Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
I feel like James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes is a good example as to why people are OK with Professor Layton being the default, go-to handheld title for puzzle adventure. And that’s mostly because nobody else can really get that stuff right, as Hollywood Crimes definitely proves in just a few hours of gameplay.
First and foremost, the presentation side of Hollywood Crimes is pretty bad. It’s actually a little laughable in how bad it looks, as it resurrects FMV characters to present the whole overwrought noir inspired murder tale of the game. Seriously, it reminds me of garbage like Sewer Shark from the Sega CD days. The characters you encounter all have about 8 or 9 frames of animation that get looped in incredibly distracting ways while they converse with your character. And they also look incredibly low-rez, and you’ll notice that anytime the color black fills the screen during a sequence that there’s a ton of block artifacts present. Seriously, I’m not sure who approved this game’s visual style, but it’s pretty damn awful.
Along with that, the voice over work is equally poor. Every character in the game is voiced, which I guess is a nice touch, provided they didn’t all deliver their lines like they stepped out of a porno. Also, someone could have used a spellchecker on the subtitles for the dialogue. I found it was rife with really basic spelling errors, including the common mistake of using you’re when you actually mean your.
The puzzles, at least, aren’t entirely bad. There are actually some really fun ones here, that do help to set this game apart from titles like Professor Layton in a good way. A lot of puzzles involve visual tricks, like manipulating an on screen object using the slide pad to get just the right angle to reveal a key word or phrase. Other puzzles involve mazes, word puzzles, figuring out the correct order of items or numbers, and so on. And all the puzzles try their hardest to fit into the overall plot, so for the most part they don’t feel too out of place.
The plot itself isn’t bad, just poorly written to go along with the abysmal voice over work. You start off as the contestant on a weekly game show dubbed the Puzzle Masters, which is quickly tied into a series of murders wherein the victims are all former contestants. From there you spiral out to meet a variety of people, most of which become suspects over time. In fact, your own sanity is called into questions at various points, and overall it presents a pretty good mystery.
But I still can’t get over how bad this game looks and sounds. The 3D effect is mostly wasted, just used to cause various items to pop on screen and not used to enhance the way the puzzles work. I never ran into a function involving the gyroscope, and there’s only a little functionality for the camera that involves transposing your face onto mirrored objects on occasion.
Overall, I feel like it’s a pretty poor entry on the 3DS, and it would have been better off as a simple collection of puzzles than something enveloped in a poorly told noir tale. I love the idea, and there are elements to the plot that I enjoyed, but they way that plot is told is pretty much a mess. It comes off as a budget title minus the expected budge price, and I’d urge you to wait until this hits the bargain bin if you’re thinking about picking this one up.