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Review: 'Hotel Dusk' Is Slow but Gripping Game for Nintendo DS

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Kyle Hyde checks his notebook in a screen shot from 'Hotel Dusk: Room 215.'Nintendo

It's not always easy, and at times it barely even resembles a video game.

But "Hotel Dusk: Room 215" is an unusual new title that's perfectly suited to the quirky, touch-screen Nintendo DS handheld.

More of a digital choose-your-own-adventure book than video game, "Hotel Dusk" (Rated T, $34.99) can be frustratingly slow and obtuse.

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Yet patient, persistent players will find a well-written story with multiple endings that's quite good by lackluster video-game standards.

It all adds up to a truly unique film-noir adventure for anyone who enjoys video games but lacks the requisite twitchy trigger-finger.

You play as ex-New York cop Kyle Hyde, one of the most ill-tempered protagonists I've encountered.

His extremely dry wit comes off as downright rude and crude to the many people he meets, from the crusty old hotel owner, Dunning Smith, to Melissa, a smart-alec girl with a domineering father.

The gist of the story: It's 1976 and Hyde is now a traveling salesman who's searching for a long-lost partner.

He conveniently checks himself into Hotel Dusk one afternoon. It's hard to reveal too much more without spoiling the story, but this dingy Los Angeles building is filled with secrets and a cast of weird characters you'll meet in the span of a single night.

We don't know much at the game's beginning, and in fact the first few chapters are quite tedious as you adapt to the game's unconventional controls and gameplay.

You have to hold the DS sideways like an open book in order to play, and the touch screen interface is clumsy until you get used to it.

The gameplay is largely composed of the conversations you'll have with tenants and workers at Hotel Dusk. Asking the right questions at the right time is key to advancing the story.

After reading through countless lines of slow-moving text dialogue, I was yearning for a better system to interact with these generally longwinded people.

Amid the fittingly bland elevator music that constantly plays in the background, the endless text bogs down the game to a glacial pace at times.

I'm sure there's some overwhelming technical hurdle, but it's a real shame these characters didn't have voices I could simply hear.

That said, what you'll be reading is at least sharp and full of nuance. And the characters are well-developed, multilayered personalities who mean something to you once the game ends. (There are multiple endings).

The touchscreen is used well and allows you to open doors, manipulate objects and deliver items to fellow hotel guests.

The art style is another standout feature. The distinctive, hand-sketched characters blend well with smooth 3D graphics of the hotel's interiors.

"Hotel Dusk" has its share of flaws, and more than once I felt like giving up. But even after many bouts of frustration, I find myself checking back in for more.

You've just got to admire a video game this original, this unique — and ultimately — this rewarding.

Three stars out of four.