External Review: James Noir's Hollywood Crimes
The Nintendo DS was home to an array of puzzle inspired titles; from the inspirational Professor Layton series, to the trials and tribunes of the Phoenix Wright series, to even homing in to the legacy of CiNG games. With the abundance of puzzle inspired titles on the systems predecessor it is no wonder that the 3DS is also growing its own puzzle inspired line of titles. The question is does James Noir impact to the legacy of the previous system, or does is run away to hide among the store shelves to be forgotten.
James Noir: Hollywood Crimes, the title itself sparks imagination and desire to find out what the games mystery is. The title reveals one of the major two points of the title, its set in Hollywood and there is some sort of crime to be solved. With the Noir part making players think of old timey productions, the name a puzzle in itself. James Noir is a puzzle game which sets itself in Hollywood, with the primary story that the player has gone on a television to compete. The show is based around elaborate puzzles the player must complete and is presented much like the classic game shows from yesteryear.
You compete in six rounds of this television show throughout the game, with puzzles been thrown at you to score points to compete to the next round. Don’t worry about failing the required score to advance to the next round however, as the title gives you plenty of puzzles per round to advance well over the required point score system. Once you reach the desired round points you move onto the next round. Before the next round however you will be introduced to puzzles which relate to crimes in the Hollywood area. The crimes are investigated by an old FBI friend of yours who is quite suspicious, the story will primary focus around the crimes and the resulting effect the crimes will have on the television show.
The story is told by watching a video segment which includes voice acting and some amazing graphics. You will not be straying too far away from the main goal of the game, with the primary interaction with the story been from these video segments which will usually end up with the player required to solve a puzzle of some sort. The puzzles will appear either because it is a new round of the game show, or because your friend has some new crime scene puzzles to show you.
Puzzles are primary touch screen puzzles, with motion controls coming into play with some puzzles. However the later puzzles don’t work quite as well as intended. However despite that limitation there is still a large variety in puzzles. Which can be replayed later in the games “hotel” hub, other puzzles which the player had missed can also be accessed.
The story and puzzles are interesting enough to hold the game on its own, but at times it will seem like the story is second to the main puzzle solving aspect of the title.
For the most part, the game takes place by using the touch screen. Because of how the game is designed there is no major interaction with other players or adventure element to the game. Instead players will find themselves when interacting with characters and the game itself watching various videos and to move onto the next segment interacting with the touch screen.
There is also gyro support which is desperately in need of a tune up, with many of the puzzles (while few) which do use the functionality quite broken and difficult to control.
Overall the action is quite simple when it comes to puzzles, you might be writing down numbers, dragging items or even rotating some items as well. There isn’t much substance with the controls when it comes to interaction with the puzzles, or with the game itself.
The games best feature is probably how it looks. With menus having a style which is similar to the cartoonish designs from the Rabbids series. There are also other videos which are presented in a cut out style to tell the story, as well as “live action” styled videos. The later videos are quite common throughout the game to tell the story. These videos have great depth to them, and are one of the only times which you can use the 3D function within the title.
The game also has some sections later in the game which are not playable but still present a solid graphic experience. Similar to the videos in design they hold a high level of graphical detail and really polish the games overall presentation.
James Noir has an interesting music and sound setup, which mostly involves sounds inspired by old game shows. During the television show sections of the game, the music really livens up the whole concept and is a much welcomed inclusion to the title.
However outside the show sequences there isn’t much variety in the music and sounds which are offered. Many of the music tracks within the game are repeated throughout the title. Even more disappointing is that not many of the tracks are rememberable, outside one of the main themes which aligns itself against the whole crime arch of the story.
The game doesn’t feature extreme use of the dual screen ideals which the system has. Gamers will find themselves focusing primary on the 3D screen most of the time, with the touch screen used only for some puzzles and basic touch screen use.
James Noir doesn’t quite pop out of the screen with 3D. With the 3D limited to certain periods of time within the game, mostly the video segments which tell the games story. So you won’t be seeing crazy 3D puzzles within the title, with the puzzle segments mostly turning off 3D when displayed. Even more depressing is the 3D isn’t that well used in the previously mentioned video segments, with the 3D appearing to be double vision almost without little change to the slide bar from off to on.
The game also doesn’t quite make a home run with the gyroscope controls, with little puzzles taking advantage of the feature and when they do it feels tacked on and quite difficult to control. However it does use the cameras for some nifty integration. As you are the contestant on the show, your photo will be taken at the start of the game, which is then used throughout the game at various points to tell the story even further. There are also segments which you are in a dressing room and looking at a mirror within the story, so the front facing cameras use that opportunity to display your face on the mirror in the room.
Overall the majority of the game could have been created for the Nintendo DS or any other system available previously on the market. With 3DS only features not been taken to its full advantage or at some stages not at all. With the ending opening up the game for a possible sequel, it could be interesting to see where Ubisoft takes the series in the future.
Pro: Good Graphics.
Con: Story can be predictable and dragging at times, with some corny one liners present.Puzzles primary using touch screen controls and not any 3DS selling features.
Final score: 6.7