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Portables (Games)

Hotel Dusk Review 52

Posted by Zonk
from the i'm-looking-for-a-room dept.
The visceral nature of pure gameplay is hard to argue with. Games that are 'pure fun', like Geometry Wars or Burnout, satisfy gamers on the most basic level. Sometimes, though, you don't want to be completely engaged. You don't want to be on the 'edge of your seat'. Sometimes, really, you just want to read a book. Hotel Dusk is a 'visual novel', a common game genre in the nation of Japan. Here, it's one of the few titles ever to reach our shores. From an American perspective, it's an adventure game with less of an emphasis on clicking; the designers really just want you to read. Not only does this end up working really well as a concept, Dusk is a really good book. Interacting with extremely memorable characters, puzzling out the pulp-noir detective story, and playing with the DS sideways - all highlights of a stay at the Hotel Dusk. Read on for my impressions of this most welcome addition to the DS library.
  • Title: Hotel Dusk: Room 215
  • Developer/Publisher: Nintendo
  • System: DS
  • Genre: Adventure (Visual Novel)
  • Score: 4/5 - This game is above average, and excels in the genre it supports. A classic for the genre, likely to be a part of a genre fan's collection, and well worth a look for every gamer.
Traditional gaming has players skipping past dialogue to 'get to the game', looking past the cutscenes and carefully crafted prose to whatever the game is 'about'. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 has the distinction of reversing that: the words are the game's reason for being. More interactive novel than game, it's somewhat understandable why Nintendo has been so quiet about this title's existence. Vastly different than many of the DS titles enjoyed by American audiences, Hotel Dusk has no puzzle-ish gameplay, no catchy music, and no direct combat sequences. Even if we can understand the reasons behind Nintendo's lack of advertising, it's still a damn shame. This particular hotel stay easily has some of the best writing ever offered up in a videogame. Character backgrounds are intriguing, the jokes are funny, and protagonist Kyle Hyde is a messed-up bag of awesome.

Kyle is the fulcrum for the whole story, the plot turning as he turns and deepening as he digs. A former New York City police officer, now a door-to-door salesman, Hyde simply cannot let go of the past. His former partner is an undercover cop gone bad, on the road and out of sight for years. Using his role as a salesman as cover, Hyde works to track down the stain on his past and come to some kind of peace. Though that's the general outline of the game's plot, within that framework there are a number of smaller stories playing out in the dusty hallways of the hotel. Folks from Hyde's past reconnect with the ex-cop, while struggling with their own issues and mysteries. What's the tale behind the mouthy little girl on the stairway? What about the pretentious starlet across the hall? Who wrote a love note to the manager of the hotel, and why does the scuzzy-looking bellhop seem so familiar?

When you first check in, the manager places you in room 215. Every room has a word associated with it, meant to inspire guests staying under the hotel's roof. Room 215 is the 'wish' room - a prophetic choice for a tortured protagonist with many different goals. Those goals, broken down by chunks of time, make up the chapters of the game. From 5:30 - 6pm, say, you might be looking for some objects for your boss. After 6 you're looking to get some dinner. Though the game doesn't always do a great job of making you clearly aware of what you're working on, your sweeping goals can always be broken down into a few short-term steps.

Many of those goals revolve around finding and speaking with someone. Locating a person in a not-very big hotel is sometimes easy, and sometimes not. Hotel guests have specific rooms, of course, but they're not always available for you to chat with. In certain circumstances characters are in non-standard locations, requiring you to try formerly-locked doors to see if you've been given access to a new part of the hotel. This can make for frustration if you're not expecting it, as you search all the main areas of the hotel repeatedly ... only to find the bellhop hiding in the linen closet.

Actually navigating the hotel is a breeze: the touchscreen or d-pad serves to move kyle around the 3D environment of the hotel. The touchscreen acts as a top-down map, while the display screen shows you the full rendering of your surroundings from Kyle's viewpoint. When you get close enough to something or someone to interact with them, a context sensitive button begins to flash. Drilling down into the 'interactive' space, your touchscreen becomes a more detailed representation of the area around you. There you can use your stylus to poke at the furnishings and objects of the hotel. As with every adventure game, there are plenty of objects lying around that have no plot value whatsoever. Kyle still comments on these with a dry wit. When examining a sink, for example: "Just your basic sink. I have one just like it at home." These canned responses usually have one or two variations as well, ensuring you're never quite sure what Hyde will say at any given time.

