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Hotel Dusk: Room 215 Review

Joe_Dodson By:
Joe_Dodson
01/26/07
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Adventure 
PLAYERS
PUBLISHER Nintendo 
DEVELOPER Cing 
RELEASE DATE  
T Contains Mild Language, Mild Violence, Use of Alcohol

What do these ratings mean?

Good cop, bad cop.

Wednesday. Ten o’clock and I haven’t yet added the bourbon to my coffee when there’s a knock at the door. I shout something, they mistake it for “Come in,” and that’s when I see her. Pear shaped with a UPS uniform that doesn’t do her or me any favors. I give her the look of a dog that wants to bite, but doesn’t want to get up to do it.

Her mail carrier instincts kick in, and she offers me the package with one hand on her mace. I ask her if she can set that thing to “Caffeine,” and she laughs. I sign. Just what I need, more work. She turns and goes, but I don’t watch. Something else has caught my eye. The package is from Nintendo, and that can only mean one thing - Hotel Dusk: Room 215.
 
click to enlargeI pop it into my DS and head to the local diner, and that’s where the adventure begins. Literally, because Hotel Dusk is the latest adventure title for Nintendo’s dual-screened device. It stars an investigator named Hyde. Kyle Hyde. He and the precinct didn’t see eye to eye a few years back, so he left. Or they fired him, take your pick. Guess they didn’t like it when he shot his partner, even if the guy was a crooked son of a bitch. And now he finds himself in an old run-down hotel, among disparate and seemingly lost travelers. As the story unravels he’ll discover they all have one thing in common: they’re all hiding something.
 
For a mystery novel, that’s as weird as a cat with four legs. But for a video game, a good crime story is as unusual as that same four-legged cat drinking Crystal Pepsi while riding on the back of a dodo. Then again, Hotel Dusk is for the Nintendo DS, a two headed oddity with a rap sheet full of shady dealings and weird characters, including male cheerleaders, lawyers, and puppies.
 
But I digress, not everything in Hotel Dusk is as mysterious as its protagonist’s past, or the DS’s library. Like Phoenix Wright, Hotel Dusk is evenly split between talking and puzzle solving. Conversations unfold to the beat of your stylus tapping the touch screen, and if someone makes an interesting statement you can press them on it, just like the lawyer would.
 
The banter isn’t snappy or funny, but does its job with grim determination, revealing clues, developing characters, and unraveling layer after layer of mystery. It’s consistent and methodical that way, and rarely slips up. As Kyle Hyde, you only have two modes of speech: interrogation and sarcasm, and both fit the character like a trench coat. But every once in a while, the writers force a bit of foreshadowing that makes no sense in the present, like the way you keep asking people “Do you like my name?”
 
click to enlargeAt first, I thought the game was trying to channel Goodfellas (Does my name amuse you?), but the response is always something like “Oh yeah, it’s a pretty good one,” to which you respond “Yeah, I like it, too. Thanks.” By constantly drawing attention to Kyle’s name, the writers are trying to foreshadow questions that arise later concerning his whole identity. But in the meantime they make him sound like a creepy mongoloid.
 
When you aren’t asking awkward questions or making gruff comments, you’re solving puzzles and exploring. The touch screen shows an overhead map of your surroundings, with a “You are here” dot in the middle. By touching the screen with the stylus, your little dot will move in that direction. If you draw near something worth investigating, a little icon pops up, and by tapping it you shift to a first person view of that area. When you place your stylus over an item of interest, the item lights up and you can inspect it further by double tapping. It’s pretty standard stuff.
 
Less usual is the fact that all the ensuing puzzles, like clipping a segment of wire from a coat hanger or jimmying a lock, are handled with the stylus. From moving to talking to puzzle solving, everything in Hotel Dusk can be accomplished by tapping, dragging or drawing.
 
The only thing you’ll need aside from the stylus is a good message board, FAQ or the following spoiler, because Hotel Dusk will completely stump you from time to time. At one point, I found a pen with a faint engraving right after a guy asked me to go look for his book mark. Since I knew where the bookmark should be, I went looking for it first. But, to my surprise, it was nowhere to be found. So, I searched the entire hotel for it to no avail.
 
click to enlargeAs I was looking, though, I found some chalk that clarified the engraving on the pen. After that, I went back to where I knew the bookmark should be and there it was. But the game didn’t want me to find it until I’d figured out the pen clue, so it made the bookmark invisible. In Hotel Dusk, there’s literally no such thing as a coincidence.
 
While that only took two paragraphs to describe, it was a two day ordeal in reality. Even worse, the game records nothing. If you put it down for awhile, there’s no way to remind yourself what’s going on aside from what you’ve written on your in-game memo pad. It’s a handy device, allowing you to take notes on the fly, but anything you don’t write down is gone forever. So you have to wander around poking at things and talking to people just to remember what you’re stuck on.
 
No matter what happens, you won’t forget Hotel Dusk’s visuals. The characters all look like they walked out of the music video Take On Me, and the sense that you’re playing a graphic novel is enhanced by the fact that, to play, you hold your DS vertically, like a book. The music is okay, although it’s definitely better to turn the volume down and provide your own bluesy soundtrack.
 
So there you have it. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a hell of a tale, even if by day it masquerades as a mediocre adventure game. If you have a strong memory and a high threshold for aimless exploration, this is a case worth solving.
B- Revolution report card
  • A good mystery
  • Solid writing
  • Great sense of stylus
  • Nifty memo pad
  • Linear to a fault
  • Unforgiving
  • Weird foreshadowing

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