|By Zach Patterson||Tuesday, 29 May 2007|
Hotel Dusk is a game that’s sure to either blow people away or quickly lose their interest. It is a text-heavy adventure that is often slow moving and full of puzzles. However, one thing most will agree on is that the game’s art is inspired and visually striking. The most common reference that people cite is the music video for “Take On Me” by A-Ha, and that’s not really a bad comparison. The game also sports an absolutely fantastic translation and you would never guess that it is in fact a Japanese made game. The setting is American, the characters are American, and it has all the charm of a classic crime and mystery noir.
Your character is Kyle Hyde, a former cop still on the trail of his ex-partner, who you quickly learn has betrayed you at some point in the past. This is a very important plot point that you will eventually come to learn plays a role in every guest in the hotel. While the likelihood of every single guest being a clue to your own mystery makes the plausibility of the story seem a little less believable, the story’s subplots are very captivating and are integrated into the main story masterfully. Additionally, the story deals with a lot of overarching themes like fate, hope, and betrayal. Kyle systematically goes through each character and uncovers the truth of their past, sometimes resorting to getting rough and rude with the person, though occasionally having to have more tact. In the end, he finds perhaps a lot deeper meaning in the hotel with no way out for a day, forced to take seemingly innocent people and find out all their secrets in order to uncover more about his own secrets. While not being able to leave the hotel is of course a design decision (can’t let you go anywhere you want, after all), this symbolizes a lot about Kyle and how he feels trapped and confined to the past in his life, and how he’s forced to face his past at the hotel by getting others to do the same (since they too seem like they are trapped within the hotel’s drab walls). The story is one of the more fulfilling ones you could find on a portable platform, or just any platform in general. It feels like it could have been a standout title even in the adventure games’ heyday on PC in the early 90′s.
Aside from the story and the beautiful sketchwork character portraits, the other standout feature of Hotel Dusk is the fact that you hold the DS sideways in order to play. This often sets one character on one screen and the protaganist on the other during conversations, and while walking around in the hotel, the touchscreen is an interactive point and move map and the other screen shows a first person viewpoint of where you are going. It almost feels to strange to control the game like that at first, and there almost seems to be no reason for it. But as your progress in the game, you realize that allowing this view point allows for larger character portraits, the feeling of characters actually talking back and forth to one another, and occasionally, beautiful artwork across both screens. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that Kyle carries a notebook and the DS resembles a small notebook while holding it sideways. There’s also several innovative uses of the touch screen and the folding top within the game play, such as turning a finished puzzle over onto the back by closing the lid, or searching for prints by blowing chalk off a pen. Throughout the game, I kept getting to these parts and thinking “wow, that’s genius.” Perfect use of the DS, and signs that the developer really thought out every feature of the system to use within gameplay.
The stylus movement I had little issues with the entire game, as it just never really felt completely natural to point to areas on the map to make the character go there. Additionally, because you have to look at the map touchscreen to see where you are going, it detracts from the 3D view on the top screen. You can control Kyle with the D-Pad, but at least for a lefty like myself, this felt very awkward. Speaking of the 3D view on the top screen, I would have to say that the graphics during this part are serviceable at best. There’s a lot of low poly textures throughout the game, but for the most part you can tell what everything is and it is not a huge issue. When they show characters in the hallway, it definitely looks poor, as it is a fuzzy low resolution 2D drawing of the character on a 3D plane. No doubt this is likely due to the limit on the DS’s 3D ability, but seeing other games push these supposed limits into impressive feats like Final Fantasy III and Metroid Prime Hunters, I was a little let down at points.
If there’s one more thing I could criticize, it is that the game leaves you hanging in a few places with very few clues as to what to do next. So more times than not, you will have to wander the halls looking for someone who will talk to you, or an item that you previously ignored. Given that there are a lot of rooms and it takes a long time to inspect everything, this can be a very tedious process. You can play for an hour and not make any progress. There were a few times where I just got fed up and looked for a hint online. Most of the time, it will be logical, but there are definitely a few “huh?” moments.
The music on the whole is pretty good, and the best music almost always coming during interrogation, revelation, or sad parts of the game. The wandering around the hotel music and a few people’s themes are a little bland and forgettable, but it was good enough for me to seek out and listen to outside the game. It’s a mix of piano ballads and moody melodies for the most part, which plays well to the setting and the style of the game.
Additionally, the game even offers a bit of replay, with some new areas to explore and a bit more story upon beating it a second time. However, the game isn’t short, and most people will be more than glad to finish it once and leave it at that. All the mysteries are uncovered at that point and the few revelations a second play through shows are better found out via YouTube than spending another 20 hours on a second game. It’s at least better than Phoenix Wright where once the game is over, there’s nothing left to do.
Speaking of Phoenix Wright, I began playing PW2 after Hotel Dusk and couldn’t help but think that Dusk has a lot of great qualities that the Ace Attorney series would do well to incorporate in the future. More free will roaming from place to place (including direct control of the character), giving the protagonist a more active role in the story, and more logical pacing. There wasn’t really a point where you were begging for something to be over in this game, and the length felt just right for the story it told. This is one of the more outstanding exclusive titles for the DS, and while not everyone will love it for the same reason that adventure games are usually dismissed, it has a fascinating story and endearing, lifelike characters. It’s worth finding and playing.