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Revisiting ‘Hotel Dusk: Room 215’

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At first glance, the Nintendo DS seems to be made for visual novel-styled games. The portability, the dual screens, and touch screen all are perfectly suited for a great narrative adventure. While not many games truly took advantage of this fact, Cing saw a perfect opportunity to craft a mystery of their own. It has been 11 years since the release of Hotel Dusk: Room 215, and since then it has become one of the few examples of a great slow-burn, text-heavy adventure game that can be found on the system. Now that it has been over a decade since the game hit the shelves of stores worldwide, it’s time to look back at what makes this hard-boiled detective noir so special in the first place.

Hotel Dusk is a visual novel/adventure game developed by Cing, released for the DS in 2007, a year after the DS Lite had been released. It is a game that is truly made for the DS, with its hardware in mind. The DS is held sideways, like a book, befitting of the visual novel-styled gameplay. It also makes heavy use of the system’s touch screen, never requiring button input at any point, unless the player would prefer to use that control scheme. There are even a few puzzles that involve the closing of the DS itself, utilizing the clamshell open-and-shut design of the system. The design feels comfortable and slick to this day.

hotel dusk: room 215The game places the player in control of Kyle Hyde, an ex-cop who has found himself at the titular Hotel Dusk, staying in the titular Room 215, searching for an old friend who also used to serve on the force. Throughout Kyle’s time at the Dusk, he meets a wide assortment of different characters, each seemingly interconnected to each other. Throughout each of the game’s 10 chapters, many new interlinked mysteries arise, with the story revealing itself to be much more than a surface-level mystery of where Kyle’s friend has disappeared to. The characters in Hotel Dusk have actual depth, which serves the game’s story-heavy nature quite well. The game isn’t merely a mystery, but a character drama as well. Each character has a distinct personality that shines through the game’s excellent writing. There’s a lot to digest when it comes to the details of the game’s story, from the interwoven backstories of its characters, to the overarching mystery at hand. The mystery is given to the player in small pieces: a fact here, a tidbit there. It’s up to the player to sort it out for themselves as the story progresses, and as each question is answered, it seems that three more are asked. There’s rarely a dull moment to be found, and every conversation moves the plot-line forward, even if it may be in a minuscule way. 

That’s one defining trait of Hotel Dusk: its slow pace. This isn’t necessarily a detractor, as the writing itself is quite strong. Although anyone who is averse to reading will want to steer clear of this one, because not only is the game exceptionally text-heavy, it is also very light in the gameplay department. The game doesn’t have much in the way of true gameplay, aside from walking around the hotel, talking to characters, investigating objects, etc. It’s pretty standard adventure game fare. Compared to other visual novel-styled games on the DS such as Ace Attorney or 999, Hotel Dusk is by far the most slow and methodical in its approach to storytelling. This isn’t really a fault as much as it is a fact, because the main purpose of the title is to tell a compelling story, which is something that it does a swell job of.

Alongside the intricate plot are the stylish visuals of the game. The environments are nothing to write home about, but the character models and cutscenes of Hotel Dusk have an awesome, cinematic style to them. The art style of each character is shown through a sketched visual, as if they were just drawn with a pencil. They are animated with slight movements that make them feel straight out of a noir-comic book, and it works perfectly. Alongside this are the cutscenes, which make excellent use of the DS’ two screens. The few cutscenes that can be found throughout the game are crafted in a way that is spectacular, and it creates a cinematic feeling that is not often found on the system. In a game with such a strong emphasis on the story and world, the visuals do a great job of creating a world for the player to get lost in.

Kyle himself is particularly noteworthy for being an enjoyable player character. Instead of making the protagonist a flat character that is essentially a substitute for the thoughts of the player themselves, Kyle has genuine personality to him. His simultaneously hard-nosed yet kind nature makes for some memorable interactions with the game’s various characters. He’s an enjoyable person to spend the game’s 15-20 hour runtime with. Conversations in Hotel Dusk take place between two people with unique personalities and motivations, which makes each conversation engaging. And in a game with as much dialogue as this one, that’s a real accomplishment. 

hotel duskThe game sports a killer soundtrack, too. The music perfectly captures the detective, film-noir vibe that the game’s visuals give off. It always accompanies the story in a perfect way, capturing any emotion that the player might be feeling at any particular moment. Both catchy and atmospheric, it never fails to bring the right mood to the twisting story. It’s certainly one of the best gaming soundtracks that can be found on the DS. The game’s composer, Satoshi Okubo, really did a stellar job. It’s unfortunate that his other soundtrack works don’t seem to be very extensive, but he still created his own legacy with the soundtrack of Hotel Dusk.

Of course, the game isn’t without its problems, just about all of which stem from one area: puzzles. Unfortunately, Cing found it necessary to include puzzles throughout the story in order to break up the slow-paced gameplay, but many are obtuse to the point of ridiculousness. Your inventory will soon become full of items that you may or may not ever use, and when they are used, it’s during a seemingly random time. One puzzle requires the player to touch two places on the DS’ screen at the same time, and needless to say, it doesn’t work well. One particular minigame isn’t great, either: a required side-activity involves playing a very buggy game of bowling. It gets frustrating fast. Perhaps the most painful part about the puzzle issue within Hotel Dusk is the fact that it is so immediately fixable; they could have just not been included. The game would have functioned perfectly well as an interactive novel without the addition of puzzles. They are never really necessary, and only serve as a slowdown for the game’s story. A guide will almost certainly be a must for anyone who wants to play this game. (Just make sure it’s spoiler-free.) If nothing else, the puzzles deserve attention for occasionally trying something new, but more often than not they fall flat on their face.