This interactive screen is also where the light puzzling aspects of Hotel Dusk are played out. These challenges are almost all fairly easy, and usually involve using an item you've found in the hotel to manipulate something in the game world. A crowbar allows you to lift up a heavy file cabinet, for example, while a thick piece of wire helps you to pick a briefcase lock. Problem solving is the watchword to these puzzles, and as long as you've kept your eyes open they won't pose much of a problem.

While these puzzles are a nice occasional change of pace, your primary goal will be to talk with the other guests of the hotel. Every one of them has a story to tell, and following the threads of conversation will lead you (eventually) to the heart of their tale. Certain statements the other characters make will allow you the opportunity to interrupt and ask questions. Asking the right questions can net you still more questions, with scrolling text and a perplexed look on Hyde's face being a giveaway that this is important information. It is possible to screw something up during these conversations, derailing your investigation so badly that a crucial character grows to hate you. In such a circumstance you'll see the dreaded 'game over' screen, but continuing takes you right back to the start of the conversation. It's very hard to 'lose' Hotel Dusk - as a visual novel, it's really an attractive book with lots of pictures.

Though the environs of the hotel look nice enough, it's these character-to-character conversations that show off the most attractive part of Hotel Dusk. Character portraits are the mostly the still images seen in anime-style games like Phoenix Wright and Trauma Center, but the noir setting allows for a slightly different approach. Instead of an anime sensibility, characters are artfully rendered pencil line drawings. They also move, reaching to pick up objects or stroke their chin. These portraits are usually in black and white, allowing for some interesting and subtle color-based clues. You know you've got someone on the run, conversationally, when a wave of red emotion passes over them. People Hyde cares for will be rendered in full color, giving you an understanding of the protagonist's emotional state. It's a terrific, very low key visual approach that works wonderfully for this game.

Calling Hotel Dusk a game could reasonably be argued as inaccurate. It is, in true Japanese style, more book than game; it has more in common with Dashiell Hammett's novels than with a Kirby title. Calling Dusk a gimmick, though, would be underselling its value as entertainment. Everything about it - from the sideways position of the DS, to the rich conversational text, through to the artful line drawings, evokes a mood that inarguably works. In my view Hotel Dusk is a great game, because the term 'game' should be as broad as we can possibly make it. The adventures of Kyle Hyde are gripping, thoughtful, and a welcome alternative to the sometimes-vapid intellectual content of videogaming. Adventure game fans, mystery lovers, and everyone that you bough Brain Age for is going to appreciate this title for what it is: a book in game's clothing and a welcome addition to the DS worldview.
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Hotel Dusk Review

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  • other reviews, info (Score:2, Informative)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) *
    Hotel Dusk is also getting good reviews at amazon [amazon.com].(that's an associates link-- if you feel like picking it up and want to throw a little something my way in the process, thanks in advance.)

    Tycho has a few comments on the game [penny-arcade.com] that may be of use in deciding if you are interested in picking it up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by GweeDo (127172)
    • First off, please note one very big missing piece from the review: any hint about the story. For a game that plays like a book, with a supposed emphasis on the story, there should at least be some minor outline of what to expect here. On this note, here's the response I sent to Tycho regarding his comments about "the difficulty of enjoying Hotel Dusk":

      Yeah, so I'm having the same problem, and it's not anything about being essentially in book format. Reading is fine; I have several bookshelves near the

      • i think this snippet from tycho,
        The writing and characterization are so confident by the end that I wonder if this ceased being a "job" for the author. Most games are (from a narrative perspective) mysteries, independent of the higher order gameplay genre we use as a primary classification. But it's not typical for games to use the classic mystery setups - Hotel Dusk is very Agatha Christie in its construction. It's also not common for the story that contains these mysteries to be worth a good Godda
  • Reminds me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by markov_chain (202465) on Friday February 09, 2007 @02:51PM (#17951820) Homepage
    of the "Lords of Time" text adventures by Level 9, which were accompanied by drawings in the upper portion of the screen. They created an awesome atmosphere that gave the imagination a pointer, and let it do the rest of the work.
    • by ozbird (127571)
      Drawings? Luxury. In my day, text adventures were in monochrome CAPITALS, and might include a line diagram if you were lucky!
      • Yeah, they were quite nice for the time. IIRC the 8bit Spectrum version was text only, and the graphics were available in the Atari and Amiga versions.
    • Ahem, sorry to correct you, having games through the early adventures, this style of split screen games with images on top was quite common in the early adventure days, Level 9 (never played those), Scott Adams SAGA adventures, Later infocom adventures, Sands of Egypt other Brotherbound stuff, and do not forget about the Magnetic Scrolls games which were basically the last spark of those games. Those games were called graphic adventure games in those days, but then the Sierra style took over and those text
      • Heh, where did I say it was the only one? I played most of those, but the reason I mentioned LoT is because I liked it best.
  • Good game! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Calmiche (531074) on Friday February 09, 2007 @02:54PM (#17951844)
    I'm actually really enjoying this game. I Love adventure games, and while it isn't a classical point and click adventure, it's REALLY well written and innovative.

