When one considers the Nintendo DS, light gaming fare such as Nintendogs, Mario Kart DS or Animal Crossing generally comes to mind. You probably wouldn't expect to encounter a gritty, film-noir adventure on this popular handheld. But that's exactly what players will find in Hotel Dusk Room 215. The new game is a hard-boiled detective story, the likes of which novelist Raymond Chandler could have been proud.

Set in late December 1979, Hotel Dusk plays out over the course of a single evening. The game's protagonist, Kyle Hyde, is a down-and-out ex-New York City detective. Now migrated to Los Angeles, Hyde has become a door-to-door salesman who drinks too much and handles a bit of private investigative work on the side.

Hotel Dusk is billed as an interactive detective novel, and, indeed, its plot advances mainly through conversations with the hotel's assortment of odd characters. The book metaphor even extends to the DS itself. Unlike most DS games, in which the user holds the system in a horizontal, screen-over-screen orientation, Hotel Dusk requires the DS to be held vertically so that its twin screens sit side-by-side.

The experience is much like holding a small book. Players use the DS touch screen to control movement and dialogue. The system's secondary screen plays a more reactive part in the game. To move Hyde, for instance, the player drags the stylus around a map of the hotel on the touch screen. The other screen will show the view of the hotel's interior as seen by Hyde. When interacting with other characters, dialogue choices are made on the touch screen.

And what characters! Although it couldn't be less of an action game, Hotel Dusk never becomes dull, thanks to a deep plot and the intriguing cast that populates its rundown halls. These include a strange little girl in search of her mother, a sleazy pickpocket who remembers Hyde from the NYPD days, and a mute young woman who may hold the key to the hotel's mystery.

Like all great literary gumshoes, the one at the center of Hotel Dusk has baggage. In this case, Hyde never got over the disappearance of his old NYPD partner, three years earlier on Christmas Eve. Detective Brian Bradley was shot on a New York wharf, fell into the Hudson River, and was never seen again. Hyde, whose career dissolved in the wake of Bradley's shooting, is on a quest for redemption and, perhaps, revenge.

Hotel Dusk uses branching story lines to spin its tale, which means that outcomes may change based on the dialogue choices made by the player. Should Hyde, for example, be sympathetic or sarcastic when the hotel maid complains about her job? The decision could affect the course of the story. There are many such conversational choices to be made in the game.

The bottom line? Hotel Dusk Room 215 is a terrific adventure that has the potential to draw a whole new audience to the DS.

Power Up |

Grade: A

Hotel Dusk Room 215

Nintendo. DS. $34.99

Rating: T (13 and older)

Contact writer Dennis McCauley

at dmccauley@phillynews.com.