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Review – Hotel Dusk

posted on March 12th, 2007 by matt

Before I jump into this review, I would like to offer some insights into my reviewing habits. When I play games to review them, I try to see if the development team was successful in whatever they were trying to do with the game. For example: have they made an exciting action/adventure game or a plausible horror game? I basically become a high school English teacher and grade a student’s essay. Did they prove their point with supporting examples? It does not matter if I disagree with what they are saying. Unless they screw up with their grammar or examples, can I blatantly say they are wrong?

Why am I telling you this, you ask? I’m just trying to give you a little background info on how I’m going to review Hotel Dusk: Room 215, for the DS. This game may not be for everyone, but that’s the point. Cing had one goal in mind, and approached it without fear of what the players would say. If they want it, they will play it. Some may like it, some may hate it, but the vision is paramount. It would be a disservice to the industry and the idea of integrity if they cut corners based on the laziness of “pop culture.”

Hotel Dusk is an adventure game in the same vein as another popular adventure game on the DS: Phoenix Wright. It stars Kyle Hyde, an ex-NYPD detective, as he roams the Southwest part of the country as a traveling salesman, in search of his ex-partner, Bradley. It seems Bradley betrayed the badge for some unknown reason. Hyde found out about it and actually shot Bradley, sending him to an underwater grave in the Hudson River. Or so the story goes. Hyde still believes Bradley is alive, but has no idea where to look for him. So he became a traveling salesman, in hopes of finding some answers about what happened that fateful night three years ago. He then finds himself at the front door to Hotel Dusk, a dirty little hole in the ground that holds more than its fair share of mysteries.

As you go through the game, you will come to understand that Hotel Dusk is big on reading, small on action. Be prepared to endure more than 15 hours of text, as that is the major bulk of HD’s gameplay. If you have played adventure games before, then you were already aware of this. But HD is a very lengthy game, and it may become a tough sell for some when all it really equates to is thousands of lines of text to read.

But that’s the major point of what Cing wanted to do. They went out and created a story that could not be told in the same manner most games today, where it’s non-stop action with very little plot. To tell the story of Kyle Hyde and his stay at Hotel Dusk, they needed to pound the player with as much text as necessary.

Ah ha! So the game should really be called Hotel The Dusk!

Sadly, many reviewers stated that this is the biggest problem with Hotel Dusk, that the reading is just such a high requirement for the player, while completely ignoring the fact that reading is what the game is all about.

All I saw was Cing trying to make an interactive novel, and you can’t do that without text. A reviewer is supposed to forget what other games have done in the past and just rate the game on if it succeeded in what it set out to do. And to me, Hotel Dusk accomplishes that task easily. And what’s so bad about having an interactive novel? That’s something I can see becoming a hugely popular genre with the “non-gamer” crowd, and it seems amazing to me that so few companies really understand that.

During your stay at Hotel Dusk, you will meet many new faces. Some nice, some not-so nice, and others that are just doing what they need to do. I won’t spoil anything for you, but just know that the plot is not cut and dry. Everyone has something to hide, and as an ex-detective, Kyle feels drawn to these people, scrounging for anything that may be related to Bradley. Hotel Dusk actually adds in a lot of mature content too, stuff that you would actually see in a mystery novel.

As for the actual dialogue, Cing and NOA have done a spectacular job with the screenplay and the translation, respectively. Hyde is probably one of the most unlikable characters in gaming. He blatantly tells people that he just doesn’t give a shit about whatever they were going on about. There will be times where you get to choose what Kyle says, and you start to get sucked into the character, always picking the more hurtful comments. If anyone has watched those old 1930’s Sam Spade movies, you can kind of understand what Kyle Hyde and Hotel Dusk is about. Kyle’s got a mystery to solve, and doesn’t want anyone to get in his way. It’s really interesting to have such an unlikable character as the hero, and I have to say Cing pulled it off well. He’s mean, but not enough to get the player to hate him.

There is a bit of exploration in Hotel Dusk, and this is done in a cool first-person perspective that has you moving around a really nice looking 3D hotel. The detail in the hallways and rooms are amazing, with some walls still covered in plaster. Most people assume the DS is not very good at generating 3D graphics, but Cing proves otherwise with Hotel Dusk.

