Review by Arkrex
Burning the Midnight Noir
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is the spiritual successor to 2005's Trace Memory, one of the first DS games to make good use of the hardware's unique functions. That game, while full of creativity, just did not contain enough depth to offer a definitive 'adventure-game' experience. Fast-forward 2 years later to 2007, and developer Cing have another crack at the revitalised genre. While many game elements and puzzles are shared between the 2 titles, the story is completely new and the pencil-drawn, dynamic-image art-style looks amazing on the handheld. But alas, this is still not the 'adventure-game' that I was expecting.
Visuals - 8
Sound & Music - 8
Gameplay - 6
Controls - A
Longevity - A (~15 hours)
Replayability - C
Difficulty - Easy
Words - Lots
VERDICT - 6.5
Shades of Black & White
Hotel Dusk is one of the most artistic games to hit the market. By having the user hold the DS console on its side as if it were a book, each screen allows for the 2 characters on either side of the conversation to have equal screen-time. Since the 'game' is built around character interactions, this method of playing (or should that be reading) brings the gamer closer to the characters at heart.
The illustrations, courtesy of Keisuke Sakamoto, look splendid. The sketchy vibrating look brings all the characters to life, despite the monochrome. Each individual also has their own distinctive characteristics and mannerisms, further brought out by the masterful work of art shown here, from the energetic and slightly stupid Louie, to the smart-ass Angel.
If this was all there was to it, the visual score would have been right up there at the top. However, the drawings are only limited to conversations (which good or bad, do make up the bulk of the game). As you explore the confines of the mysterious hotel, you guide a cursor representing your lead protagonist, Kyle Hyde, around a simple overhead map on the touch-screen. The other screen (left or right depending on your preferred hand-ness) then shows a first-person perspective of your surroundings, and it is the display we get here that ruins the artistic flair.
The hotel, as shown through Kyle's eyes, looks like a mess of polygons. I can't imagine how Cing could have gone all out for illustrations (with a lot of memory space dedicated to storing the 'repeating' FMV-sequences), while leaving the real-time graphics to the rats, but they did. Shabby textures, boring colours, and horrible cardboard cut-outs of characters reminiscent of those old light-gun shooting games are an eyesore. Adding more misery is the sense of dizziness you sometimes feel as your eyes shift from the simple, but workable overhead view, to the jumpy first-person perspective.
The sounds and music of the hotel are strangely reminiscent of the island and mansion featured in Trace Memory. Light jazz pervades the halls, punctuated by some more sombre tones as dictated by the situation. Overall it's decent, but nothing worth keeping on your MP3 player. I still love those 'twilight-zone' sound effects when you initiate a puzzle though.
As easy as reading a book
If you are familiar with the proceedings in Trace Memory, you will already know the deal here. Basically you find yourself in a sparsely populated hotel, as you try to figure out the mystery behind (what do you know) some mysterious works of art. As you delve further into the storyline, you will reveal how the residents, initially all strangers to one another, are all somehow intertwined with one another, culminating in the exposure of one of the biggest scandals the world has ever seen. Although I carry a highly positive tone when I say this, the story really isn't worth writing home for. There is a lot of well-written dialogue, and it seems like we're heading towards something mind-blowing about half-way through, but the conclusion is let-down and fails to quench my thirst.
Throughout your many conversations, you will frequently have the choice to choose your next line. I believe the intention was to create a sort of 'choose-your-own-adventure' mechanic, helping to make the game less linear, and to allow more freedom of speech. However in most cases, one course of action willl allow you to progress through the conversation (and hence storyline), while the other (incorrect) option will loop you through to the same split-decision; in other words, it is still as linear an experience as you can get.
There are a few times when some choices will lead you to the game-over screen, usually if you take the negative route. This means that a lot of the time you won't want to choose the odd choice in fear of having to replay the last 10-20 minutes of your current game. The party-pooper is that sometimes you may not even pick a malicious starting line when all of the sudden the person you are talking to simply scowls at you, making you feel dejected, and brings over the game-over screen. These 'endings' don't even carry any weight with them, and I really do not see the point of their inclusion.
Where are the puzzles?
After the tease that Trace Memory provided, I was expecting some really imaginative 'think-outside-the-DS' problem-solving here. Unfortunately, Hotel Dusk is more focused on character relationships rather than interactive conundrums. Each of the 10 chapters consist of less than a handful of puzzles each, most of which are extremely simple tasks such as decorating a Christmas tree or piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. There are moments of ingenuity, such as fixing the cassette tape with the pencil, but if you have already played through Cing's previous effort, they will come and go like the wind.
Hotel Dusk is the first DS game to allow you to scribble notes down (as previously demonstrated in the preview-build of Legend of Zelda: Phantom hourglass). You don't really need to use this function as most puzzles are self-contained, and important events which need to be remembered tend to be stated by Kyle himself when the time comes for it. You cannot access this notepad while in the middle of a conversation, so that means you may even forget the stuff you wanted to jot down before you have a chance to! The strokes you make are also far too thick, making writing neatly an impossible exercise (even if you do use a thin-tipped stylus), and reading your notes later on just as hard. If you want to use it, it is there though.
Slowly, but surely... but slowly
It takes an hour or two to really get into the story here, and even then progression can still be painstakingly slow, so don't be expecting any quick thrills here. You cannot skim through dialogue until you replay the section (either after a game over, or through new game +) so speed-readers will have their patience tested at times. It's always a breath of fresh air when you encounter that mysterious sound effect leading to a new puzzle to solve, but with a game lasting about 15 hours only containing about 1-2 hours of actual gameplay, it can be difficult to move on, especially with such a dragging plot which never seems to climax anywhere.
The main qualm I have with Hotel Dusk is that each chapter plays out the same as the last: move around, talk to everyone, move some more, solve a puzzle, move again, talk to one person for a very long time, end chapter. With such a small area to navigate I would hardly call this an 'adventure'. And with only such a small space to work in, there could have easily been much more depth to it all. I particularly dislike how the end of nearly every chapter sees you trying to crack one of the featured characters through word-play (i.e. dodging all verbal attacks, being as soft and pansy as you can be to avoid an early game-over), for once you have broken through their mental defenses, they will unload all their secrets onto you. Sometimes the revelations are interesting, other times predictable, but every time much too long to sit through chapter after chapter (with no saving in between here too). I'm Kyle the detective, not the shrink.
Touching is good
If there is one thing that this hotel did right, it is the touching interface. It is very easy to move Kyle around the place (if a little disorientating when looking through his eyes at the same time - see above), and when you explore areas of interest, the panning camera allows for some more thought when searching or investigating particulars. Objects that you are able to interact with are conveniently highlighted as you touch them, thus eliminating any random touch-every-pixel moments.
As I stated earlier, the puzzles here are a mixed bag, but the controls are generally sound. It is still far from perfect (as evident in the bowling mini-game which is an awful representation of the actual sport, not that it was trying to be a simulator or anything), but accurate in most cases so that you never have to wonder if the action you are trying to perform is acutally possible or not. I may have said it many times before, but I'll say it again; tapping the screen is the best way to jog through dialogue boxes full-stop.
Still can't beat a hard copy
Hotel Dusk has been touted as an interactive novel. It again brings something totally new to the DS plate, but both aspects to it don't perform all that well. As a game it is lacking in fundamental gameplay, and as a book the twists and turns are far behind the prowess of writers such as Dan Brown and Dean Koontz (2 of my faves).
Cing have definitely brought out a more in-depth follow-up to their previous effort, but it has strayed away from the part which really mattered most to me - the puzzles. Still, this hotel is worth the price of admission just to see the the work of art on display. You will learn to love each individual who are as unique as they come, and the slow-burn will keep you in good company if light-reading is your sort of thing. If you are looking for something more hands-on, it is probably best to skip this rest stop.
6.5/10 - Slow-burning noir
My Score System a score of 7 from me denotes a good, solid game. Excellence earns a higher grade, whilst 4-6 reflects a below average product; glitchy, unplayable games deserve less.
~ My 50th DS review! ~
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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