Hotel Dusk: Room 215
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Only one of these things is important. There, I just saved you half an hour
For some reason, I kept expecting Hotel Dusk: Room 215 to turn out to be a horror game, even when I knew it wasn't. There's something about the setting of it - a salesman who used to be in the police coming to a falling-to-pieces hotel in the middle of nowhere with mysteriously-named rooms, some of which have been locked up for years because of vaguely-explained problems. I was expecting a Silent Hill-like alternate dimension to gradually appear beneath the faded paint of the walls, and monsters to start jumping out of wardrobes fairly early on.

Perhaps it was because the mood of it reminded me of some other games, because I can't name an adventure game that's been this neatly themed around writing since Trilby and his Notes. The characters in the simple 3D environment and on the conversation screens are all drawn in a papery sketch style, gathering pages in your notebook is central to some puzzles - and even playing the game itself involves holding the DS sideways like an open book, something that you notice most on the menu screen, with the player character Kyle looking down with his notebook in one hand in exactly the same way that you're holding the system.

The game is laid out in chapters dividing the game into units of time (the evening advances about an hour for each chapter), further reminding me of Ben Croshaw's adventures. Most of your involvement in the game is wandering around the hotel talking to people and poking at things to see if there's anything interesting around - occasionally you'll get a brief mystery-sounding jingle leading you into a zoomed-in view where you have to complete a barely-disguised minigame in order to progress. These vary from positively Kojimaic to blatantly Laytonesque - many of them get you to use the DS in ways that you don't expect (to the point of being impossible to work out if you're too aware of what the apparent limits of the hardware are), but sometimes they feel like they're being placed in your way for no reason. One of the most obvious is when you're blocked on the stairs at the very start - upholding the game's handwritten theme, I think the scene would be much more in character if it played out like this:

Once you've got past the first few puzzle scenes and are well into the adventuring bits, you begin to realize that even though Kyle may have been on the force for years, as an adventure game protagonist he's clearly a rank amateur. He'll happily look at cupboards and drawers without opening them unless the game dictates that you need to, and leave important-seeming items where they are rather than stashing them in his jacket - you absolutely can't pick anything up or look at anything closely until the game knows that you need it. For example, at one point you have to find and deliver a wine bottle label to someone - when you find the bottle in the kitchen he announces he only needs the label and leaves it alone. Fair enough, but from where I was standing on that screen I could see at least three different ways to get the label off if the bearded twit would just pick the damn thing up - instead, I resorted to a guide to see exactly how the game expected you to complete the no-hands approach to removing the label. Demonstrating the other half of this complaint, it turned out to be another item that I'd seen chapters and chapters ago and had been unable to interact with, so had totally forgotten about.

I think in general it's unusually something that I enjoyed the storyline of more than the actual gameplay. It presents itself as an "interactive mystery novel" rather than a game, presumably in an attempt to appeal to the more tentative gamesplaying demographic that the DS has, and even though it's at its heart a point and click adventure, I would agree with that term because it feels that it makes the script lead you as the player rather than the other way round. That causes two separate problems - first, the hinting as to what to do next is sometimes a little too blatant (for example, at one point in the game Kyle suddenly thinks "It's probably about time I looked for that bookmark", prompting you to go off and do exactly that). And related to that, any sort of thought on your part is quickly stifled - you've been aware that this bookmark is missing and have a decent idea of where to find it for at least half an hour before that happens, but if you attempt to look for it before you're meant to then it won't be there. I noticed this trend very early on in the game - during the very first chapter I was annoyed at it seemingly babying me through a lock-picking puzzle and not letting me look around the room and realize how to get a suitable wire myself, but immediately afterwards it made up for that by getting me stuck on something as simple as removing a coat hanger from a wall (logically the next phase of the same puzzle). The solution, of course, was to ignore it entirely and go off and do something else for a while until the game led you back to having to do it.

The storyline's good, though, as you go from gradually meeting the other people in the hotel to finding the connections that they have to each other and to the main character's goal. In the middle of the game it sort of settles down into a pattern of focusing on the others guests' life stories one person at a time, eventually getting you to put them through a round of questions (during which a single wrong step will result in a Game Over, either as the result of getting booted out of the hotel for being too suspicious or Kyle's resolve breaking and going back to his room to sulk) and drag what they know out of them. After that phase, it all picks up as the seemingly individual clues come together like the biggest Phoenix Wright case ever.

For that it was definitely worth playing - I don't want to say anything to give away the details of it, though, other than it contains the single most unlikely way to open a secret passage since Five Go Mad In Dorset.