by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Marty Demarest & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & U & lt;/span & pon checking into Hotel Dusk: Room 215, I was prompted to turn my Nintendo DS on its side like a book. This was not going to be a straightforward videogame. The DS's stylus was to be my pen. The machine's touch screen was to become my notepad as I sleuthed my way through a seedy hotel full of oddball characters.
There's the gray-haired, one-eyed lady who checked in after me. She wanted my hotel room -- 215 -- because there are stories that anyone who sleeps in the room has their wish granted. The guests in 219 -- Kevin Woodward and his daughter Melissa -- are unusually full of secrets and angry emotions. Rosa the maid hints at ghost stories. Most troubling, however, is the bellhop Louis.
Louis knows me from my previous life as a cop. I know him from his previous life as a pickpocket. I quickly learn that a few wrong words spoken to Louis during our multiple-choice conversations gets me kicked out of the hotel. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, if I make a misstep, I'm sent packing down a storyline that ends unsatisfactorily. Of course, I can go back and try the conversation again. This is still a videogame.
As I pick apart the story behind Hotel Dusk, characters appear on the DS's two screens with the hand-drawn look of a graphic novel. Even the 3D hotel rooms that I can wander through have the watercolor shading of an old comic book. And every thought, line of dialogue, and action is described in text. It requires at least as much reading as a novella.
The puzzles that punctuate the game are simplistic in the extreme -- pick a lock, assemble a jigsaw puzzle -- and they don't have much relevance to the plot. But the larger mystery, which only reveals itself through investigations and conversations, makes a game out of telling Hotel Dusk's story. It will take a company like Myst's Cyan or Monkey Island's Lucas Arts to create a game that uses this style of 3D graphics and comic-strip storytelling in a more sophisticated way. If that happens, the adventure game will be back -- and this time it will be handheld.
THE GOOD: Sketchy graphics and the DS's multi-panel display reinforce Hotel Dusk's pulp novel storyline. As a result, the narrative fits the game without the usual videogame plot nonsense. (Being chosen by fate, finding magical swords in boxes ... those kinds of things.)
THE BAD: If I want to look at something, I simply walk over to it, click the button that allows me to examine things more closely, and I'm given a pithy description of the object. Unfortunately, some items give the same description late in the game as they do early on. It's absurd to speak with the game's cast of characters, return to the hotel's front desk, examine a clipboard that's been there since the game's beginning, and be told that the clipboard proves that "there's gotta be somebody around here." Too many details are forgotten to keep the mood intact.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Hotel Dusk: Room 215 turns the Nintendo DS into a dime-store crime novel riddled with dime-store puzzles.