Yup, it’s Old Game Week here at the factory. No, not really. I take my time playing games. I finally beat this game. It took a billion years. It’s been so long since I had to think through a video game and not endlessly hack and slash or shoot or choose the same strong spell over and over again. You don’t have to think a lot in Hotel Dusk, a point-and-click graphic novel adventure in video game form, but sometimes I was so stumped as to what to do I couldn’t help but turn to GameFAQs to find out what goofy, ridiculous item I needed to do a somewhat-not really-okay-not at all realistic thing. Or maybe I’m just a big DUMMY.
And that’s the worst thing about Hotel Dusk’s gameplay. The leaps of logic……Oh, I gotta look at the CHALKBOARD?! Okay! I gotta tap the BOX? ALL RIGHT! Sometimes it’s not so obvious. You go around, look for things, interact with things that activate little mini-games like SHARPEN THE PENCIL! and UNLOCK THE DOOR! That’s about it. Oh wait, what gets you, at least, what got ME, is remembering what to do and what characters say. Their conversations provide clues you need to remember to snipe suspects in confrontations and to pass the little memory quizzes at the end of each chapter (10 in all) that catch you up on the goings-on of the story.
The thing you do most in Hotel Dusk… is read. Which is great if you like strong dialogue, a clever plot and way better characterization than is expected in a, well, a video game. Nintendo’s in-house translation team, Treehouse, deserve SOME sort of accolade by the end of the year for their layered, hardboiled work but it wouldn’t be as superb an accomplishment without the marvelous character designs to go with it. Sketched in black and white in an East-meets-West manga-pulp mash-up style that forgoes excessive detail, the characters are more like emblems, made up of one or two components that set each character apart from the rest. Glasses + beard = the author, eyepatch + cane = the old woman, pigtails + wide-eyed look = the little girl … They’re also well-animated, as limited as the animation is. This isn’t a full-blown cartoon but it’s just enough to really make the characters come alive.
And man, do they. I started to miss them once the game reached its satisfying end, especially Kyle Hyde, the noir detective you play as. Perhaps the best protagonist since Phoenix Wright, another DS detective, he’s the exact opposite. Rude and self-loathing, he spouts Philip Marlowe-isms that’d make neo-noir contemporaries Dwight McCarthy and Max Payne proud. Which is what Hotel Dusk does best – style and personality. The presentation is nifty too, with a noirish soundtrack and decent Resident Evil-esque 3D graphics for environments. Hotel Dusk may not do anything drastic in the game department – except for a couple novel uses of the DS; to solve one puzzle you have to shut the DS closed, and you can write notes in Kyle’s notebook – but as an interactive novel it’s a real page-turner, and a memorable one at that.