The Mystery Of Game Narrative | Gaming | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Arts + Life » Gaming

The Mystery Of Game Narrative

Game On


Published February 14, 2007 at 5:00 p.m.

While experts lament what video games have done to books, Nintendo has put its efforts into turning its portable game system into a book.

"Hotel Dusk: Room 215" arrives on the DS with a title that is part mystery novel, part adventure game and part interactive peculiarity. With the DS held up on its side like a book, players work through a network of characters, secrets and uncanny tales.

Stories and video games have always gone hand in hand. Whether it's the sweeping mythology of "Halo" or the hard-boiled saga of "Grand Theft Auto," games have evolved in a happy symbiosis with story. Even the idea that a narrative could drive otherwise simple game play appears throughout game history, from the original text-based "Adventure" through "Myst," and including the ongoing "Final Fantasy" franchise. In each of these games, the measure of entertainment has less to do with your trigger finger and more to do with your engagement with the tale.

"Hotel Dusk" veers so far into story land, however, that what little game is left doesn't amount to much. Steering your ex-cop character around a rundown L.A. hotel, pointing and clicking through hundreds of conversations, and rifling through an ever-growing inventory of items to solve simple puzzles takes full advantage of the DS' game technology. But realistically, if the story doesn't carry the fun, the smattering of interactive elements certainly can't.

Even the game's visuals favor the "less is more" formula. Confined to the dingy halls of the Dusk and rendering characters in wobbly black-and-white drawings, the graphics favor a minimalist, comic-book style.

That said, the game's purposely weird tale does keep players noodling along on the screen with their stylus as they try to keep track of all the twists and turns to solve the mystery.

Why did Kyle Hyde quit the NYPD, and why is he looking for his dead ex-partner in a fleabag hotel on the other side of the continent? Who is the mute girl who mysteriously appeared at the Dusk? While you puzzle over these interlocking stories and many others, you're still left with some basic questions: Why does the crabby hotel owner refers to your room as "Wish?" And why does your shadowy boss have you selling household goods door to door while also looking for a lost porno magazine and a red box? Yes, it's just plain weird.

The game's designers understand that this thicket of plot twists and coincidences might keep things interesting, but they also threaten to create something as confusing as a Thomas Pynchon novel.

Who's It For: "Hotel Dusk" is probably too "gamey" for the book crowd and maybe a little too literary for hard-core gamers. But for those people who'd like a little more story in their games, or just want a rest from the usual hyperaction of most titles, "Dusk" provides an intriguing alternative to both books and games.

Best Part: By holding the DS on its side, and open like a book, "Hotel Dusk" emphasizes its literary aspirations. The interface turns out to work well for interacting with the rich story world, and feels comfortable to anyone who grew up reading tattered paperbacks by flashlight while clutched under the blanket.

If You Like This, Try That: "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" is another example of a game gone literature. It puts the player in charge of a comic lawyer as he tries to solve crimes and convict the guilty in front of a courtroom. This tongue-in-cheek "Perry Mason" simulation provides breezy stories and puzzle-solving.