December 28, 2011
Puzzle games come in many different shapes and sizes. Sometimes they're straight forward, sometimes they're apps, and sometimes they're hidden within third person adventure titles. James Noir's Hollywood Crimes wraps up your average puzzle quest, all with a classic murder mystery movie wrapper. Many of the puzzle games are recognizable, but because of the storyline, it makes the puzzles far more important to the player unlike the usual puzzle game.
Basically you take the role of a game show contestant who's competing for a chance to take a trip around the world. However, things get a bit dicey when an old friend asks you to help him solve a case involving a serial killer who plants puzzles in/around each of his victims. You're asked to help due to being a seasoned puzzle expert. As the story moves on, you're thrown into a flurry of twists and turns that keep you gripped right until the very end. Since you're playing the puzzle game show, while you're solving the crime, a lot of the puzzles go hand in hand which meshes the line between the two. This makes it feel more like a mystery novel then just your average puzzle game collection title.
Puzzle games can tend to be a bit redundant, however, as James Noir's Hollywood Crimes allows the player to choose which puzzles they would like to solve in a Jeopardy-like fashion. In the game show portions of the game, the player needs to choose from about 15 different puzzles with varying point values in order to move forward to the next round. Each round the puzzles are a bit different and a little bit harder. You can be as varied as you'd like or equally as repetitive. The only times where you have a restricted amount of choice is during story related puzzles, but James Noir has a fan letter system where depending on how many points you obtained in the game show, that's how many fan letters you will receive which then turn into hints in the story mode. The fan letters don't have to be used right away and they can pile up. This is extremely helpful when going through the later parts of the games where puzzles aren't necessarily clear.
The nice thing about this title is that it never really loses the plot. It's always entertaining and pretty addicting. Variety is something that always seems to plague games of this nature, but James Noir never really felt repetitive. Each puzzle felt fresh and exciting and it's nice that if you can't finish certain puzzles in the game show mode, you can choose a different one. With all that being said though, Noir does have a weird thing about the points system. If you complete a round in three turns, you will not be able to beat your opponent's score. Even though the game puts you into the next round anyways for hitting the base score, it's still frustrating that you can't beat your opponent when you do well. The only time you're able to get the high score is if you don't reach the base score within 3 tries, i.e. you fail on purpose. If you're just short of the base score, you can play a fourth round which will set you well over the opponent's score - rather silly.
The graphics in James Noir are very dated but it's uncertain whether or not this is intentional. Basically, the character models in the game are actually real life actors. You can hear the voice actor's voice, but the mouths of the characters do not match up in the slightest and instead keep repeating the same animation over and over again. Where this may have been acceptable in years past, now it tends to be a bit distracting from what's actually going on - even if it's intentional. Really the characters all look a bit funny so you end up missing on information because you're too busy poking fun at how the characters look.
The graphics do incorporate the player a lot though which is interesting. Every time a mirror is featured in the game, the Nintendo 3DS' camera will turn on showing you playing the game. They also take a picture of you for your profile and use it throughout the game in various scenes/puzzles. This makes the game a bit more personal and inviting, but for the camera shy, this might be a bit more creepy than anything else. The game also appears to have an demographic complex where the game show is made more kids in their young teens, but the graphic storyline is better for people who are a bit older especially since there's one scene that features a hanging man.
James Noir offers a bit of replayability with the fan letters. By accessing your profile in the main menu, you can read some of the fan letters you've been sent which offer silly notes and even some different puzzles. The story mode, however, doesn't offer the same sort of entertainment. Like many murder mysteries, once you go through the story once and figure out who the killer is, it's just not as exciting. However, the puzzles offer a bit of fun in case you're stuck traveling around for days on end.
James Noir is pretty decent for what it is, a puzzle game with a murder mystery attached. It offers a nice amount of variety for the first play through, but doesn't really have the same kind of appeal the second time around. The graphics could use a bit of an upgrade too, especially since real life actor character models have been out of style for years now. It's a strong title for those who love puzzle games, but it needed a bit more variety when playing through them, especially as you can just choose to do the same one over and over again. And if that's the case, you can probably just buy a cheap app to scratch that itch, instead of spending considerably more on this 3DS title.