CREATIVE THINKING: The puzzles go beyond “Use item X on object Y.”
With its touch-screen interface, the Nintendo DS could be the ideal platform for a revival of the point-and-click graphic adventure games that were so popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And though nobody’s announced a DS port of King’s Quest or Maniac Mansion yet, the new, noirish Hotel Dusk: Room 215 should prove more than satisfactory to any fan of the genre.
Hotel Dusk opens on Kyle Hyde, a former New York cop with a dark past and a bad goatee. Working as a door-to-door salesman who helps his boss dabble in blackmail, he’s sent to the Hotel Dusk and discovers there’s more to the place than its run-down interior would suggest. A former street thug he’s arrested a few times is working as a bellhop. And someone — perhaps Bradley, his former partner, whom he’s been tracking for the past three years — stayed there six months earlier under the name Kyle Hyde. As if that weren’t enough, the room he’s staying in purports to grant wishes.
As with most games of this type, you unravel the story in piecemeal fashion by solving a series of small puzzles using inventory you find as you explore your surroundings in the hotel and information you garner from interrogating the various patrons, most of whom are the usual detective-novel types. (The game is even played with the DS held sideways, as if it were a mass-market paperback.) They’re hiding something, and working the info out of them is engrossing even when they aren’t telling you anything about Bradley and the art-forgery ring he was involved with.
Hotel Dusk makes use of a mostly monochromatic, pencil-sketch effect to emphasize the shady nature of these characters. At the same time, their facial expressions are some of the most vivid ever rendered on any video-game screen, hand-held or otherwise. And the puzzles are innovative. Some of them go well beyond the old “Use item X on object Y” kind of solution. One has you abandoning the DS’s stylus and using both thumbs to hit two objects simultaneously; another entails shutting the DS and opening it again. This is the kind of creative thinking designers should have in mind when developing new DS titles.
That said, Hotel Dusk feels a little constrained. Hyde’s actions are limited to what the game selects for him — he can look at something or pick it up but not both. In games like Shadowgate, one of Hotel Dusk’s eight-bit forebears, you could explore the environment, peering behind paintings, opening drawers, etc.; here you’re restricted to things that are relevant to your mission. Increasing the stylus’s functionality could have opened up a whole new world of exploration, but the creators chose not to take that route. And some gamers may be frustrated by the occasionally glacial pacing. When a puzzle presents itself, nothing else can be done till it’s been cleared. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but every now and then you can get stuck. Still, those who stay with it will find a world that’s addicting. Now if we could just persuade LucasArts to bring The Secret of Monkey Island to the DS . . .