Trace Memory

It's a poor sort of memory that only works backward.--Lewis Carroll


Thirteen-year-old Ashley Robbins grew up believing that her parents were dead. They vanished when she was only three years old, leaving her with no memory of their presence. Instead, her earliest recollection is of a shadowy, uncertain sequence of events that hints at a moment of tragic violence.

Trace Memory for the Nintendo DS opens with this unsettling bit of exposition. It sets the stage for an intriguing mystery, which begins to unfold on the eve of Ashley's fourteenth birthday, when she receives a cryptic letter from her missing father. In the letter, he asks her to meet him at a secluded island in the Pacific Northwest, known in the area as Blood Edward Island. Included with the letter is the Dual Trace System, a curious, two-screened electronic device that her father instructs her to bring to the meeting.

Ashley and her aunt Jessica charter a boat to the island, though Ashley is unsure whether she's excited about the reunion or angry at her father for abandoning her. Her aunt is reluctant to answer her questions, preferring that Ashley hear the truth directly from her father. Unfortunately, when they arrive at the island, her father is nowhere to be found. Jessica sets off to track him down, but she doesn't return. Ashley ultimately finds herself alone, near the gates to the abandoned estate of the Edwards, the family that once inhabited the island.


Trace Memory makes effective use of the DS's two screens. The bottom screen usually displays a top-down scrolling view of Ashley as she explores her surroundings, guided via the d-pad or stylus. The top screen shows her point of view in static images that change depending on her location. It's an unusual approach, and though a bit awkward at first, it soon becomes second nature.

Ashley's Dual Trace System, or DTS, is essentially a fictional version of the Nintendo DS, augmented to perform additional tasks like taking photographs and storing information. It's an interesting contrivance that allows the player to step directly into Ashley's shoes whenever she uses her DTS. It also allows the player's DS to become an element of the story.

As Ashley explores the Edwards mansion and its environs, the player has frequent opportunities to examine her surroundings via zoomed-in views of the top screen's images. The player can often shift these views to the DS's touch-sensitive bottom screen. Ashley can approach a desk, for example, and examine the items on the desktop when the player taps them with the stylus.


Unfortunately, this leads to that bane of adventure games, where the player is forced to click on every mundane item in sight just in case its happens to hide something significant. There are enough rewards, though, to keep the hunt interesting, as artwork, journals, and other items in the mansion begin to offer clues to the Edwards' dark history. As she looks for her father, Ashley also finds evidence of a connection between her parents and the Edwards family.

Trace Memory is pure storytelling, exploration and puzzle solving. There's no combat and there are no game-ending choices to be made. The story's progress is wholly dependent on Ashley solving puzzles or finding codes to gain access to new areas. The puzzles are typical adventure-game fare, with some interesting twists courtesy of the DS. Not surprisingly, the touch screen plays a major role, with the player helping Ashley to scrub, push, turn, twist, rearrange, and even throw various objects. Most of these challenges aren't particularly inspired or difficult, but the use of the stylus offers a surprising amount of novelty. There are a few amazingly inventive challenges, but unfortunately, these are the exception rather than the rule.


Early on, Trace Memory's plot delves into murder and the supernatural, and later even ventures into science fiction territory. Somewhat surprisingly, it never fully exploits these elements, instead allowing Ashley's relationship with her father to take center stage. It's an emphasis reflected in the game's understated presentation, which evidences a great deal of style and craftsmanship, but eschews the dramatic in favor of the evocative. Though Trace Memory's graphics and sound are very good, the overall approach is one of subtlety, rather than technical showmanship.

The game has a few aggravating moments that require the player to revisit areas, but for the most part the gameplay is evenly paced. Ashley's discoveries trigger frequent plot events and conversations, and the story moves along at a brisk clip toward a suspenseful, dialogue-heavy climax. In fact, Trace Memory is over surprisingly fast. I completed the game in about five and a half hours.

Trace Memory's effective use of the DS hardware results in some memorable puzzle moments, but the tone of its story is equally noteworthy. Its characters are unusually complex for a video game, and they struggle with themes like the nature of betrayal and the fallibility of memory with a refreshing degree of honesty. Unfortunately, these deeper themes are never fully developed, in part due to mediocre written dialogue, and in part due to the game's short length. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone with a penchant for traditional adventure games, especially if they're looking for an updated version of the genre. Trace Memory doesn't quite live up to its potential, but it manages to stay entertaining while it lasts.

