Hotel Dusk: Room 215 made me an international fan of mysteries

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Remembering 15 years of Hotel Dusk

If there is one thing about High Fidelity that rings consistently true, it’s that people love to make Top 5 Lists. Top 5 movies, top 5 songs, top 5 TV shows that were canceled because they cast Scott Foley; we love making lists. But, as much as I enjoy writing up my own top 5s whenever I’m bored out of my mind, I’ve found over the years that I’m quite bad at it.

I can easily name one or two entries that remain at the top of any list I make, but beyond that, it’s basically based on a whim. And that’s especially true when trying to rank the hundreds of video games I’ve played over the years. I’m awful at it, and if you were to ask me what my top 5 was on a Monday, chances are four of the titles wouldn’t be there if you asked me again on Friday. It’s all just related to whatever it is I’m fancying at the moment. Sometimes I’m a Marvel’s Spider-Man type of guy, other times I’m a Super Metroid fellow. Or, if a specific game from my past that I enjoyed is celebrating an anniversary, I might subconsciously give priority listing to it, which is what I’ve been doing all this month with Hotel Dusk: Room 215.

This month actually marks the 15th anniversary of Hotel Dusk‘s release. The game was a product of Nintendo’s “Blue Ocean” strategy. If you missed this era of Nintendo’s history, just look back at all the casual games it published for the Wii and DS as it tried to surf the wave created by the likes of Nintendogs and Wii Sports.

Across both platforms, these titles were referred to as “Touch! Generation” games, and it included some crossover hits like Endless Ocean, Elite Beat Agents, and Clubhouse Games. It also included some that didn’t quite connect with gamers of all colors, like Personal Trainer: Math, America’s Test Kitchen: Let’s Get Cooking, or 100 Classic Books. If you’ve never heard of the last title, it basically makes your Nintendo DS an e-reader that can only access novels in the public domain. Because if there is one thing everyone should know about Nintendo, it’s that it loves to cheap out whenever possible (e.g. the song selection for Wii Music).

100 Classic Books

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was among these Touch! Generation titles. When you look at the rerelease box art, it actually bills it as “A Mystery Novel: Lies. Betrayal. Murder.” Maybe that’s why I never bothered opening the game after I picked it up from the bargain bin at Target. I know it was on my radar having seen its trailer at a prior E3, but January 2007 was the same month I got my Nintendo Wii, and lord knows the likes of WarioWare: Smooth Moves and Excite Truck had a stranglehold on my attention at the time.

I actually didn’t play Hotel Dusk until a little over a year after it released. It was January 23, 2008. I remember the exact day because I was staying with a friend of mine, and that morning when I logged onto her computer to check my email, I was stopped cold when I read the top story on MSN about the unexpected death of actor Heath Ledger. As a fledgling gay who spent far too many hours rewatching Brokeback Mountain on DVD, his was the first celebrity death that actually made an impact on me. The news left me in a haze of grief, and the only way I could find a way to escape the sadness was to break out my Nintendo DS Lite and dive into this little mystery that would consume my life for the next two days.

You can check-in anytime you like, and in about 12 hours, you can comfortably leave

If you’ve never played Hotel Dusk: Room 215, let me first start off by assuring you that, despite what it said on the box art, it is not a mystery novel. Oh, there are mysteries afoot for sure, but it’s a game. I mean, yeah, there is a lot of reading and you do hold your DS sideways like it’s a book, but calling it a novel when you’ve actually published a DS cartridge with nothing but novels on it might be misleading to the casual gamers picking this up on a whim.

But it is meaty like a mystery novel. There are many secrets to unravel, clues to uncover, and sometimes obtuse puzzles to solve as you figure out what this hotel’s deal is and why the room you’re staying in is known as the “wish room.” Protagonist Kyle Hyde, a former detective with the NYPD, arrives at the hotel on assignment from his current employers at Red Crown. What starts as a simple package recovery job quickly spirals into something that taps into Hyde’s past and his pursuit for his former partner, Brian Bradley.

