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Originally released in North America in January 2007 and recently re-released as part of Nintendo's "Touch Generations" line of Nintendo DS games, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is less a video game and more a visual novel. Developed by Cing and rated T for Teen by the ESRB, this title plays similarly to other classic-style adventure games such as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Trace Memory, but with an even greater focus on plot development over gameplay. It's a unique approach that won't appeal to everyone, but to those to whom it sounds like a good idea, it offers the chance to curl up with an absolutely brilliant interactive detective story.
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No doubt about it, Hotel Dusk is the kind of a game that will live or die on the quality of its narrative, and fortunately for Cing and Nintendo, the writing is exceptional. The primary protagonist is Kyle Hyde, once a hard-boiled police detective who, haunted by his past, left the force and has become a salesman. His job brings him to Hotel Dusk, where he meets a unique cast of well-developed characters, including the gruff hotel owner Dunning Smith, an old informant friend of his named Louie DeNonno, and a mysterious girl named Mila. Most of the folks staying at the hotel have their own secrets to hide, and the events that unfold eventually tie into Hyde's past. The multilayered story is too deep and rich to really get into in any great detail here, but rest assured, Hotel Dusk features top quality writing that is sure to please whodunit enthusiasts everywhere.
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If you're looking for a game that's heavy on action, look somewhere else. The majority of the time you spend with Hotel Dusk will involve reading, asking questions and solving puzzles. The game does make nice use of the DS hardware. You hold the system sideways like a book, using the touch screen and stylus to move while the other screen shows Kyle's current location in first-person view. You can enter a room by tapping a door handle while also using the stylus to pick up or manipulate objects, rifle through boxes, and so on. More than anything, though, you'll be doing a lot of reading, interrogating and piecing together clues. It may not be everyone's idea of an exciting video game, but if you enjoy reading and solving mysteries as much as I do, you'll find that Hotel Dusk is an absolutely brilliant game to play, even if it is exceedingly nontraditional.
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Graphics and Sound
One of the things that stands out most about this game is the distinctive visual style. All of the characters in the game are done up in black-and-white, pencil drawn rotoscoping animation. If you've ever seen the old a-ha video "Take on Me" you know what I'm talking about. Like so many other aspects of the game, it is notable not only for its uniqueness but also for its quality. The game is simply gorgeous to look at, and it further brings to live the three-dimensional characters and the excellent written dialogue. The low-key soundtrack is nice, but the absence of any spoken dialogue is a tad bit disappointing. Nonetheless, this is a solid four-star effort.
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By this point in the review, you should have a pretty good idea whether Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a game that will appeal to you or not. If you like text-heavy video games that present an interesting, almost film-noir style storyline but are somewhat light in the gameplay department, you will absolutely love this game. If you're a fan of Trace Memory, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney or Time Hollow, odds are Hotel Dusk will push all the right buttons with you as well. On the other hand, if you need your games to be fast-paced or action heavy, you'd be best passing on this one, because this definitely is a slow-paced, methodical video game. As I said before, this type of game isn’t for everyone, but for those who can appreciate an interactive novel, they don't get much better than this.