    It makes use of the DS capabilities really well. There is one puzzle where I rubbed dust on an object, and then reflexivly blew on my DS screen... and it worked! Turned out not to be the way to solve the puzzle, but I was dumbfounded that the programers included it.

    Give this game a try. It's perfect for long trips.

    The company that released this game also released another called Trace Memory that I haven't picked up yet.
    • I didn't actually get around to finishing Trace Memory, but I enjoyed it a lot, as did my wife (which struck me as strange since she doesn't normally play too many games, but I can blame her for my addiction to Pokemon). I find it very refreshing as I am now finding myself shying away from twitch and gore games and looking for a deeper storyline. My only gripe with trace memory was that the puzzles were too simple, but if you realize that it's not about the puzzle and instead about the story, you can find s
    • by 3on3 (1007539)
      I started playing Trace Memory and I didnt want to put it down til I knew how it ended:P Not a very long game but very engrossing;)
  • ...was as much about reading as it was about playing. The authors had a quirky sense of humor, and the prose managed the trick of being just slightly tongue-in-cheek, humorously overwrought "purple prose," yet being genuinely evocative. It was a graphic novel without the graphics.

    Infocom tried to master this as a kind of "house style," but I still think Crowther and Woods did it best.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Score: 4/5


    I liked it better when every game received an 8/10 rating instead of a 4/5 score. =(
  • by casualsax3 (875131) on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:02PM (#17951966)
    ... Trace Memory - another game from the same creators. It was one of the early DS games to really take advantage of the DS hardware ie, sometimes you need to blow into the microphone to blow dust off of something, or close the lid to make a stamp - very clever. It's short but sweet, and will really leave you scratching your head on a few of the puzzles.

    Review: http://ds.ign.com/objects/707/707312.html [ign.com]

    • If you're looking for a more traditional adventure game (in the style of the classic Sierra games like King's Quest or the Lucasarts games like the Secret of Monkey Island) you'll probably be disappointed by Trace Memory. It's highly linear, with typically only one or two puzzles open at a time. What puzzles you're presented with are typically very obvious. There are a few "head scratchers," but more of the "but that doesn't make any sense" than actual interesting problems to solve in world. Your inven
  • Tycho at PA and others seem to love this game, but the reviewer over at The Onion AV [avclub.com] was pretty harsh.
  • The Onion's AV Club, which is normally a pretty astute review site for video games, is pretty hard [avclub.com] on Dusk. All the reviews can agree on the fact that the game is about the story, not the gameplay aspects of it, but the AV Club seems to really pound the story as being trite. Somehow I'm more inclined to believe the reviewers there when it comes to evaluating the quality of a narrative than just about anyone out there who regularly reviews videogames, for whom the model of storytelling is Final Fantasy or
  • Interactive Fiction (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's just an interactive fiction title. There's lots of them, but there hasn't been a successful commercial release in over a decade. There are many free ones available though. Check out the IF Archive [ifarchive.org] to see a pretty large selection of them. There is even free software for making them; check out the Inform [inform-fiction.org] language / IF development system for creating new games. Plus, there are annual contests to show off your writing talents. Check out both the IF Comp [ifcomp.org] and the Saugus Ghost Story Contest [saugus.net] for a couple

  • Yeah we played these all the time back in the C64 days. Interactive fiction is not new.

    The game sounds interesting and all, but when I want to read a good book, I'll read a good book. To me, handheld games are almost always of the casual variety, something I play for a half hour while I'm on a plane. I'm way too old to sit on the couch playing gameboy for hours at a time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sqlrob (173498)
      You can just sit down and do this for a half hour. That's pretty much how I've been playing it, in 20-30 minute stints.
    • by stratjakt (596332)
      PS: grab the free infocom interpreter, and google around for the game data files. Zork and those old games are great to play while you're sitting at work, pretending to be writing code. Nothing but keyclicks, and from a casual glance they see nothing but text on the screen.

