Review by Exodist
A visual novel type game for DS with some vague puzzle elements.
From the developers of Another Code comes a new adventure style game for the DS, except its completely different and has much more in common with a Japanese visual novel than anything else. Hotel Dusk is that one with the black and white characters and you hold it on its side, like, you know, a book. What entails is a game about reading and more reading and maybe solving a few touch screen based puzzles along the way.
With Hotel Dusk essentially being a novel its not surprising that the story is the strongest element of the game. Our hero is Kyle Hyde, a disgraced ex-cop now working as a salesman who happens to be a bit of a dick. Don't take this the wrong way though, as Kyle is a very interesting character and smart if not a bit cynical and cold towards pretty much everyone he meets. He has been sent to Hotel Dusk on a job to find two items: a small red box, and a gentleman's magazine. However things are going to get strange as memories of his past partner, Bradley, begin to surface at the hotel. The story is about Kyle trying to find answers to what happened to his partner, whom he shot some time ago, for you see, Kyle is still searching for Bradley, believing him not to be dead after the incident. Things get a bit coincidental as we soon see everyone staying in Hotel Dusk is there for some reason (no one simply wants to stay at Hotel Dusk for its services), each with their own mysterious backgrounds and stories to unravel.
As said, the story is very much "yeah, right" for a large part of the game as it just happens everyone there is somehow linked to the case of Bradley and everything that comes from that. All these people just happen to stay at the same hotel at the same time, however ignoring that, the story is still very well done. The information actually comes in quite fast and you're constantly learning new plot developments all through the game. It is split into ten chapters and you tend to learn a lot about one major character as you progress through the game. Although you'll still meet all the main characters pretty soon, you'll tackle them one by one. And boy is it a great cast. The characters are all fairly unique and likeable, ranging from characters such as Melissa, the young girl whose mum abandoned her to Martin Summer, a semi-famous novelist of mystery novels (of course), and the great Rosa, a hard working maid and many other things, as well as Louis, a young man who has had brief encounters with Kyle when he was a cop. The back stories of each and every character are really interesting and well done, as you'll soon spot the links between each character slowly as you progress. The plot itself is a fairly standard mystery type, however its scope is pretty large and it progresses well, its a true delight of the game to progress through learning more and more of the plot.
So what about the actual gameplay? Gameplay is not Hotel Dusk's strongest suite but they made a good attempt. The game, as said before, is played in a novel style by turning the DS to its side. This actually works fairly well as it does give you a novel feel and one thing I liked about this was that characters would be either side of the screen talking, providing a kind of back and forth feel as they talked to each other, text going from one screen to the other. You control the game with the touch screen pretty much entirely from movement, puzzles, conversations and menus. The game is actually played in first person: you touch the screen to move around which also displays a map for the area, whilst the left screen provides a first person view of the 3D environments. The bottom of the touch screen meanwhile provides different actions that can be taken such as talking to a character, opening the menu or examining the environment, each option handily lights up meaning you know when you can examine certain parts (which, for the most part, is pretty much everything). When you examine an area you go into a zoomed view where you can click the screen to look at objects and adjust your view with the slider. It can be pretty tedious at times having to examine absolutely everything in case there is something hidden although on the flip side its pretty neat that there is such a huge level of detail in the hotel.
That is pretty much it. You wander around the hotel, examine places to find items, and talk to people. Talking is a simple case of selecting dialogue options and watching it unfold. There are some puzzles however some are stronger than others, although for the most part the game is weak in this aspect. Many of the touch screen puzzles require simple thought process and are not actually difficult, merely providing a distraction as you go along. For example there is a filing cabinet and you must acquire a piece of paper from under it, so you use the crowbar with it. Then you simply touch the screen to move the cabinet up. This gives me a good time to say that you can actually get game over in this game. I bought my copy second hand (honest) and it had no manual. Up until this point I actually had no idea you could get game over and I failed here first. Turns out you move the crowbar slow otherwise the cabinet falls, you get found out and kicked out the hotel. This is pretty surprising and this actually happens a lot. There are plenty of really small, insignificant and dumb things you can get game over in this game for. Its the type of game you sit down, play, and save when you finish, not saving all the time just in case. You can retry, although sometimes this sets you back pretty far and you have the fun of reading all that dialogue again until you get it right.
