Hotel Dusk is entirely a throwback to retro text based games with some gameplay that really shines. You play the game horizontally (Brain Age style) and only use the touch screen. By conversing with the local hotel guests, bits and pieces of the back story of the mysterious hotel come about, as well as parts of your own past.
You play as Kyle Hyde, a New York detective who’s in search of elusive information from his past that has slipped away. He’s been searching for his missing partner, Brian Bradley, who was shot in a New York City dock in the ‘70s and has been missing ever since. From that time on, Kyle has been living in Los Angeles, away from all his old friends and past memories.
The entire game takes place in the Hotel Dusk, a hole in the wall in Los Angeles. Kyle quit the force and now is working for Red Crown, a company that “finds things that don’t want to be found." Interesting.
You move Kyle through the hotel by using the stylus. By reading through pages of dialogue from other characters, you try to find Bradley and discover what happened in the hotel’s past. Thankfully, all the characters are interesting and talk realistically. The writing in Hotel Dusk is spot on – characters use lingo from the ‘70s and it doesn’t sound forced or fake.
Another one of Hotel Dusk’s strong points is the art direction – it’s one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. Characters are designed in a gritty pencil drawing style (much like the “Take on Me” music video) and they actually look like real people. The hotel is a little run down, and you can tell from the ugly paintings on the wall and torn up couches.
There is also some great DS innovation in Hotel Dusk. To take your detective notes, you actually, physically write with the stylus. To open doors, you touch the doorknob, and knock on the doors in a similar fashion. It’s hard to believe that no one else has used the touch screen so well.
One of our particularly favourite parts of the game was the dialogue. We loved talking to the different characters and finding out their reactions to our different responses. All of the characters are gritty, down-to-earth, and simply have an intangible quality of being real. It’s as if you could find them in an apartment complex down the street.
Hotel Dusk isn’t without some weak points, though. The story can drag on a little bit, and the text moves pretty slowly during some dialogue. And when you really break it down, it’s a little bit like a fetch quest to find other people. Essentially, it’s a little bit linear. However, it still is a fun and fresh experience.
Hotel Dusk is an impressive and innovative title for the DS. Perhaps this could usher in a regeneration of the text based adventure genre on the DS, with its innovative design and interesting art direction.