All evidence considered, there’s an eminently admissible reason why something along the lines of “From the people who brought you Fatal Frame...” doesn’t appear anywhere on the backside box art of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir. Firstly, while Fatal Frame—and to some extent, its sequels—isn’t the greatest survival-horror game ever made, it eventually validated itself as a cult classic by managing to introduce some strikingly innovative gameplay concepts and capabilities (the unique camera-as-a-weapon approach, different endings available on different systems) that opened the door for unexampled genre explorations down the road. Spirit Camera has no right to be grouped in the same critical category as its metaphysical predecessor because, its numerous flaws aside, Fatal Frame was ultimately a very playable entity with big ideas that required only slight modifications to completely actualize. Spirit Camera, conversely, is an impoverished, underdeveloped excuse for a video game with no hopes of revitalization; it’s a frustratingly shameless gimmick that takes its loony material much, much too seriously. Future production should be henceforth shutdown, every last published copy unhesitatingly recalled, and anyone who purchased it should be allocated a full refund.
Resident Evil: Revelations showed us that, when dealt with in a manner befitting of the content appointed, a 3D survival-horror title can be primarily successful within the impediments of a handheld console. Tecmo Koei, the developers behind Spirit Camera, apparently overlooked what made Capcom’s game work and dived headfirst into an exhaustive clusterfuck of botched conceptualizations and ass-backward executions of schematics that were obviously condemned from the start. With a predictable, halfhearted storyline and an eternally lusterless setting as its backdrop, Spirit Camera unavailingly misuses the AR (augmented reality) functionality of the 3DS to the point of no return. Not only is it no fun whatsoever, but it actually makes the unfortunate soul playing it appear like a total doofus while attempting to navigate its drastically short three-hour-max running length. I experienced this firsthand when a neighbor unfavorably strolled in on me haphazardly aiming my system at random objects (bookshelves, chairs, televisions, bathroom accessories, but definitely not any mirrors) and the various prepackaged AR cards scattered about my apartment. My dignity dissipated, the only hope of not ejecting the cartridge and shoving it down the garbage disposal was that maybe, just maybe, the experience would become tolerable by its conclusion. Yet no such serendipity came.
Assuming the following role of an awfully unlucky young girl named Maya, who has by unknown means ensnared herself in the dreary labyrinth of a haunted journal (a.k.a. the 16-pack AR leaflet alongside the user manual), you must decode the conundrums of the Diary of Faces by way of your trusty—or in this case, not-so-trusty—Camera Obscura: the 3DS’s photography utility in combination with the augmented reality pamphlet. The signature gyroscopic targeting allows for constant 360-degree views of your real-life surroundings that coincide with what’s actually happening in the confines of the game’s world. This sounds like it could have been something legitimately groundbreaking, but the overall design and mechanics of the AR integration is so foolishly carried out that the entire process comes off as exceedingly sluggish, monotonous, and plainly pedestrian. Tail Maya around the game’s grungy, characterless environs, wait for her to do something, listen, observe, and then fight some ghosts with your camera. When I say “fight some ghosts,” I mean twirl your body around like a drunken ignoramus while looking for traces of poorly constructed, non-photogenic apparitions. Rinse and repeat. If that’s not enough, Spirit Camera subtracts any portability from itself by requiring an ample amount of space to conduct a session. Good luck shutterbugging specters in the close quarters of an automobile or passenger airplane. It’s not like you would want to publicly expose yourself playing this atrocity anyway.
Spirit Camera’s fiercely abridged main mode warrants the addition of some tacked-on mini-games that are, like everything else here, dumb as dusty nails, but the ability to perturb your friends and family by snapping their unprepared expressions to see how many phantasms are presently possessing them gives you the ability to pass on this game’s many annoyances to those adjacent to you. The sole redeeming factor of an otherwise all-around failure that should have been a 99-cent digital download, if anything.
The fact that it was released on Friday the 13th is a sign of Spirit Camera’s attempt to relay seriousness and dignify itself as something noteworthy in the genre. Unlike Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, dropped wide on the same day, which prevails because precisely because it never believes its marketing tactics validate its absurdity, Spirit Camera basks in the assumption that it maintains copious pride, when in fact it’s utterly devoid of it. I’d rather have my arms hacked off by Jason Voorhees than play it again.