Before there were first person shooters, the adventure game was about as cool as a game could get. Companies like Sierra poured millions into mystery-filled series like Phantasmagoria, King’s Quest, and Gabriel Knight. Sadly, as games became more graphically sophisticated, these point-and-click puzzle games became far less popular.
But adventure games have seen a real resurgence with the advent of the Nintendo DS. That’s because making games for the DS doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like, say, Gears Of War for the 360. Arguably, though, adventure games are more compelling. Take a look at PHOENIX WRIGHT 2 and HOTEL DUSK ROOM 215, two new video game mysteries that’ll keep you engaged for hours.
At first glance, these games are decidedly low tech and old school. You won’t hear much dialog spoken by the odd characters, all of whom seem to be hiding something. You’ll even have to read the text that scrolls across the screen. Sure, in Phoenix Wright 2, you’ll occasionally hear the wacky attorney/detective scream, “Objection!” in the courtroom. But most of the time you’ll be tapping your stylus on the touch screen to make the courtroom conversation and interrogations move along.
Phoenix Wright 2 is a little over the top in that there’s humor in the courtroom that doesn’t quote work. It all makes Wright appear a little wacky. Of course, that’s the essence of these comic book-like court dramas. If you don’t mind the melodrama, you’ll really enjoy the four creepy cases and the Psyche-Lock feature which gets your witnesses to ‘fess up. (It also makes you look like a real wiz.) Still, if you’re a reader of mysteries or even a fan of the TV procedural drama Law and Order, these cases may be too easy for you.
If you want an adventure that unfolds slowly like best-selling novel, you’ll eat up Hotel Dusk Room 215, a 1970s-era mystery about a former cop that takes place in an eerie, run down hotel room. How much like a book is it? You’ll even hold the DS sideways as you would a good tome. The levels are called ‘chapters,’ too, making this an interactive novel circa 2007. The graphics throughout Dusk are top notch, reminding me of those in Richard Linklater’s last film, the animated Waking Life. They’ll start on one screen and end on another, giving you a kind of widescreen effect. You’ll examine items for clues to the mystery as you progress, and talk so much with the denizens of the hotel that you’ll feel like you really know them.
Take your time as you go: this isn’t a game about speed, nor is it a game about aiming and shooting. Hotel Dusk is a game about atmosphere, mood, and well-crafted story. While the dialog could use some tightening, the overall experience is deeper than most video games, and more immersive than most movies. Hotel Dusk offers a story you’ll be thinking of when you’re not playing, a story that gets under your skin, much like the better mysteries you’ve read in books.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 16, 2007