Hotel Dusk

[Screenshots Courtesy Another Code Fandom]

Admittedly, I know the story of Hotel Dusk isn’t anything spectacular, even if its localization is nothing short of amazing. But, for me, it was my gateway to the mystery genre, something I’d only ever skimmed the surface of before. I always thought of mysteries as old, stodgy books written by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. Mystery novels were for old blue hairs with walkers. I was of the generation that read stuff like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fight Club, or Harry Potter way beyond the age I should have been reading that.

And this lack of interest in mysteries extended beyond games and books. There are many outstanding films I’ve missed throughout the years because of my aversion to the genre. For starters, I’ve never seen Seven or 12 Monkeys. I’ve yet to see any of the Pink Panther films. Sure, a few snuck in there over years like Momento or Clue — which, if you owned a VHS player, you probably owned Clue — but I hadn’t even seen a Hitchcock film beyond Psycho before I played this game. That’s just how averse to the genre I was.

As the title of this article indicates, I wouldn’t be the mystery fan I am today if I didn’t need a break from the heartache I was feeling that cold day in 2008. During the Wii and DS era, I purchased an obscene amount of games. Most of them didn’t get played beyond the opening hour, at which point I’d transfer them to my shelf to be part of the collection I’d admire but never touch. It’s highly likely Hotel Dusk would have faced a similar fate if it didn’t feel as though the world had punched me right in the breadbasket.

The end of Cing and the Kyle Hyde Saga

Despite the success of many of the Touch! Generation titles, Hotel Dusk remained somewhat obscure outside most Nintendo-centric circles. It just didn’t click the same way something like Professor Layton and the Curious Village did when it hit the DS just a few weeks after I closed the case of the Wish Room and Osterzone. Since the game’s debut, Kyle Hyde has appeared as a trophy and spirit in the Smash Bros. franchise, but his flagship series, and the developer behind it, didn’t survive long enough to see the Switch, the Wii U, or even the 3DS.

Cing, the developer of Hotel Dusk, declared bankruptcy in 2010, following an unfortunate reception to a trio of releases. Another Code: R – A Journey into Lost Memories, a sequel to what was called Trace Memory in North America, only saw release in Japan and Europe. Little King’s Story, which Cing codeveloped, released to incredible reviews — indeed, it is one of the finest games on the Wii — but mediocre sales. Finally, the Tecmo-published Again was just a wild swing-and-a-miss from the developer that more or less sealed its fate. Its final game, released in 2010, would be Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, a sequel to Hotel Dusk set in Kyle Hyde’s apartment building. Much like Another Code: R, it didn’t make it over to North America. If you still have a Nintendo DS, there are English-language copies available on eBay, but they’re not that cheap anymore.

Last Window Artwork

With so many loose threads across Hotel Dusk, Last Window, and the series’ ties to the Another Code franchise, it’s a shame we may never see a conclusion to Kyle Hyde’s story. Some of the developers at Cing would go on to create a similar mystery title for the Nintendo 3DS called Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories for Arc System Works. As good as the art direction looked, without a funding source like Nintendo paying the bills, the eShop exclusive just wasn’t able to capture the same magic of the games that came before it.

Despite its short life, there is no doubt Cing broadened my horizons and convinced me to consider a genre I believe was too old-fashioned for my modern sensibilities. Since playing through Hotel Dusk, I’ve tried to correct that error in judgment as best I can. I’ve loaded up on mysteries and film noirs over the years, have actually cracked open a couple of whodunnit novels, and I have been trying since last year to get The Industry’s Chris Moyse to watch Knives Out, even though I don’t think he’s going to like it that much. Hell, I’m even a bit excited for Death on the Nile, and I really shouldn’t be considering who’s in it.

None of that would be true for me today if it wasn’t for Hotel Dusk. So if you ask me what are my top 5 video games, there is no doubt in my mind Hotel Dusk is on that list. Then again, if you asked me a week later, I’d probably switch it out for Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime or something.