Hotel Dusk: Room 215 DS Review - 26/01/2008

Working through the annuals of DS games can be a real chore. I mean, as you go, most of the time you get half-arsed ports from other consoles with no real use of the touch screen technology. But then again you do hit the odd gem at times and that is something you really do get with Hotel Dusk.

Hotel Dusk is set like a noir murder novel, taking all the themes that you know and now love for adding a digital twist. You take on the role of sour, alcoholic ex-New York City cop Kyle Hyde. Three years prior to the game's start Hyde was a cop working a big case with his partner Brain Bradley. One night sitting in his office Hyde got a phone call, telling him to go after Bradley (for reasons not know to the player at first). This call leads Hyde to confront his partner on the Hudson River Docks, the confrontation ends with Hyde shooting Bradley off the docks and into the Hudson. Afterwards the body was never found and no trace of Bradley appeared again.

Back to the present and over the last three years Bradley's "death" has been eating away at Hyde making him sour and causing him to quit the force. So much so that he takes a job as a hired detective, though his actual job is a door-to-door salesman but his boss runs a side business of "finding things that people have lost". This job takes Hyde to spend a night at Hotel Dusk, a rundown hotel hidden somewhere in the mid-Southwest. The night spent at the hotel reveals a deeper, more ominous force at work within the place.

Some of the best fun comes from Nintendo, in terms of how to use their equipment in unusual ways, and Hotel Dusk is one of the best examples. Firstly, to actually play the game you have to hold the DS on its side so that the console looks like a book, which adds to the noir graphic novel feel of the game. While holding the DS on its side your control options are very limited, or so you would think, but they have been expertly managed. To control Hyde's movement you can use either the directional buttons or point to the destination you wish to go and Hyde will walk there, but as with most DS-only games the rest of the controls are based on the touch screen. Some of this doesn't sound too interesting, but there are certain parts that require items to be moved from the top screen to the bottom, which to do so the player needs to close the DS and reopen it. This adds to the interactive feel of the game instead of having to use the usual suspects that lots of games use - it's refreshing to have something different.

Movement and perspective is handled effortlessly

This style of use brings back the old sensation of old-school point and click games of the late eighties and early nineties, but all done with a very modern touch. But traditional puzzle solving isn't the mainstay of the game. Instead the characters and story are the driving force behind it. A major part of the gameplay is just strolling around the hotel, talking to the different people staying there. As Hyde talks to the characters it soon comes to light that not all is as it seems. A bulk of the gameplay is just there in the characters, the search between truth and falsehood that they give you requires you to keep a keen eye out for the small details. Almost all the story is driven by the conversations that Hyde has with the guests and workers at the hotel, with certain exchanges denoting a key turning point or revelation to either the story or the character.

As I said before the mainstay of the game is just walking around the hotel, this is also one of its major flaws as well. Mainly, due to the fact that you often find yourself complete at a loss as to what to do next. A lot of the characters disappear or leave the area that you spoke to them in previously, this causes problems if you miss a vital clue or a destination to go next, leaving you to wander the hotel aimlessly in search of anyone to talk to in the hope that they might drive the story on.

This isn't helped by the somewhat linear plotline where although a lot of objectives are placed for you to do, most will not continue until you have completed the objective that the game wants you to complete first, and this can be increasingly annoying as it progresses.

The character design is great, as long as you can find them, that is

Both the characters and the plotline are incredibly well drawn, with these making the game what it is a lot of the time. The plot is a surprisingly enthralling detective novel, having all the right themes but giving you none of the paper-cuts. But by far the most interesting and therefore the best part of the game is that of the characters. They are so well drawn that each not only has their own small role to play in the grand scheme of things but has their own unique persona that leaks through to everything that they do and say.

The graphic style of the game is totally in keeping with the whole ethos of the game, which brings an entirely unique atmosphere with it. The graphics are akin to a watered down cell shading, with the characters looking like sketched drawings and brought to life by use of a flipbook. The rest of the surroundings are pretty non-descript, the game takes place solely in the hotel so there are no outdoor areas to explore, but even so the graphic novel/pencil drawing style of the design comes into play here in that the environments are all watercolour paintings - the areas that are too far away to be seen are white washed giving more of a sense of the game's background genre.

The sounds are equally great, or the sound effects are at least. Unfortunately there is no spoken dialogue, it's all text based, which starts off as a not too painful thing but soon ends up with you feeling more and more sore at the lack of voiceovers. But as I said the sound effects are excellent as Hyde moves along a corridor his feet make a footstep sound on the floor, always in time with the way in which he moves. Doors creak as they are opened, everything sounds just like you would expect things in a Raymond Chandler novel to sound.

Can you solve the mystery?

So in summary, the game really is the best interactive detective novel available, even compared to their golden age back on the PC. Sure it has a few flaws in the play of it but really when looking at this kind of brilliance there is no question as to whether it can be over looked. What will become a forgotten gem for the DS, but a real treasure from start 'til finish.

- Alec Hilton