Trace Memory
Official Site
Released September 2005 (USA)
(Released February 2005 in Japan and June 2005 in UK as Another Code: Two Memories)
Publisher: Nintendo, Inc.
Developer: CING, Inc.


Looks pretty neat to me. I'm always interested in something that's a little different, and I love me a good adventure game.

Good review like always Fly. Sounds like it might be interesting, too bad I don't have a DS else I'd pick this up.

Poppinfresh wrote:

Looks pretty neat to me. I'm always interested in something that's a little different, and I love me a good adventure game.

Agreed. I'm going to check this out since it's different than the typical arcade-like stuff that generally fills the hand-held sections.

Good review, Fly! And despite its shortcomings, Trace Memory's on my shortlist of DS games to get. I love me that old-timey adventure gaming. Clickclickclickclickclickclickclick...

KaterinLHC wrote:

Good review, Fly! And despite its shortcomings, Trace Memory's on my shortlist of DS games to get. I love me that old-timey adventure gaming. Clickclickclickclickclickclickclick...

Cool. Be sure and let me know what you think!

Good review, but as for the game... meh, I didn't like it. It wasn't as interesting as Lost in Blue (and even Lost in Blue really started to suck at the half-way point too). I thought Trace Memory would be the "breakout" game for my wife to play on the DS (so far she's only enjoyed Nintendogs), but she couldn't stand it either after about half and hour.

edit: spelling

Trace Memory's music and graphics are very nicely done, and the dialogue mostly sounds "true," plus I've always been a sucker for point-n-click adventures going way, way back (I even remember playing random text adventures on my Atari 800XL in the early 80s).

Unfortunately, the game fell short of my expectations. First and foremost, it's a very brief adventure (I also beat it in one session lasting a little over 5 1/2 hours, to include a few cigarette breaks). The puzzles and challenges are so easily solved that the game almost becomes insulting to the player's intelligence. There are two different endings depending on how thorough your investigations are, but the game wasn't compelling enough for me to want to play through again.

I'm hoping Nintendo makes a franchise out of Trace Memory because it has a ton of potential, but fans of the old Sierra games or even the Broken Sword series will likely be disappointed with this one.

If you're interested in this game, I don't want to overly discourage you from picking it up, but you'd do well to wait for a price drop. In the meantime, pick up Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, or dig into the GBA library for Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars.

Nice review, Fly. Given that earlier small-print DS games now command crazily high prices on eBay, interested gamers would be well-advised to pick it up soon.

I tend to feel more in line with the reviewer's comments than Scobies, but that's probably on account of my limited adventure-genre experience. I wasn't overly thrilled with Trace Memory, but I did enjoy it enough to play it through to the end which for me is something worth noting. Yes, the game is short and yes, many of the puzzles are rather basic, but I found the story to be worth hearing and the 2 or 3 very unique DS-specific puzzles were inspired enough to make me feel like the purchase was justified. Although the game could have benefitted from more complexity and maybe an extra 2 or 3 hours of gameplay, I finished the game wanting more instead of sighing a breath of relief.

You forgot the best feature: play a 14-year-old girl.

I love games like this. If only I had a DS.

Switch hunting is what turned my initial love of Phoenix Wright into black, seething hatred and completed my journey to the Dark Side.

Ms. Ganguro just reviewed this game as well, and reccomends "Lost in Blue" for the DS in addition to this game. I guess rumor is there is a MYst game in the works for either the DS or PSP this year too?
Great news for adventure fans..

I wasn't going to buy this one, but I was in my local Target tonight, and they had Trace Memory, Meteos, Polarium, and Tiger woods all on sale for 14.98.

I love finding bargains:)


Fanatka wrote:

I wasn't going to buy this one, but I was in my local Target tonight, and they had Trace Memory, Meteos, Polarium, and Tiger woods all on sale for 14.98.

Nicely played! Polarium and Meteos had me hooked for weeks, and Trace Memory for $15 is a great deal, too!