I’m not much of a video game player these days, but like many others, I had a handheld Nintendo GameBoy as a kid and I always enjoyed playing adventure role-playing games, namely the excellent The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the original GameBoy console.
It was this that prompted me to fork out for the GameBoy’s successor, the Nintendo DS, back in 2006: I’d randomly heard that later that year another game in the hugely successful Zelda series was to be released, and a childish and nostalgic excitement briefly gripped me. (Ten years after its release, Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 is still considered by many as one the greatest games ever made). After several delays, then, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass eventually appeared in late '07, and I duly bought it, became quickly engrossed in its excellent gameplay and storyline, and after completing it, let the DS sit around gathering dust for the whole of last year.
That is, until I received a game as an unusual gift for Christmas which I’d spotted months ago but never bothered buying: Hotel Dusk – Room 215. As Phantom Hourglass demonstrated to me, the DS is almost the perfect console for an adventure game with a good plot, given both its duel screens (one of them a touchscreen which you use to control the action with a stylus) and its clamshell design, which makes the gaming experience akin to holding a book sideways. In Hotel Dusk, however, a small video game developer called Cing have produced something which has had me strangely hooked unlike any game I’ve played before.
Set in 1970s America, the game centres around Kyle Hyde: an ex-cop turned salesman trying to track down a missing friend who betrayed him. The game opens with clues that lead you to an eerie, old hotel which is rumoured to have a strange room where wishes are granted. Playing as Hyde, your role is to unravel the mystery of the hotel and Hyde’s missing cop partner, Bradley.
What makes it so engrossing, enjoyable and playable, however, is the aesthetics and feel of the thing, the believable and complex plot, and the brilliantly scrupulous attention to detail. Holding the DS sideways – a feature unique to this game which actually makes playing it feel like reading an interactive novel – is more than just a novelty, and the dialogue in the game not only conjures believable and well-crafted characters, but is matched with altering facial expressions, gestures and movements which add colour and depth to the storyline. The aesthetic feel and design of the game itself is modelled on that of many graphic novels: think Sin City but sketchier and less extravagant, the artwork rougher round the edges to add a sense of movement and fluidity. In fact, I since found out the distinctive animation technique used in the game is called rotoscoping: perhaps most famously used (and most similarly to Hotel Dusk) in the video to A-ha’s hit single ‘Take On Me’.
This, combined with plenty of (sometimes quite demanding) puzzle solving, touches of humour in dialogue in which you make decisions to effect the progression of the story, and a plot which ends with a satisfying and largely credible conclusion makes for an excellent game, and one which those who enjoy a good story and have little experience of gaming can take pleasure in as much as the more accomplished player. It won’t be to everyone’s liking given its relative lack of involvement compared to more rapid and eventful games (the plot is essentially the game itself), but as the many positive online reviews of the game testify to, many will enjoy its unique charm and visual expressiveness. And if you’re one of those with a DS who uses it for nothing more than that brain training stuff, you could do much worse than pick up a copy of Hotel Dusk to enjoy what I reckon the console was pretty much made for.