Blue skies, lurching water, and an island looms into view. Such were the sights that began Another Code: Two Memories, on the Nintendo DS, in 2005.
A thirteen-year-old girl, named Ashley, boated to a remote location, following a message from her father, who was meant to be deceased. It was a great opening. The art style was a blend of the grainy and the crisp, with enough cloud whisked through the heavens like egg whites to suggest that remembering is a treacherous business. The whole setup felt dreamy and drugged. As she disembarked, Ashley had a brief chat with the captain. “When people grow up, do they all forget about the past?” she asked. “Don’t worry, kid,” he replied. “People only forget what they want to forget.”
Another Code Recollection is a remake of both the first game and its sequel, Another Code: R – A Journey into Lost Memories, which came out on the Wii in 2009. Both were point-and-click adventures in spirit, but they were moulded by the quirks of their respective hardware. Two Memories was more of a tap-and-trace adventure – nothing to do with police surveillance, just the stylus and the twin screens of the DS. There were cranks to turn, dusty surfaces to blow with the microphone, and – the best trick of all – objects to overturn by closing the console and flipping it up again. It made you gasp in delight, but only once. When the developer, Cing, released its detective noir Hotel Dusk: Room 215 a couple of years later, and its hero had to shift a clue from one screen to the other, there was no wonder left. It was an open-and-shut case.
Here we have the Switch, and a scattering of puzzles that lightly probe its possibilities. There are door knockers that have you nudge the analogue sticks in rhythm, a key lodged in a cage that you shake free with the gyro, but, most baffling, no smeary prods of the screen. Am I the only one who misses the kookery of the Switch, in its early days, before success smoothed away its gimmicks? Imagine what HD Rumble could have done for this touchy-feely story. The plot is mostly as it was. Ashley, summoned by that mysterious e-mail, digs around a mansion in search of her dad. The remake does away with the old illustrations in favour of 3-D, and you control Ashley directly rather than poking her in the right direction.
The result feels like a cross between Life is Strange and Resident Evil. We get an adolescent girl all at sea, scrabbling about in search of safe combinations, ornate dinner plates, and sheet music, the better to play on a grand piano. When that happened to Jill Valentine, and the Moonlight Sonata poured out, a secret passage unlocked, leading to a greenhouse. All Ashley gets is a little box, containing sentimental treasures, but the two games are in an odd harmony, across the years; they both understand the thrill of secrets and locks, and of tuning your brain to the right key in order to unlatch them. Still, no zombies. But we do get a ghost. Ashley is chummed along by D, the phantom of a young boy, whose mind is fogged by amnesia. Needless to say, the pair enjoy a journey of discovery, and we are nagged by the suspicion that the narrative is – may always have been – perilously thin.
Playing the original, you couldn’t help but feel as though what you were really playing was the newly launched DS itself. That spiffy clump of rain-grey plastic held such weird promise, and Cing pasted its drama over the top, in the knowledge that it would unfold with added texture – that people would relish Ashley’s quest along with the gestures of a new generation, and that the two memories would blur together. This is partly why the sequel felt so limp. The Wii was a less hospitable host for mystery adventures, not only because you couldn’t take them with you – to bus stops or airport lounges or wherever – but because the machine’s wrist-achy novelty had faded, and you were left in your living room with reams of dialogue and no way to clap it shut and let the mood linger.
The good news, with Another Code Recollection, is that it’s back in your hands. (The second game is improved for this, the first dampened by its new home.) And Ashley’s struggle is still wrapped in a languorous air; you want to unravel the mystery, but part of you yearns to drift in its pleasant haze – much easier, when you can click the Switch to sleep and recline on a lazy afternoon. It’s a shame that the visual flare of the old is now gone. I miss the sketched look of the characters on the DS, and Ashley is worse off for losing the dark outline that lent her that choppy definition. But this is still a game with a style of its own. For those who belong to the small and ardent band of Cing devotees, long troubled by the studio’s premature closure, the arrival of these games will be difficult to believe. For many others, it may be difficult to understand. These games didn’t sell well but were adored by a select few, and Nintendo is offering us all another chance. Whether you grew up and forgot about the past, or you didn’t want to forget – here it is again, looming out of the blue.
Game: Another Code: Recollection
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: 19 January 2024