James Noir's Hollywood Crimes 3D Review
Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
A genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D for the Nintendo 3DS is an attempt by Ubisoft to recreate film noir in multi-dimensional handheld form. Film noir is a term derived in the 1970’s to describe a multitude of Hollywood crime dramas (before and since) containing character ambiguity, flexible morals, sexual motivations and cynicism. Think of The Big Sleep or The Night of the Hunter. Not an obvious source of inspiration for a puzzle game played on a handheld primarily owned by children.
The attempt is a poor one. The story created by the game’s developers is set in the 1960’s and involves your character - a puzzle solver extraordinaire - entering a popular national quiz show in an effort to win an all expenses paid trip around the world. However, soon enough previous winners start to get knocked off and puzzles are left at each scene. You’re engaged by an old friend at the FBI to help solve the puzzles and stop the killer - before he kills you. So there are crimes, that bit fits the noir genre. The characters, also, are hard to work out. But that’s not due to the skills of the writers and actors. Considering the game is in 3D the characters are less than two-dimensional and the acting is laughable. It actually grates on you very quickly having to listen to the delivery of the lines of soporific dialogue. Thankfully you’re able to skip most cut scenes and focus on the puzzling. Otherwise film noir in interactive form is not what we have here.
The game mechanics are such that from quiz show to crimes and then onto later situations, success in one puzzle is purely a way to progress to the next. Whilst things may happen in between, for example changes of location, interactions with other characters and so on, control is only in the hands of the player during puzzles. The rest is an on-rails experience with nothing to do, except press X to skip the ‘action’ and move forward more quickly.
The aim here is to get to the green star station but you can only advance three stops at a time
The puzzles themselves start out enjoyably enough, and in the quiz show there’s a range of difficulties from which to pick a puzzle. Starting on the hardest and staying there for the duration did not lead to any significant frustration. If there is a time when the solution does not present itself, there are hints available for each puzzle and often the solution can be presented if you’re willing to use up some of the fan letters received as you progress through the rounds of the TV contest. These are a finite resource but can be obtained so frequently and easily it’s possible to complete a whole chapter or two without actually doing a puzzle.
That is something you’ll want to do as you get closer to the fifth and final chapter. Puzzles repeat themselves (albeit with some subtle variation). Often they aren’t really brainteasers and are more trial and error timesinks. Examples of puzzles include: passing across a river by moving various planks from rock to rock; transporting the blue worm to the blue squares when three others block its path and the filling of two coloured pots by finding the right way to navigate blue and red tokens through a variety of multi-directional cogs. Some of the tasks come up three or four times in the game and later on are unavoidable - outside of the actual quiz show you need to complete a variety of tests to move a step closer to unmasking the killer. Inside the show you only need to finish three or four of the possible twelve games per round to reach the target score. You can go back and do more from your hotel room but you probably won’t want to as you’ll be pushing to finish the game, find out if its conclusion is how you expect (or not, and then whether it makes any sense given what you’ve been shown) and put the cartridge back in the box and pass onto someone else.
The quiz show's producer. Not the most irritating character
For a new intellectual property designed ground-up for the 3DS it doesn’t make good use of the system’s capabilities at all. Not the 3D ones, anyway. Throughout the entire game not one puzzle needed 3D to obtain the solution. That may be a design choice in case younger children are playing and aren’t using the 3D effect (as advised). If that is the case though, it’s misguided as the game has a 12 PEGI rating, and the advice is for children younger than six. Some did lend themselves to 3D, though, such as the need to build a wall of bricks matching diagrams you had from three viewpoints. But that being said, a rotation of the space using the thumbstick was all that was needed and probably more useful. At other times you had a 3D cube suspended in space which had a specified start and end square and a route between the two was required. Early on a number presented itself when viewed from a particular angle. All of these challenges you might think would need a 3D image. Not at all. In fact, it didn’t add anything to the obtainment of the solution; a simple rotation was all that was needed. The only parts of the system hardware which made this title worth being on a 3DS rather than the older generation DS, were the use of the accelerometer in one later part of the story and the camera which meant the player became part of the game - only when near a mirror, or on the paper, though. Too few reasons, then.
The 3DS has more grunt than its parent hardware but the graphics here were rarely more than pre-rendered environments and green screens with actors superimposed on top. It all looked fine and was probably the right choice given the game type but, again, could have been done on the DS too.
What’s been delivered here is a failed attempt at combining puzzle games with a film noir setting. The failure is on many levels. The utilisation (good or otherwise) of 3DS hardware is limited. The setting was going to fail from the start thanks to the actual plot line and the target audience. It’s not film noir - black film - and contains limited moral ambiguity, no sexual motivations, an awfully motivated crime and if any cynicism were present it was lost due to the hastily scripted dialogue and phoned-in performances. In this day and age of high quality voice acting it’s unacceptable for a game which will have had significantly higher budgets than many other titles. All of this though is secondary to the main point of the game, what with it all being dressing in which to play puzzles. Early on these are enjoyable and manageable. Very soon they become a chore, are recycled and remain overly simple, or empirically solvable with enough patience. With similar titles on the market (anything Professor Layton related for example) having achieved much more as a whole and with every individual part of the package, there is no way to recommend this. There is just too much that’s bad about