Puzzle games on portable devices are as plentiful as oxygen. However, finding a good puzzle game that not only challenges the player, but also presents a new and unique twist on the genre is a more rare occurrence. While the Professor Layton series may have set an impossibly high bar for every other developer, there’s still plenty of room in the market for another stellar puzzle game. James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes for the 3DS is not that game.
First and foremost, there’s no reason this game should have been released in 3D. Despite Hollywood Crimes’ intent on creating three-dimensional puzzles for you to solve every so often, you never actually need the 3D capabilities of the handheld. In fact, the game looks and plays a lot better with the 3D turned off. There are times when you’re required to move the 3DS around, and the moment you move in the slightest the 3D effect is ruined anyway. At its best, Hollywood Crimes’ 3D adds a bit of depth to the visuals, but it’s merely cosmetic, and adds nothing to the game. Like many of the third-party 3DS titles released this year, Ubisoft is merely using the tech of the handheld as a selling point. There’s no real benefit to the 3D, which is a shame because I was expecting the 3D to be implemented in a way that complimented the game.
I absolutely love mysteries and noir, so when a game has both “noir” and “crimes” in the title, I automatically want to play it. I’ve been let down by mystery games before, but Hollywood Crimes was a puzzle game. It didn’t necessarily need a super-strong narrative to keep me going. What it needed was a decent degree of difficulty from its puzzles, and enough of a story to keep me interested in plugging away. The story in Hollywood Crimes isn’t half-bad. You’re a game show contestant who sometimes helps his cop friend solve crimes. It just so happens that the crimes you’re helping solve are related to the quiz show you’re currently starring on. While the story sometimes borders on the absolutely ridiculous, it certainly creates a bit of curiosity to find out what is going to happen next.
As a device to feed you puzzles, putting the player in the shoes of a game show contestant isn’t a bad choice. Each round of the show has twelve puzzles that fall into three scoring tiers. You won’t have to solve every puzzle to move on; only the ones that will get you to the score limit the fastest. Any puzzles you don’t have to solve are kept for you to play later at your own discretion, so no challenge is wasted. However, there’s very little reason to replay any of the puzzles once they’ve been solved. There are no incentives for completing a challenge faster, or with fewer moves. It’s the equivalent of finishing a puzzle book with a pen. The answers are already there, so there’s no reason to retry at a later time.
The crime-solving puzzle portions are a little bit more abstract, and present some of the more interesting moments of the game. Interesting doesn’t always mean good though, and a few of the ‘really out there’ sequences fall a bit flat. Unlike the quiz show portions, here there are a finite number of puzzles to solve before advancing, and there are no bonus mind-teasers. It would have been nice if there were more of the crime-related brain benders included, but since you solving these particular puzzles ties directly into whether or not you advance in the game, they’re a bit on the easy side. Some of these puzzles aren’t even actual puzzles. There are at least two instances where you just have to rotate a crank to solve the enigma. It’s a strange dichotomy to see how twisted these segments are, yet they’re so simple that you’ll be done with them before you have a chance to really let it sink in just how eerie they are.
Speaking of eerie, Hollywood Crimes uses real actors in the cutscenes, but not full motion video. Instead, actors are animated with a few frames of disjointed limb and lip movements. The result is a really awkward loop of animation that would be laughable if it wasn’t so frightening. It’s honestly terrifying how demented the cutscenes are in this game, more so when you realize they’re not trying to be. Think back to the earliest of full-motion video you saw in PC gaming. Imagine that, but only like every third frame. Now you have an idea about what it’s like trying to watch the narrative unfold in Hollywood Crimes. It doesn’t help that the characters aren’t exactly leaping out of the screen with personality. Handsome, matronly, and alcoholic are just about the only characteristics you’ll see on display in this game. It’s not a big deal, as the draw is the puzzles, but it would have been great to see an actual noir story unfold.
Though I still think the game’s 3D aspect is rather pointless, James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes isn’t a bad game. The puzzles are decent, if a bit on the easy side, and there are enough of them to keep you distracted long enough on a short trip. Like most every puzzle game though, there’s very little reason to come back once you’re done. That’s the nature of the genre, though, so I can’t fault the game too much for that. If you’re an absolute brainteaser junkie, you’ll get some value out of Hollywood Crimes. It should at least hold you over until something more substantial comes along.
Release date : 2011-11-01
Publisher : Ubisoft
Developer : Ubisoft Montreal
Gameplay : Adventure
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