Hotel Dusk: Room 215 Review

It’s 1979,  and Kyle Hyde is three years and a lot of miles from his past life as a NYC Police Detective. But when his new job sends him to an odd hotel in the middle of nowhere, he’ll find significantly more than a quiet night’s rest.

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Hotel Dusk is an old favorite of mine, which I hadn’t played in years. As I seem to finally have an opportunity to get around to playing the sequel, I decided to revisit Kyle Hyde’s original adventure first. I’m surprised at how much I’d forgotten, as entire sections of the game seemed new to me.

This is a game that knows exactly what it wants to be and gives no quarter. It’s an old-fashioned hard-boiled mystery with a down-on-his-luck protagonist and a bunch of odd people and happenings his mind just can’t let go of. As such, the pace is appropriately deliberate as Hyde pokes around Hotel Dusk and pieces everything together. The journey is well worth it, but this is a story that unfolds gradually and requires some patience. The game’s self description of being an “interactive mystery novel” is spot on.

Aiding in the immersion as the player guides Hyde through a tangle of misfits with hidden secrets is a fantastic artistic style and some unique elements both in presentation and gameplay. The “hand drawn” feel to the character portraits and the way color is sparingly used on and of in them contrasts nicely with the more traditionally drawn backgrounds. This not only let’s the characters stand out, but keeps the backgrounds simple and clear so searching for things and solving puzzles isn’t unnecessarily complicated by the art. Even little touches, like requiring the DS be held sideways to resemble a book while playing or having a virtual notebook you can hand write notes in, add to the experience.

The puzzles are fine overall. They tend to be reasonably engaging and as well incorporated as can be. Some are a little shoehorned in, but nothing seems terribly out of place or breaks immersion enough to be a problem. A couple of mini-games/puzzles were particularly clever, and effort was taken to make use of the DS’s features. The mystery elements are the focus though, and a majority of the game is walking around gathering information and talking to various people to unravel all the odd things going on at the hotel.

Hyde is generally a smart protagonist, and there were only a couple times where I was ahead of him enough to get a little impatient. Not bad at all for such a long game. There’s a good mix of (semi) reasonable red herrings and interwoven backstories for the various characters. There are of course some coincidences in this kind of tale, but they are relatively minimal and blend in fairly seamlessly overall. Everything ties up fairly nicely at the end, although a few minor lingering questions remain involving some of the supporting cast. The main story threads are resolved to satisfaction while leaving room for certain things to be expanded on in the sequel, although I don’t know if they were (to my knowledge sequel is largely separate/stand alone even though it features same main character).

Perhaps most importantly at this point is that I find Hotel Dusk: Room 215 holds up well compared to when I first played it and I thoroughly enjoyed my replay. The heavy narrative focus, as well as little things like not being able to speed up the text display, will make this a slog for some players, but those with the patience to wander through a solid, old school noir-ish mystery will still find this to be a gem among the DS’s expansive library.

 

Neverwhere Review

Richard Mayhew is an everyday nobody with a quiet life, a boring job, and an impending marriage to someone above his station. But an unusual encounter with a young girl who he finds bleeding on the street is about to expose him to the world beyond the cracks in society too many in London have been unfortunate enough to fall through.

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Neil Gaiman has become the prototypical “rock star” novelist, expanding upon his initial fame from his award winning run on Vertigo Comics’ The Sandman. His tales generally blend elements of horror and fantasy in vastly captivating ways. I’ve read a fair number of Gaiman’s books and stories, but while I’ve liked a lot of it nothing has come close to unseating Neverwhere’s firm grasp as my favorite. Gaiman expanded upon a screenplay he wrote for a BBC tv series of the same name to include everything he couldn’t in the show and give true life to the story that grew in his head far bigger than what could be realized in its original form.

Richard is an excellent protagonist. In over his head and a bit hapless, but generally good of heart. He’s the audience proxy into the strange world of London Below, but has just enough definition and individuality that he’s not a cypher. The realms he explores are home to those who fell through the cracks of society, and are wonderfully imaginative and well realized. Gaiman uses literal interpretations of London geography as a springboard for populating London Below with captivatingly bizarre places and people to frame Richard’s journey. Watching as events unfold around him is highly engaging.

But beyond even the twists and turns of the plot and Richard’s strengths as a main character, Neverwhere shines brightest for me in its supporting cast. From the tragedy touched yet determined Door to the unsettling, relentless Croup and Vandermar to the delightfully enigmatic and coldly practical Marquis de Carabas and beyond, the intertwining of diverse and well defined characters and their conflicting agendas is what truly propels this novel along and keeps me coming back for reread after reread.

Gaiman’s vision of a fantastically strange and often dangerous world in between the normalcy of everyday London is an adventure quite unlike anything else I’ve read and something I wholly recommend experiencing. It isn’t grand literature per se, but it is a grand adventure.

 

Raven #1 Review

Dealing with the loss of a friend and teammate as well as the weight of her legacy, Raven seeks to explore her human side a bit by moving in with her aunt’s family and living a “normal” life for a while.

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Raven’s a character I’ve always liked, but never really read too many amazing stories about. A different take on her written by New Teen Titans legend Marv Wolfman was too intriguing to pass up.

And different this most certainly is. The whole hook of the concept is watching Raven try to be normal, and it was pretty entertaining to see her try to “blend in” a little in her new home and attending high school. Wolfman does a good job of providing those moments without letting them overwhelm the comic, and lays in a mysterious, superhero appropriate underlying story that we just see hints of in this first issue. Alisson Borges’ art is admittedly uneven in parts, but is spot on most of the time and suits the tone and events in the comic well.

It’s not perfect and maybe not what longtime Titans fans wanted from a Raven solo, but I find this take compelling and entertaining overall and am interested in reading the rest as it comes out.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Volume 4 Review

“I believe that a journey … is like becoming the wind.”

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro presents a story that has built over the course of the series. Start reading with volume 1.

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Unable to control her emotions after last volume’s shock, the witch’s curse has caught up with Kuro. While she drifts through her past, Nijuku and Sanju have a plan to protect their own memories, as well as their companion.

When this volume originally came out it was after quite a wait, but I didn’t anticipate an even longer hiatus before the series would continue again.  Two years later and I’m rereading this to refresh my memory in order to finally move on to volume 5. This was just as outstanding an installment as I remember.

As always it’s a dense read, but so richly layered that the attention require of the reader is well rewarded. The moments of whimsy that soften the dark themes are masterful, and there’s a ton to think about here both plot-wise and philosophically. Magic creeps around the edges of the story and the lines of reality are blurred in extraordinary ways. While unique and giving the comic an unusual rhythm, the 4-koma format fits Kuro’s adventures well, and is executed perfectly with high quality and detailed art.

The blending of Kuro’s journey with the emotional growth of the twins is the heart of the manga and makes the narrative something special. Kuro’s efforts to chase her past and face her destiny contrast with the twins simplistic view of the world and her need to educate and foster them as they all travel. It’s a delicate, compelling balance that’s maintained beautifully throughout all the volumes so far.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is very much one of a kind, and embraces that status fully. This is an atmospheric, haunting manga that’s well worth reading along with.