      Just tell the bossman a Grue is something in the .net global assembly. He'll just nod and go "oh yeah, take care of those grues" He doesnt know what the fuck he's talking about anyways.
    • by pico303 (187769)
      Dude, trust me, you'll love this game. You sound like me--I play for around 30 minutes at a time before life gets in the way. This game is totally for you. You can play for short bursts and save whenever you like, and the story is compelling enough that you can play for only 30 minutes and still remember what was going on 3 days later.
  • Can anyone who's played "Hotel Dusk" and the old Nintendo game "Deja Vu" tell me if it's roughly the same type of game?
    • by orielbean (936271)
      I've not played it yet, but the description reminds me a lot of Deja Vu - there was a second one that was released on the PC, and I enjoyed both immensely.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Ansonmont (170786)
      I can't quite put my finger on it, but they seem similar in some strange, half-remembered way....
      -A
  • Interactive Fiction (Score:5, Informative)

    by annodomini (544503) <lambda2000@yahoo.com> on Friday February 09, 2007 @03:59PM (#17952812) Homepage

    There is actually a fairly large community for games similar to this in the English-speaking world, where it is known as interactive fiction (or by it's old-fashioned name, text adventure). Infocom [csd.uwo.ca] produced some of the most famous games in this genre, including Zork and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but there's now a very active community of (mostly) amateurs creating these games just for fun and to explore the artistic possibilities of interactivity in storytelling.

    Most interactive fiction these days is purely text based, as that can be easily created by one or two people who have more experience with writing and programming than graphics and multimedia, and doesn't require a large budget or time investment, though you do occasionally see games with graphics. It has become common to write these games to run on a virtual machine, so that they can be run on all kinds of different platforms. The two most common virtual machines are the Z-machine, which has actually been reverse-engineered from Infocom's virtual machine and thus is compatible with most of their old games and tons of old computers, and the TADS VM. Likewise, there are two common authoring environments, which target these machines; Inform targets the Z-machine, and TADS targets, well, the TADS VM. Both have recently released innovative new systems; Inform 7 [inform-fiction.org] uses a natural language syntax (similar to the natural language input that controls the game), and TADS 3 [tads.org] is designed to be aggressively object-oriented.

    For anyone who is new to these sorts of games, there are a few games that have been designed specifically for beginners. I would recommend Andrew Plotkin's Dreamhold [wurb.com] or Emily Short's City of Secrets [mindspring.com]. You can find lots more games, along with capsule reviews of some of them, at Baf's Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive [wurb.com]. In order to play these games, you'll need an interpreter for the virtual machine. On Windows or Unix/Linux I would recommend Gargoyle [ccxvii.net], as it's an interpreter that has nice typography and supports many different virtual machines. On the Mac, I would recommend either Zoom [logicalshift.co.uk] (for Z-machine, with support for some other interpreters in beta) or Spatterlight [ccxvii.net] (which supports many different machines).

    There is also a large community interested in developing, playing, criticizing, and discussing these games. Some of the best places to go for discussion are the interactive fiction newsgroups, rec.arts.int-fiction (for discussion of interactive fiction programming, game design, and topics about the field as a whole) and rec.games.int-fiction (for announcement and discussion of particular games). There is also an interactive fiction MUD [port4000.com] (mostly a fancy chat-room), several [ifcomp.org] contests [xyzzynews.com] for developing the best [springthing.net] interactive fiction, plenty [ministryofpeace.com] of reviews [sparkynet.com] and other articles [brasslantern.org] online. There are several good beginner's [brasslantern.org] guides [microheaven.com] to the format as well.

    Anyhow, I thought that since this review made it sounds like interactive novels were mostly a Japanese thing, I thought I'd point out a bit of what is available in the English speaking world. As I mentioned, these are mostly text based, both due to the preferences of the authors and lack of budget, unlike the graphical Jap

  • I'm only less than halfway through, so I can't attest to it's replay value, but Hotel Dusk is very cool and it uses some interesting and unexpected aspects of the DS to it's advantage.

    At one point you have to solve a jigsaw puzzle, but on the back of the puzzle is some writing that you can't read because the puzzle is lying on it's back. The jigsaw puzzle is on one side of the DS and a tabletop is on the other side.

    So, if only one screen is touchable, how do you get the puzzle across?



    SPOILERS
    • May you burn in PSP hell for writing spoilers in an Slashdot post. This deserves to be modded into oblivion :P
  • Here, it's one of the few non-hentai titles ever to reach our shores.

    Fixed.

