Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 review

The Nintendo DS platform has seemed suited to the graphic adventure genre since the beginning, and last year saw the official release of Another Code: Two Memories and the unofficial release of ScummVM, which allows owners capable of running homebrew to load up some of the true genre classics including The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max and Broken Sword. If there's any genre that deserves to be reinvigorated then I would have to say that the graphic adventure is it, as they were by far my preferred type of game before LucasArts stopped developing them and I moved to RPG's to get my kicks.

Now, along comes Cing again (they were responsible for Another Code) with a new adventure for the DS, and they've learnt from some of their mistakes from the first game but have also made some new ones. Can I recommend it? Let's find out...

Format: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Cing
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Region: US (PAL out soon)
Price: £30

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The first thing you notice when you fire up the game is the striking visual style. All of the characters in the game are drawn as black and white pencil sketches which animate when you converse and interact with them. More than one review I've seen has made the comparison to the classic Aha music video for Take on Me from the 80's, and that's really the best way to visualise what it looks like (if you're old enough to have seen the video in the first place of course). The cast are realistically designed as well and together with the believable script Cing do a good job of making them feel like real people.

The environment that you explore (which is the hotel, basically, as you're not allowed to go anywhere else) isn't quite up the the same quality as the characters, being made of rather basic 3D, but at least things are fairly clear and you can tell what you can interact with because it's highlighted in yellow when you touch it with your stylus. A second touch looks at or uses the object depending on the circumstances. I would compare the graphics of the hotel to those of the mansion in the PlayStation and DS port of the original Resident Evil - rather blocky and basic but functional.

The proprietor of Hotel Dusk, Dunning Smith, is one of the first people you will encounter in the game

Sound and Music: 6 out of 10
The music in the game is rather cheesy and reminded me of lift music or the crap that's piped down the phone when you get put on hold, which I suppose fits in to the whole 70's hotel vibe but isn't really my thing. There are a few pieces of "tension music" as things ramp up but they still have a slight cheap Bontempi organ feel to them.

Sound effects are dotted around to give a little atmosphere, such as footsteps as you walk around or somebody whistling from one of the rooms (which you have to track down). What little sound effects there are, are well done, but overall the sound didn't really amaze.

Plot and Character: 9 out of 10
The combination of the plot and character is really what kept me playing Hotel Dusk through to the end. The characters are all believable (but no necessarily like able - including the main character Kyle Hyde) and the story is compelling and well written. The "game" if you can really call it that (which is debatable) is a little to heavy on dialogue and exposition, and some of the 10 chapters can see you literally clicking through one conversation after another without a single puzzle. This may be too much for some, it really depends on how invested in the characters you become.

Another slightly infuriating feature which tends to exacerbate the lengthy chats is that fact that a wrong conversational choice can lead to a game over and will usually mean you have to sit through the whole thing again. Really, Cing should have allowed the player to skip a conversation they've already read. Several times I had to stop playing because I was too annoyed with the game after a supposedly innocent comment led to a restart.

The plot itself is neatly chopped up into 10 chapters, each lasting approximately an hour each (depending on whether you get stuck or not). At the end of each chapter, the main character Kyle Hyde goes over the facts in his mind and you have to answer 6 multiple choice questions based on events that have just transpired. This is a quite a neat way of reminding those with short attention spans (I'm talking to you there - WAKE UP!) of the important facts, and it was also used in Another Code.

I won't go into too much detail of what happens, but the basic premise sees you taking on the role of ex-cop turned salesman Kyle Hyde as he is sent to Hotel Dusk by his boss. He's also trying to track down his ex partner Bradley who turned traitor and then vanished without a trace. In order to get to the truth you will have to eek out the dirty secrets of some of the other hotel residents and set a few lives back on course for good measure. One thing's for sure, it's going to be a long night (seriously, doesn't anyone sleep in this place?).

Aspiring actress Iris tends to have a rather abrasive personality, especially where Kyle Hyde is concerned.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
In each of the 10 chapters of Hotel Dusk, you will wander the building, chatting to the many staff members and residents who each have their own stories, foibles and secrets. Every so often you a question symbol will appear that denotes that you can grill somebody further to glean more info, or you may have to choose from one of two conversation options, with the wrong one leading to an infuriating game over screen. As already mentioned, these conversations can drag on for rather too long and often tend to repeat information you already know.

Every so often your snooping around will trigger a puzzle which is usually pretty simple to solve but sometimes they are a bit more imaginative. The controls are pretty good, being almost completely reliant on the stylus, though you can press a button to click through a conversation if you get tired of tapping on the screen. Then at the end of the chapter you get the quick quiz which is very if you don't have the memory of a dead guppy. Following that you get the chance to save your game and then it's off to the next chapter. It's hardly the gameplay that dreams are made of because a lot of the time you feel like a passive observer. You even have a notepad that you can write on with the stylus, but it's of little use because your character will stop and tell you exactly what you're supposed to be doing anyway. Yet somehow the plot and characterisation draws you on.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
The unique art style earns a few points here as does the setting and tone of the story with is a bit more mature than the typical fare that usually gets put on to the DS, but for the most part Hotel Dusk would've benefited greatly from a larger range of puzzles and tougher ones to boot. As such it doesn't quite live up to the potential of the concept.

Value & Replayability: 6 out of 10
The game will take you round about 10 hours to finish, and there are apparently multiple endings depending on certain choices you make throughout the game. Whether or not you will bother to go back in order to see a different one is debatable though as you will have to sit through the same events and page upon page of text yet again. When everything is fresh and new and you don't know exactly what makes each character tick, then Hotel Dusk is quite a "page turner", but once you've seen it all before then much of the mystery is gone.

Overall: 7 out of 10
While a lot of my comments here may seem rather harsh, I do think Cing should be applauded and encouraged for bringing the adventure genre to a new audience on the DS and they should also continue to develop their style. If they could just readdress the balance of the conversations and the puzzles then they'd be on to a real winner. As it is, I think all of the reading involved will be a big turn off to many - but if they look past this they will find an engrossing and interesting story wrapped up in an intriguing visual style.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Releases - 06/04/07

Only a very quick releases section this week because there's not really much worth bothering with. In fact, there's only three games that I would consider picking up...

Sony PSP and Nintendo Wii

Prince of Persia: Rival Swords

A new version of Prince of Persia 3: The Two Thrones which supposedly takes advantage of the unique Wii controller and the portable nature of the PSP. If you've already played that game on one of the other formats then I doubt there's much to keep you interested here - if you haven't though it may be worth checking out.

Xbox 360

Guitar Hero II

The hit music game from Harmonix comes to the big beige box along with 10 new songs including tracks by Alice Cooper, Deep Purple and Pearl Jam. If you still haven't paid out the fairly hefty price to pick this up, then you really should!

Import Watch

Super Paper Mario

The Wii version of Datel's Freeloader disc cannot come soon enough as far as I'm concerned, especially now that the latest game in the long running Mario RPG series is available in the US. There seems to be more emphasis on action and platform style gameplay than the RPG side this time around which worries me a bit, but I have faith in Nintendo and Intelligent systems. It's a shame we have no idea how long we'll have to wait for a European release!

The RetroModern Gaming blog Pick of the Week
Super Paper Mario
This was an easy choice this week - I've loved every moment of every game in the series so far and I expect great things from this one too.