Hotel Dusk: Room 215 DS Review

There are some games that just stand out, and you just know from the second you start playing that you’re in for something special. For that feeling to stay with you for the duration, however, is a little rarer and I’m pleased to say Hotel Dusk succeeds in achieving this. I was up until 3:00 finishing it, just like a good game should.

Hotel Dusk is a point ‘n’ click adventure but not quite as you or I are accustomed to. It’s clear where the developer Cing’s previous DS title Another Code has helped shape Hotel Dusk, but in a positive way. Another Code was also an adventure title with a mature storyline, strong visual styling and interesting logical puzzles which used the full potential of the DS control system. However, only the basic building blocks have remained, everything else has had a massive overhaul.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215, is set in the early 70’s and has a strong film noir theme both in its visual style and story. You play Kyle Hyde a disgraced NYPD detective who has ended up in a back water joint called Hotel Dusk searching for his ex-police partner which he thought he killed several years back. Ominous, dark and gritty describe the opening well, with beautiful black and white animated drawings setting the scene perfectly. This is most definitely an interactive film noir story, an interactive graphic novel if you will.

Hotel Dusk focuses largely on character development as well as puzzle solving, you won’t find any action here I am afraid. Luckily both aspects of the gameplay are smoothly done and add massively to the story telling.
You’ll do a lot of talking (reading text) in the game and thankfully it’s well written, witty and largely spot on. It does get a bit long winded at times but all in all, clicking the continue button doesn’t get too dull. The visuals support the text greatly by bringing the characters to life mainly because of the style, which is largely animated rather than static. When you interact with a character, the drawing shimmers between several hand drawn sketches of the same pose as well as say the colours in their hair. It might sound like it would be really annoying but it actually makes the characters much more real. Changes from one pose to another are done fluidly and do a great job of expressing the mood and emotion. Admittedly if you are not into reading lots of text in your gaming then this will be boring as hell, and will render it unplayable. You’ll be missing out though, the tales you must coax from the inhabitants of the Hotel are truly well written and once you start pulling at the strings and unravelling the story, it’s hard to stop.

Questions to start conversations have a tier system, white, yellow and red ranging from causal to very personal respectively. As Kyle hears things of interest he’ll make a mental note which appears on the screen next to his head. Most questions can only be asked to specific characters but some are universal. Generally the conversations only need input from you once or twice, with only a binary choice. However, you must be on the ball and reading the character, both in text and also literally. You need to understand the people and their situation and use this information to manipulate them into spilling their guts.

Misunderstanding a character will end in failure or possibly even game over. This sounds overly harsh but this is what the game is about, understanding the characters and learning how to push their buttons. You are given plenty of time to get to know them before these important interrogations occur, and if you do mess up, it will just put you back to the beginning of that time. The game actually runs at a sort of real-time speed, the whole game happens in one evening from 17:00 to 3:00. I think I took about 8hrs to finish but clearly a replay would be faster. There would be a point to a replay as well as there are secrets hidden in the Hotel which can be unlocked after finishing the game and multiple endings depending on how you play the game. I’ve only seen one so far, but apparently a lot of your decisions effect the outcome. It is all pretty linear however, and some of the teleporting character placement is a bit odd at times. Also, the scripting is extremely tight, and thus, missing a vital clue can have you wandering the hotel like a junkie, frantically searching for the next plot trigger before you throw your damn DS out the window. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often and as long as your logical thinking cap is on, you’ll be fine.

Like the “Test Your Brain” game, you play Hotel Dusk in portrait mode, holding the DS like a book (you can choose left or right handed modes) which clearly adds to the feeling of “playing a book”. The whole game is controlled with the touch screen, there are no need for the buttons. While exploring the Hotel, you have a map displayed on the touchscreen, a red circle with an arrow represents you. Touching in a direction moves you in that direction and actions are carried out using the menu at the bottom of the screen. This sounds awfully primitive but on the top screen you have a 1st person fully rendered perspective which correlates to the map. It’s a great system as it allows you to search rooms effectively by using the no nonsense map in combination with the more detailed 1st person view, plus it looks great! The rendering is very good considering the DS system and really gives you a sense of being there. When you find an area that you can search, you can switch the 1st person view to the touch screen so you can explore it with the stylus. The view is limited by a slider but it never feels too restrictive. Kyle takes up the other screen and hands out his gruff smart ass comments as you search the area.

Puzzles are normally introduced during this mode and can require you to do various things. The thing is, it’s never really a puzzle (with the exception of some actual puzzles like a jigsaw), but more a like a task or job. For example you might need to bend a paperclip out so you can pick a lock with it, or wind some tape back into a cassette with a pencil. Most can be solved by using the touch screen, but others require you to be more resourceful with the DS. Compared with other adventure games all of the puzzles are very logical, you won’t ever be sitting with your inventory thinking, “what the hell do I combine to solve this?” and you certainly won’t find any “Use monkey with water pump” type puzzles either. You might think this a shame, but it all fits in with the mature, more serious nature of the game, rubber chickens on zip lines would have been a bit out of place.

Compared to Another Code however, I did find them a little easy, but I guess if I’d not played it some of the puzzles would have been trickier. There is a nice feature that Hotel Dusk has which I haven’t mentioned yet, the notebook. The game doesn’t note everything down for you, so you have to keep track of some things in your book. This is essentially a basic drawing package that looks like a notebook, but it’s pretty cool and actually useful. You’ll also have to use it to communicate with one of the characters, but only they write in it, having conversations would be nuts if not impossible for a wee DS!

Sound is also well done in the game even though it’s mostly the sound of the interface and ordinary sounds such as footsteps, doors closing etc. The music is used more however, and the collection of vibes is good and fit the mood of the game well. Each character has a particular theme to fit in with their personality, ranging from blues and country to funky and more jazzy numbers. You can actually listen to tracks on the Jukebox in the bar as you came across each track, which I rather liked as some of them are quite addictive.

Hotel Dusk is a great adventure game with a strong story, interesting fleshed out characters and inventive logical puzzles. I was a little disappointed that the puzzles were not that difficult but if you take the realistic nature of the game into account, logical puzzles do make sense. The real puzzle after all is the mystery itself and it’s a cracker. Presentation is top notch, both the 2D and 3D parts look great and I just loved the graphic novel style of the game, it’s just beautiful to look at. Stills don’t really do it justice. If you are a fan of point and click adventures and fancy getting your teeth into something a little different I highly recommend Hotel Dusk.