For the week and a half or so that I was playing Hotel Dusk: Room 215, I got into the habit of sitting in bed with the lights off as I was getting ready to fall asleep. It seemed to be the appropriate way to enjoy the game. Hotel Dusk is essentially an interactive mystery novel, and is really meant to be enjoyed as such: in long, absorbing sessions. This analogy is furthered by the fact that the game is played holding the DS vertically. Though this isn’t the first DS game to orient itself that way, it fits the game and its presentation very well.
From the inception of the Nintendo DS, there have been various schools of thought regarding how best to use its capabilities. Certainly, some games take better advantage of the touchscreen mechanics than others. But while most genres have either had to make adjustments in order to utilize the stylus, or else simply tack the touchscreen mechanics on, Cing has taken the point and click adventure, a genre for which the DS is well equipped, and made it portable. This in and of itself would already be noteworthy, given that these sorts of games haven’t been popular for some time. Moreover, Cing’s first effort in this vein, Trace Memory, wasn’t all that well-regarded. Given as much, they could have gone on to something else, but Cing has chosen to refine its attempt at point and click on the DS. This effort shows, as Hotel Dusk is remarkably executed.
I have no intention of giving anything but the sparsest of details about the game, as discovery is really what makes it so enjoyable. Suffice to say that you are in the titular hotel for the span of 1 night, during which a number of mysteries present themselves to be solved. Within the framework provided by the trappings of a point and click adventure, Cing has created a fairly immersive experience. When you drink a scotch, you hear the ice clink on the glass. You get to keep a notepad of clues that you write directly into using the stylus and the touchscreen. The film noir setting of the game only makes it more moody and engaging.
Some reviewers have complained about the pacing of the game. Certainly it’s not fast or arcadey (though the genre doesn’t really lend itself to that), and text appears on the screen much slower than is necessary to read it. But I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing. It sort of forces you to take your time, to really get your head around the story. It’s more time you spend in the Hotel, and interacting with the characters. As such, you wind up getting more attached to both than if you were to just blow through the game. Realistically, even the most challenging puzzles in the game are fairly manageable, and the hotel is small enough that even if you have no idea where to go next, you can explore every nook and cranny in 10 minutes or so, looking for something you may have missed. As such, these interactions with the characters really are the meat of the game. It makes sense that you would be expected to savor them.
For the most part, when puzzles present themselves, the DS is used in innovative ways. Again, I’m somewhat hesitant to discuss them in depth, as that would give away much of the fun. But suffice to say that the stylus, the touchscreen, and the DS itself are used in a variety of manners that generally make physical sense with respect to both the real and the game world.
While the story is clearly well thought out with minimal plot holes and interesting twists, it’s the characterizations that are the stars of the show. With only a handful of recycled animations per character, and given that there are no vocalizations (though the sound effects are well done), it really is incredible how fleshed out and distinct each persona has been made. To be sure, there were times I was approached by a character when I almost smiled that I got to talk to them again. This lies in sharp contrast to other times, when I was roped into a conversation with someone I didn’t care for, inspiring genuine irritation that I had to continue to interact with them.
There hasn’t been another game quite like this on the DS. For that matter, I don’t know that anything this genuinely adult has been on a Nintendo console in some time. I’m not speaking of arbitrary violence, sex, or language issues—rather, the mystery of Hotel Dusk unravels in such a measured way, so methodically, that the casual (or younger) gamer is likely to lose interest, even though, as was previously noted, the game isn’t exactly challenging. That said, judging the game on anything but its story and characters is really sort of missing the point.