Platform - Nintendo DS
The setting might be 70s California, but the setup is classic 40s noir. Hyde, a deadbeat ex-cop turned travelling salesman checks into a ropey desert motel. He’s there to collect a package and pick up a couple of items. While he’s there, he finds evidence that links the motel to his old partner: a cop gone bad who betrayed him then mysteriously disappeared. As Hyde looks for further clues he learns things that entangle him in the lives of the staff and other guests – a weird ensemble of ex-cons, writers, drunks, ladies and losers. In the Hotel Dusk, everyone has a secret, and everything is connected if you just know how to join the dots…
If the story above sounds more sophisticated than, say, New Super Mario Bros. or the average Nintendo DS game, then the same goes for nearly every aspect of Hotel Dusk: Room 2015. It’s The style, to take another example. Think artsy French graphic novel meets A-Ha’s Take on Me video, with hand-sketched figures animated over stylised 3D backdrops, a few cool cinematic twists, and a lot of constantly shifting line-work. The colour palette is subdued, the character design is suitably gritty, and it all comes close to a perfect marriage of hard-boiled cool and visual smarts.
What’s more, Hotel Dusk isn’t afraid to embrace the possibilities of the DS’ dual-screen format. As with Brain Training, you hold the DS vertically like a book. Most of the time, the left-hand screen is used to show your current view, while the right hand screen provides a scrolling 2D floorplan (the views can be switched and the DS rotated if you’re left handed). Using the stylus you can drag your character around or – by selecting from icons at the bottom – investigate a particular area, check your notebook and inventory or strike up a conversation with another character. Open the close-in view, and the right-screen changes so that you can examine or manipulate particular objects, or even take an object from a character’s proffered hand. Start talking, and the left hand screen gives you your side of the conversation while the right-hand screen shows the other character’s reactions, then enables you to choose your next line. It’s not just an interesting approach: it keeps the gameplay simple while helping to build a sense of immersion. It’s one of the best graphic adventure interfaces I’ve seen since the good old days of point and click.
But the really surprising thing about Hotel Dusk is its approach to the gameplay itself. This isn’t a game of action sequences, or even of complex puzzles. It’s a game of detection and – most of all – interrogation. One chat leads to a clue; a little close observation opens up new avenues of investigation; showing the right character the right object at the right time can give you an answer that leads you on to a whole new set of questions. Maybe you could bundle it and the Phoenix Wright games into a whole new genre: the talk ‘em up. Each game essentially relies on your ability to search the virtual environments, spot the hints and contradictions in what other characters say to you, and then ply the most pertinent question or statement at the most appropriate time.