This may sound harsh however, as Hotel Dusk is not a hard game. Some of the game overs actually make sense, and a few are easily avoided, well, that is once you know its there in the first place. I think the idea works in a way its just that so many of the game overs just pop up out of nowhere it can be slightly annoying. However this is largely a non-issue and doesn't really make the game bad in any way, it merely provides frustration every so often that is usually remedied within a few minutes of reloading. One thing I do want to note is that, as said, Hotel Dusk is not particularly hard, although this doesn't mean there aren't parts where you will have absolutely no idea what to do. Although you can freely wander the hotel the game is actually very linear with only one goal at a time as you go, although the game won't remind you. Fortunately there is an excellent feature in which you get your very own memo. As in, blank pages for you to freely write on to keep any notes or important details you may need for later. It involves the player more than you think as you'll write down next objectives or just small notes here and there and its pretty nice to see a game which doesn't necessarily hold your hand in this aspect, instead letting you write your own things down to help yourself.
I did say though you'll have no idea what you're meant to do next, and this still does happen. You see, you have to do things to trigger the next events and there are a few - not many, but some - parts in the game where everything just stops. No one seems to be around, there's no one to talk to, nothing to do. As it turns out, these parts are when you must find an item somewhere in the hotel. There is one part where you must find an item in the laundry room. There is absolutely no indication at all prior to this part that you must do this, but suddenly, you're meant to just know to examine something in that room to find an item to advance the plot. Afterwards, it kind of makes sense, I suppose there is one little indication but I won't lie and say I saw it because I didn't. It baffled me as what to do, and I got desperate, examining every little thing in every room until I just suddenly found this item. It was pretty dumb and frustrating and didn't like this aspect to the game. Otherwise, everything flows pretty nice and you shouldn't get stuck too long as you progress through the dialogue and small puzzles.
The graphics in the game provide a really unique style, especially for a Japanese game. The characters all look very mundane and nothing out of an anime at all. They're also black and white. The game has a very noir feel in this aspect with no colour on the characters, which as said, have really indistinguishable and simple characteristics. This isn't to say you won't be able to tell them apart, however there is something very bare bones and it works. Animation is also fairly simple in that there isn't much. You'll notice the edges and lines in characters constantly moving around giving the graphics a style similar to a basic drawing as the characters move between expressions, there is actually a lot of detail in that aspect as characters react to all sorts of revelations with appropriate movement. The 3D environments meanwhile are solid for DS but nothing special, actually featuring a lack of colour in some places and just looking very drab, this isn't to say you won't be able to spot unique items here and there but the 3D graphics are pretty standard, whilst the 2D artwork is again, standard DS affair. The music in the game meanwhile features plenty of little tunes that will be memorable as you play the game and enjoyable but little else, providing with different themes for situations and characters. There are no voices in the game at all, no voice acting for certain scenes or little sounds characters make.
In the end, Hotel Dusk's main attraction is its great cast of characters and entertaining, if not slightly dumb on occasion, plot. The gameplay is nothing special and the puzzles were to me pretty basic and a missed opportunity, but this doesn't matter much. There are some frustrations, sometimes the game is very vague on that one item you had to find, and the game overs come out of nowhere sometimes, but its an enjoyable game. You're looking at about 15 or so hours to finish the game and whilst there isn't any reason to play again, you'll remember the characters and story. Come for that, don't come expecting a highly challenging game with plenty of complex puzzles to solve, because there are none.
Score: 7/10 - Very Good
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (EU, 04/13/07)
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