Pros: + Good story with likable characters + Interesting jazz/lounge soundtrack + Smart use of DS system capabilities
Cons: – Annoying fetch quests – Pacing issues – Some sloppy textures – Occasionally weak sound
An interactive noir novel probably wasn’t the first thing on anyone’s most-wanted DS titles. Most of us wanted to see our favorite tried-and-true Nintendo franchises like Mario, Metroid, and Zelda released post haste. And after developer Cing’s Trace Memory went unnoticed, who would have expected them to come out swinging with another adventure game? Fear not, for Hotel Dusk proves that the genre is still alive and well.
The story follows detective-turned-salesman Kyle Hyde, who uses his sales job to travel the country in search of his old partner. Years prior, Kyle and his partner were investigating a crime syndicate back east. Late in their investigation, Hyde’s partner went missing and was presumed dead.
Back to the present, it’s New Year’s Eve in 1979 and Hyde is in the Southwest U.S. on business. The ex-cop makes a stop at Hotel Dusk, staying in room 215, which supposedly grants wishes. During his stay, Kyle meets all the other guests, many of whom are connected to one another, and some of whom are connected to the mystery of Hyde’s old partner. Every step he takes brings Hyde closer to solving both his own mystery and the one surrounding the hotel.
Though its gameplay is usually simplistic, Hotel Dusk manages a degree of cleverness. You hold the system like a book and use the stylus to move throughout the hotel and interact with objects and characters. On the “bottom” screen (or right, in this case) is a map and on the “top” (again, left when held in this way) is a 3D view of your surroundings.
As you’d expect from an adventure game, there are a lot of puzzles. Early on, most of them are very simple, but they gradually pick up in difficulty. A lot of puzzles in the game involve context-sensitive actions executed with a found item and the stylus, and some are solved with novel tricks like blowing into the microphone or closing and opening the DS. Some of the puzzles feel a little out-of-place and others still can be pretty obtuse, but for the most part the puzzles are made to fit the setting.
There are a lot of different people in the hotel, and they’ve all got their own little mysteries. Needless to say, the not-quite-friendly Kyle Hyde spends most of the night digging up dirt on the other occupants in order to solve their problems (often quite reluctantly). Most of your interactions with the characters involve conversations. If you make a correct dialogue choice, they react accordingly and the conversation continues. Make a wrong choice, though, and you’ll have to replay from your last save.
Each character has their own mannerisms, and their personality quirks are reflected in their dialog. Kyle—a jerk with a heart of gold if there ever was one—will undoubtedly be a favorite to many for his crass, blunt nature with an undertone of a reluctant caring nature. Of course, if players don’t take much of a liking to him, there are plenty of characters other than Hyde, and though some appear less, they each stick out.
There are a couple pacing issues. Sometimes you’ll wander from room to room, wondering exactly what you’re supposed to do. This can go on for a long time, as the game doesn’t hold your hand; usually, it gives you a vague hint and expects you to know where to go. Other times it seems like the game leads you around a bit too much, and you’ll get obtuse messages like, “I should check the laundry room,” despite Hyde having no reason to think so.
Hotel Dusk looks pretty good, but some of the textures are very pixelated or blurry. But the environment is less of a draw than the characters in it; they’re all drawn in monochrome, which adds an interesting look that fits perfectly with the noir motif. There’s a blur effect on them that adds an interesting quality to their movements. Even when they stand still they seem to be in motion, like constantly shifting bits of crumpled paper.
The facial expressions are another highlight of the characters, running the emotional gamut. When Hyde says something mean, characters will either fume or recoil in kind. If you run into a character who’s fond of Hyde, they’ll shout and wave or offer a curt smile. Little touches like these make conversations feel livelier.
Hotel Dusk’s soundtrack has mostly short tracks that you hear fairly often, but none of them are really grating. It’s all got a sort of jazzy lounge style that fits wonderfully with the detective novel theme and sounds a lot like the music from older detective shows, and most of the tracks are a treat to listen to.
Sound effects themselves are generally pretty good, and the only real problem with the audio is that there isn’t really anything in the way of voices. There’s a ton of dialog, so having every line voiced would have been out of the question, but even something like the occasional “Yo, Hyde!” or “Thanks, mister!”—sort of like what was used in Wind Waker and Elite Beat Agents—would have added a bit.
If you’re looking for a fun adventure/puzzle game, Hotel Dusk is probably the best of its kind on the DS. Despite a few pacing problems and occasional tedious fetch quests, Hotel Dusk holds up well. If the puzzles and relative challenge of the game don’t keep you playing, chances are the story will have you interested enough to see the end.
Good: It’s slow to start, but the story will rope you in by the second or third chapter. From there, the puzzles get more complex and the characters more charming.
Buy: It’s hard to find by now, but Hotel Dusk is worth tracking down. Fans of noir or adventure games will appreciate it for sure.