with a Frisbee-style gesture. One puzzle requires you to shake the remote gently to mix together water with solution in a test tube to test its acidity. The motion-based tasks are quite well implemented and never feel tacked on or gimmicky, although one puzzle involving rotating a coloured box is frustrating due to the controls not being as responsive as they should be. Unfortunately, the majority of the puzzles don't take place until the last few chapters of the game, which makes the early journey feel rather light in the gameplay department.
Thankfully, there is a point when it all changes, and during the last five hours the game really comes into its own. All the disjointed memory flashbacks that have been experienced so far start to come together to make a cohesive whole, and the characters begin to take more shape, with one in particular (I won't spoil) starting to become more sinister as his/her true motives are revealed. The storyline quickens in pace and proves genuinely gripping after its incredibly slow start. Even the puzzles, which to this point have been weak and quite simplistic, suddenly make you start thinking outside the box to discover the door lock codes, asking for shapes and numbers that do not exist on the Wii remote. One code asks for the number three, and its solution requires that you figure out a way to represent that number using only the Wii buttons available, none of which are the number three itself. While challenging, these make perfect sense once you’ve worked out the logic, but there do seem to be too many of these codes in the latter half of the game, which could have done with more variety. Other ingenious puzzles include superimposing images taken with the DSA camera, scanning page segments of an encrypted message, and a clever puzzle in the clock tower involving several diagrams and a set of keys, which all proved taxing but satisfying to solve.
There are still some unanswered questions at the end, particularly regarding Matthew's quest to find his father. At around fifteen hours, it's a sizeable quest to reach that point, though the game would have benefited from being trimmed down for a more even pace, with added focus on the puzzles themselves, particularly in the early going. It's a shame it drags for so long, as the charming style of the visuals, polished presentation and well-implemented controls do a lot to endear Another Code: R to you otherwise. While I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Ashley, her father and Matthew, and was captivated by the second half's inventive puzzles, I couldn't help but feel that the game never really reached its full potential in either storyline or gameplay. The fact that so many of the great revelations and twists come near the end means that the journey itself is not packed with enough consistent incentive to keep going. Fans of the original will no doubt persevere and get to experience the worthwhile moments of the second half, but others may find its slow development too boring, its story a little too lost for its own good.
The slow-starting Another Code: R doesn't quite live up to the legacy of its DS predecessor, but it’s a rare new adventure for the Wii, and fans of the original should find another journey worth taking.