The game also features many scenarios that suffer from “What-Do-I-Do” syndrome, where the player will find themselves wandering the hotel for the next story sequence with only a vague piece of dialogue to guide them. This doesn’t happen too frequently, but it does occur more than once. Puzzles aside, the text speed is also perpetually slow, and can only be sped up by holding the A button or touch screen down (Something one might find themselves doing frequently). Ultimately, the problems in Hotel Dusk are far from game-breaking, but certainly noticeable.

Here is one very important note for players who might want to try this game out on their 3DS: there is a puzzle late in the game that involves finding a number hidden on a blank piece of paper. The game wants you to find a blacklight item earlier in the game, but unfortunately this object is easily missable. If you don’t have the blacklight at this point in the game, the alternative option of solving the puzzle is by physically tilting the screen of the DS in order to view it from a different angle and see a slight outline of the number you are given. Here’s the thing, though: The number on the sheet is random each playthrough, and the screen-tilting workaround doesn’t work on the 3DS, as its screen is fundamentally different than the original DS’ screen. This particular writer faced this issue head-on while revisiting this game for this retrospective. So, for all 3DS users: Be sure to either find the blacklight before Chapter 10, or have an online cipher decoder on hand.

hotel duskUnfortunately, Cing went bankrupt after releasing their final game, which just so happened to be a sequel to Hotel Dusk, titled Last Window: The Secret of Cape West. Needless to say, once you’re finished playing Hotel Dusk, you will want to give its sequel a look. Though Cing is no longer creating games, many members of its development team went on to create Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories in 2016, which featured many Hotel Dusk-esque qualities. Cold Case Investigations definitely felt like the first episode in a series, and we have yet to see an episode 2 at the time of this writing; in the meantime, we can only hope for a sequel. Regardless, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is an experience that has plenty to offer in the way of quality storytelling. The puzzles that weren’t very fun in 2007 still aren’t very fun today, but the story remains as engaging as ever, and the world just as vivid. This game tells a distinctly mature, human story that isn’t often found within Nintendo’s games. There is a strong heart that can be found within its words. Anyone who enjoys a good mystery, or is looking for one of the best stories to be found on the DS should definitely give this game a go. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 offers a unique mystery that should not go unsolved.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘The Walking Dead’

A look back at one of the most critically acclaimed narrative based point and click story games of the decade: Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

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The story-based video game has been around for a long time but there has been a spike in popularity in them in the last decade. One of the most influential and critically acclaimed narrative games is the 2012 game Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which initiated a tidal wave of choice-based games that still continues today.

Lee Everett, the protagonist of the first season of The Walking Dead Game.

Telltale Games was created in 2004 and had a significant library of games established — including games based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park — before the release of The Walking Dead. It was the zombie point and click adventure that shot them to triple A game studio status though. The game took on similar mechanics to their other games but introduced a more cinematic style. Player choice is a key element in regard to dialogue choices and important decisions within the story. These shape the player character, Lee Everett, and change his personality to suit the play style. This was one of the most endearing features of the game, allowing players to experience scenarios slightly differently depending on your choice.

The Walking Dead

Lee and his ward Clementine had a strong connection that led to a lot of the emotional moments in the story.

The depth of the characters and dark nature of the narrative are the best aspects of the game. The player takes on the role of Lee as he is on his way to jail at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. After a car accident leaves him stranded, he stumbles upon a little girl named Clementine. Lee becomes her protector as they and a group of survivors try to survive in the walker-infested world. This simple story of a man with a troubled past attempting to protect a little girl at the end of the world is incredibly engaging and it is difficult not to get emotionally attached to both Lee and Clementine. The system wherein certain characters will remember Lee’s words or actions is also a nice feature that can guilt trip you over your choices, particularly if you see the words “Clementine Will Remember That”. Lee is an interesting and complex character whose attitude and personality can change depending on player choice and Clementine is a loveable child who doesn’t fall into the “annoying kid” stereotype in most games. Both became beloved video game characters who set a precedent for likeable protagonists in gaming.

The Walking Dead

The cast of characters in The Walking Dead’s first season all had their complexities.

The legacy of Telltale Games and The Walking Dead still continues within the gaming community. Telltales unfortunate downfall in September 2018 was a great loss to story-based gaming but many have been influenced by Telltale’s work since. Dontnod adapted the episodic formula for their Life is Strange games, another fantastic narrative series. Others who had previously worked for Telltale helped bring other great story games to life. The co-writers of the first season of The Walking Dead game set up the company that created the 2016 game Firewatch, for example. More writers of the series launched Night School Studios, responsible for Oxenfree (2016) and Afterparty (2019). The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games to stardom, leading them to take on a slew of projects — possibly leading to their downfall. Despite this, the game has carved out a place for itself in history as one of the best point and click narrative adventure games that established a trend of games that encourage strong storytelling and complex characters.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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