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Review: Hotel Dusk

Developer Cing must not have gotten the memo: the point-and-click adventure genre is dead…Isn’t it? Apparently, they didn’t catch word, because after their earlier (and not quite as well-made) effort in this field, Trace Memory, Cing forged ahead to try again. In comparison to their last effort, they certainly succeeded.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is difficult to label as a video game, since it is really more an interactive mystery novel than anything. The game even has you holding your DS sideways like a book. And quite a delightful book it makes of your DS–the detective noir tale will have you absorbed and curious to the end.

If you’ve ever wanted to play a game where the phrase, “Time to make you sing like a canary” fits in perfectly, Hotel Dusk is the right place to slap down some scratch. Your protagonist is Kyle Hyde, a down-and-out NYPD cop who shot his old partner over matters unclear to the player at the story’s outset. He’s moved on to work with a pal named Ed who runs Red Crown, a company where he masquerades as a door-to-door salesman. But old habits die hard, and it comes as no surprise that Kyle and Ed have a little side business that sends Kyle off to find things “best left unfound.”

Their most recent client has Kyle taking a trip to Hotel Dusk at the far end of the 70’s, and the far end of Southwestern nowhere, where things “best left unfound” are in great supply. There’s more secrets crawling around this banged up building than cans of booze at a frat house. It seems that everyone has a secret agenda of some kind or another, as is expected; furthermore, the lives of all of the guests staying at the hotel this night are inevitably connected to each other. While this quickly becomes obvious, it’s all a matter of how all of the pieces fit together that drives the intrigue. There are many times when you can see a plot twist coming or figure out a secret before Kyle himself does, but even when this happens, they are still usually intriguing.

Mystery is abound, since Kyle is bringing a lot more baggage on this trip than his suitcase–he’s been haunted by the events surrounding his partner’s disappearance for a while now, and refuses to believe that he is dead. Hyde gets a funny feeling that Hotel Dusk will somehow give him the answers he needs. But Kyle isn’t going to unravel this rope of mystery on his own, and that’s where the player comes in. When you aren’t engaged in conversation, you will be wandering around the hotel in search of clues. This sounds tedious, and, admittedly, it sometimes is. However, don’t let the point-and-click adventure label mislead you–Hotel Dusk is sparse on item fetching, and even less populated by strange item-combination puzzles.

You won’t be wrapping chewed bubble gum around puppies so you can reach that quarter down in the sewer so you can buy the soda so you can make the pidgeon drink it and explode and reach the key that happened to be conveniently resting in its nest. No. Definitely none of that. You may straighten a paper clip to pick a lock. The puzzles in Hotel Dusk actually make sense, taking into account that you are in a run-down hotel. What’s more is that the more interesting puzzles are more about utilizing the DS. To name a couple interesting examples, you may have an item sitting on the left screen–if you close your DS and then open it back up again, you will have flipped the item on its back, and thus can read the message written there. There is another case where a piece of paper has invisble ink written on it, and while you can use a black light on it, you can also tilt the DS at an angle to read it. There’s some other points which will have you smiling, saying, “Well, that makes sense!” You even have a notebook which you can doodle in to remind yourself of where you need to go next so that the next time you pick up the game you don’t forget what you were doing–a nice touch.

While there are occasional outbursts of intriguing use of the DS, puzzles are few and far in between–and this is a very good thing. Despite this, Hotel Dusk does suffer from a pace as slow as molasses, with most of your “play” time being “reading” time, scrolling through dialogue. This isn’t necessarily bad, since the writing is spot on, and the dialogue is usually fantastic, with all of the characters being rich and realistic, but that doesn’t make it any less slow. Sometimes dialogue will drag on a bit longer than it feels like it should, but give me a detective novel where this never happens, hm? Suffice it to say here and now that if you hate books, you will hate Hotel Dusk. This is a text-driven game that focuses on dialogue which unravels a greater story of interconnected lives, and it does that job very well, while also utilizing the DS’s features and portability to create an experience that suits the platform well. Text-based story-driven games seem to be finding a welcome home on the system, and this one is no exception.

The story takes its stand at the center of attention here, and it is a well-written one, at that. There are some subtle nuances in its storytelling–for example, while you may be “playing” the role of Kyle Hyde, Kyle is distinctly his own person. Conversations can branch in different directions (with some wrong choices leaving the trail cold and thus resulting in a Game Over), but even so, Kyle Hyde’s bitter and sarcastic character shines through in your options, and despite his cold nature, he is a surprisingly likeable character who grows on you. Most of the other characters are fairly likeable, too–and even if not, they are certainly very thick, round characters full of life, motive, and back story.

Graphics: 10
While the environments are crude 3D models, they look just fine for a DS game–it’s the character art that shines here. Characters are animated beautifully and realistically, and while the game is text-based, you can usually feel the tone of voice being used based on the character’s expressions and motions.

I could bring up a certain music video by a certain band from the 1980’s (as just about everyone else does), but let’s just say that it is a very cool and very beautiful style that floods your dual screens with life and vibrancy despite the lack of color. The use of the two vertical screens displaying both characters in a conversation is a perfect fit.

Gameplay: 7
Let’s face it–the gameplay is mostly nonexistent, but since this isn’t really a game, and what gameplay elements that exist are mostly interesting and unique, it can’t be knocked for being different. The gameplay isn’t bad, as it does away with many flaws of the genre and even does some new and surprising things, but it’s not terribly engaging, either.

Sound: 6
The sound is relatively nonexistent. There’s some elevator music, a few odd Muzak tunes, and some classic noir fare, but nothing terribly catchy or very memorable, save a couple pleasant piano pieces.

Sound effects consist of some menu chimes, footsteps, door-knocking…and not much else. Some voice snippets would have been nice. There’s nothing that detracts from the experience, but nothing that really enriches it, either.

Replay Value/Challenge: 7
This is a story, and even though there are some branching conversations and some slightly different endings, chances are you’re not gonna have the patience to roll through it all over again. That said, it’s a fairly lengthy tale, spanning upwards of 15-20 hours, so it will replace a book for a good chunk of your time.

Presentation: 10
While most of the elements of the game aren’t anything spectacular in and of themselves, they come together to form a memorable and unique experience tailored perfectly to the DS. With the excellent story and superb art style leading the charge, the other facets of the work come together to fill in the gaps required of them, and the whole package is a pleasant and rewarding experience, including a story which doesn’t take the cheap way out but still leaves a smile on your face, all the same.

Awards:

Excellent Writing

Incredibly Innovative

 

 

“So, what’s the good word?”

Overall Score: 8.0

Final Word:

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a truly unique experience worthwhile to fans of a good story, but is a love-or-hate “game,” being very non-traditional, even to its “point-and-click” roots. With rich characters brimming to the top with personality, an intriguing plot that is sometimes highly coincidental but nonetheless enjoyable, and tons of interesting uses of the DS, Hotel Dusk engages your mind and heart and takes you to an unexplored sector of the gaming universe and keeps you there for a long time. It might not be for everyone, but it will please those who it is for. You may be a bit nervous when you check in, but you’ll have a satisfied grin on your face when you check out.

“Trip, man! Total trip…”

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