I wish Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was more accessible than it is, because it has all the essential ingredients to be a huge success. It's a fantastically translated Japanese adventure game released on the Nintendo DS in 2007, at the height of the console's popularity, and features a timeless, sketch-based visual style that immediately catches the eye. After him, in the decade that followed, we saw a handful of similar adventures for Nintendo DS achieve considerable success, from Phoenix Wright to Ghost Trick to the Zero Escape saga.
Despite what the PEGI 12 symbol on the packaging suggests, Hotel Dusk is aimed at a more adult audience. The game puts you in the shoes of Kyle Hyde, a former detective who left the police force after killing his partner during a case. This trauma eventually haunts Hyde in all aspects of his life and he refuses daily to accept that his partner is no longer here. Since leaving the force, Hyde has worked as a door-to-door salesman, but his search for answers to the unknowns surrounding his partner's disappearance leads him to the Dusk Hotel.
It sounds intense, but Hotel Dusk isn't entirely dark. It's hilarious when it needs to be, and most of all, it's a relaxing, text-based experience. You spend the entire game in the hotel and all you have to do as Hyde is wander around the different rooms, follow clues, solve puzzles and chat with the other guests. It doesn't seem to have enough adventure to be exactly that, an adventure game. But the other guests at the Dusk Hotel are just as complex as Hyde, and each is connected to an event in their past that they cannot escape. And as a former detective, Hyde can't help but get involved in the lives of these other people.
Hyde is a likeable character, but I wouldn't go so far as to say he's likeable. He often behaves rudely towards strangers without being provoked, and he deliberately behaves cautiously when talking to most people. But that's exactly what makes him a fantastic protagonist; In a way, Hotel Dusk is a story about Hyde's own development and how he grows as a person.
Unfortunately, there will probably never be a remaster of Hotel Dusk. Cing, its developer, filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and the legal rights to Kyle Hyde belong to Nintendo. Other Cing games have had a second life – Another Code, for example, which had a remake released on Switch this week. Most importantly, Hotel Dusk took advantage of being a Nintendo DS game, so something would be lost every time it was ported to another platform.
The defining factor of Hotel Dusk is that you have to play it sideways. You have to physically rotate the console in your hands to hold it as if you were holding a book. It's a seemingly simple change, but it significantly changes your relationship with the game. Just flip your DS over and Hotel Dusk feels less like a game and more like an interactive photo book. Reading the game's long conversations feels much more natural this way, as a different character is speaking on each of the two screens and you can see both sides of the conversation at the same time as it unfolds.
The Nintendo DS wasn't a particularly powerful device, at least compared to home consoles. That's why many DS games used simple 3D graphics, but I think it's fair to say that it would have been a mistake to go that route on a text-heavy adventure – something that relies heavily on visuals attractiveness matters. Hotel Dusk uses 3D rendering for the hotel's interior design, but instead opts for some beautiful sketch-style illustrations for the characters.
What the screenshots can't show is that all of Hotel Dusk's characters are rotoscoped. To achieve a distinctive visual appearance, photos and videos were captured by real actors and then hand-drawn to achieve the game's fluid animated art style. In this way, the animations capture the energy of a real performance while maintaining the sharpness of a drawing. Each character impresses with their own traits and quirks. Curiously, the director and character designer of Hotel Dusk, Taisuke Kanasaki, some time ago confirmed that was the inspiration for it the music video for Take on Methe legendary song of A-ha.
Hotel Dusk is brilliant at transporting you into its world, as it frequently blurs the line between Hyde and the player. Throughout Hotel Dusk, Hyde constantly makes notes and clues in his diary, and the player does the same by interacting with the DS Pen. Instead of pressing a button or moving a stick, the touchscreen and stylus force you to use a wrist movement, like you do when typing, to perform almost any action. Even basic actions like walking require analog input on the touchscreen.
The puzzles in Hotel Dusk are another aspect that forces you to think creatively. One of them requires you to rotate a completed puzzle by moving it down from the top screen of the Nintendo DS. Tapping the screen does nothing. Then what is the solution? You have to physically close the console to create the illusion that you are flipping the top screen, and when you open the DS again the puzzle has been flipped. I never discovered this organically. I closed the DS because I didn't know what to do next, and when I went back to the game and opened the console, I was amazed. My actions outside of the game had a direct impact on the world within it.
Ultimately, the appeal here isn't that Hotel Dusk is an extremely vibrant world in which to lose yourself. Many games offer this. The appeal of Hotel Dusk is that it is an extremely living world that you hold in the palm of your hand. What you have in Hotel Dusk is a work made up of many brilliant individual pieces, but which as a whole also create something even better.
Even though we may never have a port of Hotel Dusk due to all of these things I've explained to you in this article, the good news is that if you like all of this, Hotel Dusk had a sequel that explores it and tried out to expand all these ideas. It's called Last Window: The Secret of Cape West and it's also been translated into Spanish and is waiting for you to play.
Translation by Josep Maria Sempere.