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Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS) artwork

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS) review

"Hotel Dusk has the point-and-click feature down, but the adventure is conspicuously absent. The most exciting locales to visit in the two story hotel are a few vacant rooms, the lifeless bar, and three short hallways."

A good mystery thrills us with forbidden intrigue, unforgivable betrayals, and the allure of peeling back the shadowy veil to reveal the surprising truth. With the release of Hotel Dusk: Room 215, DS owners were poised to experience a new twist on this old genre. Previews and a few suspiciously overzealous reviews quickly praised Hotel Dusk’s dark and compelling story, engaging character designs, and the rebirth of the point-and-click adventure, but like a skilled detective, we need to separate fact from fiction.

As a former cop turned traveling salesman, Kyle Hyde can’t leave a mystery unsolved. That made Hyde the perfect candidate for his boss’s unofficial side business – finding people and objects that were meant to stay hidden. For Hyde though, it is simply a means to continue the search for his traitorous ex-partner, Bradley. With a cold trail and not a clue in sight, Hyde’s obsessive quest stands on the verge of futility, but that’s about to change. Whether it’s the tides of fate, or an orchestrated trap, Hyde knows in his gut that his assignment at Hotel Dusk will be more than a regular overnight stay. Something there will lead to Bradley.

Hyde’s purpose at Hotel Dusk is to find a package on behalf of a client, but while poking around, Hyde learns that a guest had checked in under the same name only six months prior. A rational person would chalk it up to coincidence, but for Hyde, it’s a reason to start interrogating the guests. Heaven forbid that people stay at a hotel to get some sleep. It’s a ridiculously forced premise, but nevertheless, some semblance of a plot unfolds layer by terribly thin layer. It just takes about eight hours of digging through long-winded conversations to get to. The discussion points are provided, but even if you pick the wrong response, the conversation almost always loops around until you get it right.

So what kind of juicy leads come out of Hyde’s inquisitive escapades? Not much of anything, or at least nothing that should encourage him to prod any further. Among the guests are a cocky teenager with authority issues, a father and daughter on their way to see the mother, a writer on retreat, and an elderly woman recapturing old memories. Logically speaking, the story should end right there, but Hyde says Bradley can’t be far away. Lack of evidence be damned, it must be true. So off you’ll go, room by room to ask the guests questions you have no reason to ask in the first place. To be fair, Hyde eventually uncovers a web of connections among the guests, but the end should never justify the mean.

Hotel Dusk has the point-and-click feature down, but the adventure is conspicuously absent. The most exciting locales to visit in the two story hotel are a few vacant rooms, the lifeless bar, and three short hallways. A good adventure game should encourage the player to drive the story forward and discover new places. Instead, I found myself endlessly wandering through the hotel like a lost child and tediously knocking on doors in a sad attempt to trigger the appearance of an NPC. All that for another twenty-minute dialogue where the most stimulating aspect is clicking pre-made questions so that the characters can droll on even more. In the real world Hyde would have been kicked out for harassment, especially after getting caught in the room of a ten year old girl while her father was away.

Instead of luring players with a sense of depth and fascination, Hotel Dusk seems more interested in pulling players along with scraps of information and the faint hope that adventure lies just around the corner. Even the puzzles, mainstays of the point-and-click genre, feel more like filler than necessary events. A few “challenges” involve scribbling the touchscreen to piece a children’s puzzle together, playing connect-the-dots on a memo, and turning on a light switch. I wish I could say that I was dumbing them down for cynical emphasis, but they really are that simple and mundane. I even double-checked the menu screen to make sure there wasn’t an easy mode.

The hallmark of Hotel Dusk, and probably the only reason it stood out in the first place, is the character design. While the environments are three-dimensional, the characters appear as black and white pencil drawings. Each character only has a handful of different poses, but the illustrations are incredibly expressive. In a time when beautiful, 3-D characters decked out in closets-worth of accessories rule the popularity charts, it’s amazing to see how a simple yet finely crafted illustration can captivate an audience. It’s a rare game that can entice you by the power of its graphics alone, but like an aging model, beauty can only last so long.

Many authors open their books with an especially catastrophic event, grotesque scenario, or traumatic moment. Even in film, a script that doesn’t jar the audience in the first ten minutes is usually regarded as a failure. It’s called a “hook,” and Hotel Dusk needs one more than anything. It felt as though the developers spent the first half of the game trying to keep the player busy by tacking on new mysteries, and the second half trying to tie them all together. Lacking a hook and substance, Hotel Dusk does little more than coast forward on the power of its own novelty.

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Staff review by Brian Rowe (February 12, 2007)

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