    Rob
  • This is very definitely not a visual novel. Visual novels are not games. They are like digital choose your own adventure books. Hotel Dusk has inventory and puzzles. Visual novels do not.

    This game is also not Interactive Fiction. IF is the new term for text adventure.

    This game is most akin to a graphic adventure, like the Sierra days of yore.
    • by pico303 (187769)
      I would argue that Hotel Dusk is the closest thing to interactive fiction we've seen in the stores since Beyond Zork hit the shelves. This is as close as you're going to get these days. No, the story isn't Maltese Falcon, but it's a start. And it's damn better than anything else out there (i.e. "Oh no, the aliens are going to destroy humanity's last hope for survival. You've got to stop them!" God, please save me from another Doom clone!).
  • by superultra (670002) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @12:45AM (#17959508) Homepage
    Many reviewers of Hotel Dusk, even in positive critiques, have noted that the game ignores the precepts of PC adventure games, but because of the story, Hotel Dusk is worth playing. But taken as a novel, the story isn't that good. If we read this as a book, paper pages and earmarks and all, I think anyone would quickly recognize how horribly trite and uninpsired the story is. Frankly, this is dime-store trash.

    Which doesn't mean that isn't necessarily "good," or that doesn't mean that Hotel Dusk is incapable of pulling players into its story; indeed, the art is superb, and I think that any amount of interaction makes any story seem more visceral. Kyle, the main character, is us, after all.

    But that it can do so much with so little is really the big problem with Hotel Dusk. Hotel Dusk reminds me a lot of Farenheit [acegamez.co.uk], which I played on the Xbox. Taken as either a game or a story, it leaned too heavily on cliches from both formats. Yet, it was still - like Hotel Dusk - admittedly fun. Why? Because finally I am the one (mostly) pulling the strings.

    I'm more inclined to support The Onion's negative review, because Hotel Dusk is really a wasted opportunity. Yes, yes, games should be fun, and there will always be a place for Mario & Luigi-like simple stories (which I am totally digging on the GBA), or ripoffs of existing genres. But I think we need to start being harder on games that aspire to greatness, particularly in storytelling, as Hotel Dusk does. We do not need antoher Sam Spade story. We need an LA Confidential or Maltese Falcon video game, something that, yes, nods to the genre, but also brings it to another level. (Hell, just one of these games would make me happy.) It's not impossible (Deus Ex comes immediately to mind). Allowing games to use interaction as a crutch to support a weak story rather than a ladder to elevate it to a whole new media form is ultimately doing ourselves - and the games' designers - a disservice.
  • A couple of caveats, for the wary: I am a big fan of the old text adventures, both Infocom and Scott Adams. I grew up playing Zork, Pirate's Adventure, and the like. While I recognize the accomplishments of designers who have pushed graphics to the edge of the envelope, I prefer a damn good story that resonates with the audience.

    Hotel Dusk is just a fun, relaxing game. It's all about the mystery, and uncovering the story. A little like the TV show Lost, where everyone in the hotel is related somehow b
  • I don't know if anyone else has noticed it but Zonk is actually quite a poor writer and editor or admin or whatever the fuck he is. First, he has a poor mastery of the English language. This article strikes it home for me particularly, but his earlier articles have examples of his poor writing style. They simply weren't enough to condemn him. Second, his choice of "video game news," with the quotes self-conscious, is sad or, if you prefer, debatable. This review is okay, aside from massive grammatical error
    • by Chronus (201970)
      Apologies but the last sentence should be:
      Honestly, I would prefer another editor/admin, even if he was more generic or whatever, if he simply understand /what/ the basics of videogame news and general writing were.

      Enjoy.
  • Should also point out there's a whole community of Original English Visual Novels being created by folks using the Ren'Py engine (http://www.renpy.org/wiki/renpy/Home_Page). It's designed to allow authors to produce games for the Mac, Linux, and Windows simultaneously, so most of the games can be played on any of those platforms.

    Myself, I used it to produce the first fully-voiced OEL VN - Senior Year. Which you can download for free at www.bklovr.com

    So whether you enjoy playing, or would like to write your
  • Absolutely awesome art direction, great puzzles, great story.

    I don't want to give away too much of the story. It's a mystery novel with a film noir touch. It feels a bit like Angel Heart. [imdb.com] Now clearly, the game can't be reviewed as a book. If this were a book, the story would be severely flawed: The story is mainly told through the dialogs you have with other people and a few monologues by the main character. It's also obvious that they made sure the story would regularly incorporate puzzles, which means th

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