Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Last Window Review

J. Wellington here with another enthralling review! This week’s installment is about a game with quite an interesting tale. Hotel Dusk was a game for the Nintendo DS that was released four some-odd years ago. I played and enjoyed the noir-style detective game, so imagine my delight when a sequel was announced; I very nearly hopped out of my spats! Alas, my joy was short-lived as I soon heard the crushing news of its release in only the Japanese and European markets. My mustache drooped in despair. This sequel, Last Window, would seemingly never be mine. I had all but forgotten about the game as months passed until a dear chum mentioned it in conversation. He informed me that I could import it via post all the way from Europe because of the Nintendo DSs wonderful lack of region-lock. At first I was apprehensive about a language barrier; however these feelings soon fled as I learned the European version of the game was completely in English. Only a few days later, I was able to dive back in to the world of Kyle Hyde. Would I find my import worthwhile, or was there a reason Mr. Hyde’s latest adventures were never destined for American soil?

At its core, Last Window is a puzzle game. Much like Phoenix Wright, the player takes on the role of a central character whose relentless pursuit of the truth lands him in hot water. Kyle Hyde is a gruff ex-detective turned salesman who “finds things that don’t want to be found” for the Red Crown company. His character development and the back stories of those around him create a world rich with content, but not dauntingly so. Having completed the game, I feel like I could recount each character’s history simply because I found myself fond enough of them to learn their tales. In this gentleman’s opinion, the depiction of characters in Last Window was top notch.

In addition to the well refined characters, the story’s beauty was striking. Just when you believe you’ve got a character pinned, another personal tidbit about them is revealed. Someone who may have seemed like a saint mere moments ago is now revealed to be a wormy buttersnoffer! Having a strong, character driven story goes far with me, and Last Window is not lacking.

Even a seasoned problem-solver such as me couldn’t help but find the puzzle mechanics compelling. Most often, the game lobs small riddles at you, but occasionally, quite the whopper is hurled. Only after twenty minutes of clicking around with the stylus do you realize the puzzle calls for you to close the lid of the DS, or blow into the microphone.

Dispelling the monotony of pointing and clicking by requiring an unconventional solution is much appreciated, and does a splendid job of keeping the player engrossed.

The game’s triumphs can also be a source of annoyance. Not unlike the Ace Attorney series, Last Window is frustratingly linear. If unable to find the developers’ pre-determined path, the player may find himself on a wild goose chase in which there was never any goose. The linearity’s confoundedness is only compounded by the lengthy dialog exchanges between characters. If you are speaking with a fellow and happen to run afoul of his NPC sensibilities, you may find yourself resetting the game to give it another go. This practice is perfectly acceptable; however, the exorbitant amount of time required to make up the lost work is unacceptable. By not including an option to hurry the text, the player is forced to keep tapping away at the screen until he’s back where he started. Occasionally, I would have to put the game down and come back to it after having a bit of cheese to calm my disposition. A feature as simple as fast forwarding would have made this game much more enjoyable. 

The lengthy conversations and threat of lost work also inspires a near-manic saving reflex in the player. Critical conversations often happen without warning in this game; a feature that adds suspense to the game, but not in an enjoyable way. A player may complete a 30 minute conversation and puzzle solving stint, only to find him himself beset upon by a chatty but innocuous enough character who suddenly finds it necessary to reveal crucial plot details only if asked the right questions. One false move or errant tap and a reset and 30 minute replay are in order.

This problem too could have been remedied by an automatic save before every conversation and perhaps a retry button of some sort. I admit that these options would take away from the permanence of a player’s decisions and may decrease how seriously the game is taken; however, Last Window is riddled with enough player annoyances that having second chance features like that would make the game appeal to a broader audience.

Overall, Last Window is a gangbusters sequel to Hotel Dusk. The puzzles are more interesting, there are fewer frustration pitfalls, and the story is still top notch. I would recommend this game, with a cautionary note about how frustrating it can be at times. Last Window is not unlike my Model T – it may be a painfully perplexing experience at times, but with a little coaxing and patience, you’ll have a first-class ride.
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