Nintendo's DS has been called a lot of things, some of them derogatory by pre-pubescent fanboys who pretend to be adults, but mainly heaps of praises. By creating a portable console with two screens, one of which is powered by a digitiser, Nintendo has challenged developers to develop unique titles.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a classic example of such a game. A text-book example of a point and click detective game (and we all love our Agatha Christie’s), it also happens to be the second DS title to be developed by CiNG to utilise some of the DS’s more unique features. The first, Another Code: Two Memories (Trace Memory) was widely lauded for its innovation when it came to point and click adventuring. So many were hoping this would be better. Personally I thought Another Code was tedious at best but fortunately Hotel Dusk offered me a much complete experience.
The game is set in Los Angeles circa 1979 and you role-play as an unlikeable ex-NYPD copper Kyle Hyde. Kyle’s a drunk but he has a good story to back his attitude. Three years ago, Kyle finds out that his close mate from the police force, an undercover with a crime syndicate has decided to ditch his moral values. Kyle then found himself in a situation that had him shooting his former friend. Disgusted with the way things have turned out he quit his life as a bobby and instead took up "sales" (fine career choice). This is all fine and dandy, until three years later when his past finally caught up with him in this dump called Hotel Dusk.
Gameplay involves using the stylus and tapping away while solving puzzles in order to advance the plot. If you have been clicking your way through classic games like Grim Fandango and Monkey Island then you should find this comfortable. It is fairly straight forward and easy. Most of the time would be spent chatting up with the residents (most of which are fairly interesting – and you get to enjoy character development too) of Hotel Dusk. Apart from the ability to choose conversation pieces, the game is fairly linear. This is probably why Nintendo billed this as an 'interactive or visual novel'.
In fact in order to play (or interactively read) the game you are forced to hold the DS sideways, like a novel (oh the ingenuity). One might think of it as a gimmick, a way of drawing more attention on a game that if developed conventionally, might not have attracted as much attention as it currently is. Luckily for us, CiNG cleverly implemented one feature that could not be replicated on a conventional console – the ability to take notes down, you know, like a bona fide Dick Tracy. Just without that ace watch of his.
Visually, this game exudes a unique class. Characters, during conversation mode, are done in nice and huge animated 2D sprites - all in 'pencil sketch' style, whereas while walking and exploring rooms are rendered in polygonal 3D with washed-out film noir colours to boot. While the 3D quality isn’t that great (ie. very pixelated) it doesn’t distract from the gameplay. There is a 2D map that you can use to drag your stylus around on the touchscreen while the 3D room is shown on the other screen.
This game isn’t for everybody. If you have no patience poking through every corner of every room (a flaw that is very much part of the genre) then you would probably hate this. Hints are given, though rarely, which may be a blessing to those preferring a little more challenge on their brains (though those who are stuck trying to trigger the next scene may beg otherwise). You may even find yourself 'stuck' somewhere for hours, until you accidentaly did something the developers wanted you to do. Tedious backtracking features aplenty so beware here. This is prime example of poorly implemented game design.
And while it lacks the comedy wit of the Gyakuten Saiban (Phoenix Wright) series or the child-like quality of Touch Detective, the plot is thick and mature enough to hold most fans of murder mystery books interest, at least to me - even if the narrator seems to be a fucking prick. As a title, Hotel Dusk hardly represents value for money, not least due to the lack of replayability (though unconfirmed reports of multiple endings seems to suggest otherwise). But do give it a go, but wait for the price to fall.
Update (30/1): I just completed the game. A couple of things to add. The game is pretty short. As in shorter than say, Gyakuten Saiban. Most of the time would be spent talking. I think I only had to do about 20 puzzles or so, about 5 which were 'proper' puzzles. There are silly issues with the game. For example in Chapter 10 I was stuck unable to continue the game, until I accidentally walked over a small corner, which then triggered the next scene. Apart from that my review still stands. There are rumours that the game contains multiple endings but I am not prepared to test the validity with a second play through just yet. Maybe next time.
Import now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK