Review by bluej33
Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone
I've had trouble fashioning a review for Hotel Dusk because, quite frankly, it just barely squeaks by with the criteria for a video game. Does it appear on a video game system? Yep. And do you kinda, sorta, barely interact with it? Also yep.
Keeping in mind that Hotel Dusk is more of a detective novel with equal parts excellent puzzles and ones that are annoying as hell is the key to really enjoying Cing's adventure game. Players of their DS debut Trace Memory will feel right at home with this title, at least in terms of gameplay (come to think of it, anybody who's ever played a point-and-click adventure game will feel quite comfortable with Hotel Dusk). You walk around, talk to people, solve puzzles, and piece together the plot. It's a basic, tried-and-true formula, and it's one that Hotel Dusk does quite well.
For the purposes of this article as a yay/nay, buy-it-or-not review, let's obnoxiously say that if you enjoy point-and-click games in the vein of Phoenix Wright, Trace Memory, or Touch Detective, you'll enjoy Hotel Dusk. But given my exhaustively-crafted persona as a video game intellectual, I find it necessary to ramble on for another several hundred words regarding why Hotel Dusk is ultimately worth playing. If you find it enjoyable, know that I love you. If, alternatively, you recognize it for the crock o' crap that it is, then that's cool too.
Frankly, the first half of Hotel Dusk, which took me around 18 hours to complete my first time through, is pretty useless. It feels like a long, drawn-out tutorial and at the same time several hours of filler to beef up what would have otherwise been a relatively short game. (Not that it would have suffered for this, mind you. Adventure games exist in a genre that often benefits from brevity.) You'll dig up some backstory on characters, learn how to put a key into a lock, and take part in a lot of superfluous...touching. Of the DS screen, of course.
The biggest problem with regard to the plot is that too many loose ends are left untied. I'm a person easily swept up in a story and as a result it's easy for me to overlook pointless minutiae that's left in the air. Despite this, I had too many unanswered questions at the end. I'm tempted to chalk this up to deliberation the idea of "chasing ghosts" and unanswered questions is a touching theme of the story's dramatic conclusion but I think that would be letting Cing off the hook.
Similarly, some of the character stories toward the beginning of the game are just left hanging, never to be tied in with the main plot arc. This contributes even more to the feeling that these first several chapters are just filler and don't really belong in the game.
The puzzles that pretty much make up the entirety of any interactivity that Hotel Dusk offers are hit-and-miss, at least until the end. Some of them are infuriatingly obscure but along with that, of course, comes the sense of satisfaction attained when you best some of the more mind-bending yet surprisingly fair puzzles that the game tosses your way. In particular, the puzzles late in the game are great, though I'm not sure whether this is due to genuinely increased quality or just to the fact that by this time, you really understand what makes the game tick.
Naturally I'm not going to spoil the ending for anybody, but what it emphasizes more than anything else is Hotel Dusk's reality. Kyle Hyde is a pretty average guy, Hotel Dusk is a pretty average (for the 70s, anyway) dive, and his problem is a pretty regular, insignificant problem. There's no sense of scope here. The rather anti-climactic ending seems like a let-down, but nothing could be further from the truth . It merely emphasizes the sense of realness, and Cing is to be commended for refusing to take their game too seriously.
Yet while I've harped on the story for a while now, it's worth noting a weird irregularity: despite the fact that the plot is generally strong, the game's writing is weak. Especially with regard to Kyle Hyde, lines feel forced and just plain lame. You may have determined by now that I'm rather enamored with this game, but I refuse to justify the oftentimes-poor writing with the already-mentioned focus on reality in the game.
A final note I'd like to make on Hotel Dusk pertains to the title's visuals. I tend not to harp on a game's graphics, but Hotel Dusk looks really, really nice. The environment is nothing to write home about, but that's easily forgiven on account of the really amazing-looking, well-animated character art that pops up during conversations (which, in line with expectations of the genre, take up at least half of the game).
I'll now diverge from my relatively useless, wandering thoughts on the game and return to my recommendation. Buy Hotel Dusk. It's one of the best of its kind on the DS.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (US, 01/22/07)
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