Black Sheep Gaming: Hotel Dusk: Room 215

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In recent years, the gaming industry has seen the revival of a once-thought-long-dead genre: the adventure game. Originally popular in the early days of gaming, back when a game was lucky to even have some kind of graphics attached to it, the adventure game was the most popular way to present a story heavy game. Gameplay was, in many cases, very limited. The major styles were text adventures (where everything was presented via command prompt), visual novels (pages of story over background images, mostly popular in Japan), and point-and-click adventures (just what it says on the tin).

Nowadays, while text adventures are pretty much dead and buried and visual novels are still niche in the West, point-and-click style adventures are having a renaissance. Telltale Games is the one currently leading the charge in the PC arena, with their Sam & Max and Walking Dead series receiving rave reviews and becoming quite popular. On the console forefront, it wasn’t a specific publisher or game series gaining attention, but a full gaming system: the Nintendo DS.

The DS’s touch controls proved to be perfect for point-and-click games, and a portable system works perfect for this genre, as adventure games are relatively easy to pick up and play in short bursts on the go. Many companies jumped on this system in an attempt to revitalize the genre, with some releases becoming popular and others falling to the wayside. For myself, one company’s games were a memorable introduction to this genre, but their games went criminally overlooked to the point where the company itself went under. This company is known as Cing.

Cing embraced the DS (and eventually the Wii) wholeheartedly, releasing a slew of well-crafted adventure games onto them. Their first DS release (and my first experience with this style of game) was Trace Memory, released as Another Code outside of North America. The game was disappointingly short, but showed what kind of games the company was capable of creating. However, we’re here today not for that game, but for Cing’s follow-up release: Hotel Dusk.

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Released in early 2007 in North America, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was marketed as a detective novel on a video game console. Cing wanted to get across that this was not a “game” in most people’s sense of the word, so they showed it off as an interactive book. So dead set were they in this idea that the game was even made to be played sideways on the DS, as if one were holding open the pages of a book, with the screens on the left and right. Gameplay is traditional point-and-click, but the story is what makes the game memorable.

Hotel Dusk definitely plays out like a detective novel. The protagonist, Kyle Hyde, is a former member of the New York Police Department who fell from grace after an incident that’s kept a mystery for most of the game. Hyde is currently searching across the country for his old partner, Brian Bradley, when his search takes him to an old hotel in California. While in this hotel, Hyde meets a few characters that seem to show suspicious familiarity with him and his past. There is also a rumor floating around that his room at the hotel, room 215, is able to grant the wishes of those who stay in it. Of course, as a mystery novel, a number of twists and reveals occur to make this story much more interesting than what’s seen at first glance.

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The game’s graphics are quite interesting. Most of the game world is presented in normal 3D, but the character design is what really stands out. All of the game’s main characters are presented in black-and-white, in contrast with the environment itself. The characters are also fully animated in 2D rotoscope, a technique rarely seen in video games of any genre. While it may sound dull in text, seeing the animation in action is quite impressive, and the technique itself lends to the atmosphere of the game.

Upon its release, Hotel Dusk received above-average reviews from most gaming news outlets. Most of the praise went to the game’s story and dialogue, with much mention of the rotoscoped graphics as well. Unfortunately, the game didn’t seem to catch on well with the gaming public. As a niche title, the game had a relatively low print run, and became known as difficult to find. Being more of a novel than a game, many traditional gamers were turned away from the idea of it.

Hotel Dusk would end up being Cing’s last adventure game release in North America for a few years. After a few releases in other genres, Cing attempted another adventure game release in America with Again in 2009. This game scored below average reviews and was generally seen as disappointing compared to their other releases. Unfortunately, this would be Cing’s last release in North America. In 2010, the company released a direct sequel to Hotel Dusk, entitled Last Window: The Secret of Cape West. This game only saw release in Japan and Europe. Following its release, Cing filed for bankruptcy in March 2010.

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While only gaining a cult following upon its release, Hotel Dusk seems to have fallen from the memory of many in the gaming community. It has become rare to even find current mention of it online, let alone through word of mouth. The game itself isn’t incredibly difficult to find anymore, and it tends to be bargain priced when it turns up. Its sequel, Last Window, commands much more money as an import.

Hotel Dusk, overall, is a criminally overlooked game with an unfortunately sad past. While it may not be a traditional “game,” it is an experience that any gamer that values story should try at least once. With the current revival of the point-and-click genre, perhaps this game can find a home with more people who skipped it in the past. Cing may have come and gone, but its works will continue to exist, and I, for one, hope more people will come to care for them as much as I do, for they are definitely worth your time.