A promising title that fails to live up to the hype
The 3DS seems to be having an identity crisis at the moment; the best titles are rehashes of the (admittedly impressive) Nintendo library, and most original titles fall guilty of “Wii-itis” – that annoying thing whereby the device gimmick is shoehorned in wherever it can be to little real effect. However, the recent Mario Kart and Mario Land games seemed to mark a watershed moment for the Big N, finally getting to grips with 3D as a perk and not a gameplay staple. But there is still obviously some keen teething problems to rectify, and James Noir is a classic example of a game in need of some simple gameplay polish – put down the 3D camera, Ubisoft, cos sometimes, there just isn’t a need. James Noir’s Hollwood Crimes 3D (shortened to JN from here on in, to preserve my sanity) is the tale of murders, gameshows and intrigue in which you take the starring role. Starting with a spoken introduction a la the best B-movies from the forties and fifties, you have decided to pit your considerable wit against the popular game show, Incredible Puzzle Masters, to try to win a cruise. Between rounds, you are asked to help the FBI investigate some grisly murders in the area which have more in common with your situation than first appears possible. So basically, you play out a series of puzzles, some within the gameshow, and some in real life, to follow the story. Which, to be honest will probably take you a total of about four hours, with not a lot of replay value. You see, the promised “150 puzzles” are mostly used as filler to earn hints with, and with a bit of intelligence the whole game can be beaten in about 35 puzzles.
it will be in bargain bins by the summer, and then it will be worth a look
The thing is, the puzzles are so inconsistent. The best of them are often logic puzzles which require a bit of head scratching to complete, whereas the worst are often the 3D spatial puzzles where you need to align shapes to find a hidden image. And the reuse of the same puzzle type across the main story is unforgivable – one puzzle is to map a path from one point to another on a 3D cube maze. It’s OK, but you redo it 4 times at key plot points – too many, too easy, and inevitably annoying. And it gets worse – for a brilliantly innovative 3D console, in JN it’s restricted to pop-up book style pictures, replete with terribly animated characters. I’m sure it’s meant to be ironic, but in truth it’s just quirky – not overly engaging, or even really necessary, and shown up by the 3D puzzles themselves, which really pop out in contrast. Match that with horribly cheesy overacting and low level ambient muted trumpets, and the B-movie feel falls into poor parody. There’s signs of promise here, but I can’t help but feel that this was almost rushed – the ending swings around too fast, the characters are horribly shallow and easy to read, and the game often waves massive plot-spoiling hints under your nose, while shouting its (non) virtues like a crap bar tout – “Go on son, you’ll love it, it’s got 3D and everyfink, it’s clever like that Professor Layting or whatever his name is, oooh, he’s a wrongun, that game show host, doesn’t he like a drink?!” But it really isn’t like the good Prof. Whereas Layton (the epitome of clever puzzling and intelligent storytelling) is balanced, lengthy and intriguing, JN sways too far in the opposite direction by being lazy, short lived and distinctly devoid of charm. It’s not that it’s a terrible game, but then if I had shelled out 35 of my own pounds on it, I’d be livid – there’s not enough here to warrant a full price release, as this should have been chapter one of a downloaded series at best. See Blue Toad Murders or anything by TellTale to see where we should be, except maybe Nelson Tethers, which suffers a similar set of problems. So should you buy it? Not really, as there’s a new Layton coming for vanilla DS that should scratch your itch until the proper 3D release next year, and there’s plenty of other good stuff to blow your bonus on instead with shiny 3D graphics. It lacks the intelligence of a good puzzler, the depth of a good noir-story, and the gameplay of a good game – it’s just mediocre. I’m willing to bet it will be in bargain bins by the summer, and then it will be worth a look – when you can use up that extra seven quid from a set of trade ins to have a half hour of interest before the cracks show and you turn back to Mario.
The Bad: It’s far too short and predictable; the puzzles get repetitive; there’s little replay value once you’ve beaten it; does a poor job of explaining the rules of certain sections; most uses of the 3D are rudimentary and/or somewhat pointless