The only problem with the exploration is the actual movement. You use the touch screen, but it’s not a true free-movement system. Hyde only turns in 20-25 degree increments. It’s not too annoying, but it could have been a little smoother. Also, because you hold the system like a book (think Brain Age), it feels a little awkward to look to the left to see where you are going, as the stylus positioning is relative to the center, not absolute like the system Metroid Prime Hunters uses. You’ll get used to it, but it’s probably the worst aspect of Hotel Dusk. And that says a lot, as it’s really not that bad of a problem.

One problem that is still lingering with adventure games is the pixel-hunting. There will be points in the game that you need to find this one specific tool or item to progress the story, and it’s usually hidden in a place you never expect to find it. Adventure games have always used this useless formula, and it rears its ugly head in Hotel Dusk. Thankfully, I came across this problem very infrequently. I can remember only one major problem with this, and it took me maybe a half-hour of exploration to find the solution. Still annoying though.

On the left we have Hotel Dusk, but the right screen appears to be displaying the top screen of Contact.

You’ll also come into contact with a few touch screen puzzles, which are really similar to Cing’s previous DS effort, Trace Memory. If you’ve played that game, you’ll probably solve the puzzles quickly, as some of the ideas that HD uses are pulled right from Trace Memory. The puzzles are generally very innovative, making you incorporate the actual DS into the solution. The only problem is that there aren’t enough of them. You want to see how far Cing could go with the touch screen and the DS hardware, but there are only a handful of these puzzles, and it’s a little disappointing. Those of you never played Trace Memory will find them a lot more fulfilling, but those that did may feel a little disappointed.

Probably the coolest thing in Hotel Dusk, and something that everyone can appreciate, are the visuals. For each character, Cing uses hand-drawn sprites that are just like the ones that you would see in a graphic novel, and they animate extremely well. There is a huge variety of sprites for each character, and it just looks amazing. Even just one sprite has more than one version, as you can see the lines change in the drawing, much like that stupid cartoon Dr. Katz.

The only negative thing I can say about the visuals is that the black and white nature will start to get boring after awhile. There will be times where they add color to the sprites, but it’s a rare occurrence, and after playing for 10 hours, you’d wish they would just take a paint brush and go nuts. Playing Wind Waker after a good session of Hotel Dusk would probably burn out your retinas. And the hotel itself doesn’t help much, as it’s covered in drab grays and browns. This is merely a preference, though. Some of you may love that style of art and have no problem. It wasn’t the worst, but I prefer visuals like Okami, rather than Metal Gear Solid.

So, does Hotel Dusk add up to a worthwhile experience? Of course it does, but only if you like these sort of games. If you like games that are high on action-packed gameplay, then Hotel Dusk is not for you. But if you would like to see how playing an “interactive novel” would be on your favorite handheld, then buy Hotel Dusk. Cing succeeded in weaving a masterful mystery in a DS cart, and should be commended for bringing some real mature gaming to the market. Definite thumbs up.

5 Comments

  1. TrueTallus said on March 14, 2007:

    Hotel Dusk definately is a good game.  The story framework and characters were interesting, the writing was great, the visuals were arresting and what puzzles were there were logical and enjoyable, but, as one of those people who has played Trace Memory, it was a bit disheartening to go through HD and realize that maybee all that anyone can do with a DS has been done.  Theres nothing inherently terrible about that, of course, but theres a certain unshakable sadness in the suspicion that the DS, and those who develop for it, might never again wow me with its unique abilities.

  2. Matt said on March 14, 2007:

    Too true…uh….TrueTallus. When I played Trace Memory, I was like "Oh, that’s awesome!!!" But now that I’ve played Hotel Dusk, those same puzzles are like "Well, they were kind of cool, but have been done before." Yup, this is exactly what I predicted. We will soon all be jaded.

  3. pat said on February 20, 2008:

    the boundary between adventure game and interactive novel is bound to be blurry and arbitrary if it even exists, but this one has very little interaction. i really enjoyed the game and the plot is surprisingly good, but it rare that you do anything besides scroll through text or choose a dialogue option. i havent played trace memory, but i agree with you matt, that if you are the type of gamer to whom story is paramount this is definitely a game for you.

  4. jay said on February 20, 2008:

    I really enjoyed HD, more than Pat I think. After I finished I was simply left thinking, “Why aren’t there a dozen more brilliantly written slightly interactive graphic novels on the DS?”

  5. Christian said on February 21, 2008:

    I played a bit of this on my brother’s DS.

    Didn’t have the time to finish it even if I wanted to, but I didn’t. The one, two, three, I don’t know how many scenes where the hero argues with the kid about goddamn puzzle was enough to drive me nuts. No simple thing should be dwelled on for so long.

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