The Professor Layton series has seen something of a resurgence in puzzle games that also have a story affixed to them. Often, these titles can be of a mystery nature. James Noir's Hollywood Crimes 3D is a clear marriage of the two genres, made exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS. Though it is certainly a game where some thought has been given to several aspects, one can't help but think that there could have been so much more done with it to make it stand out and make the most of the 3DS capabilities.
The game is set in Hollywood during the 1960's and you play the role of a contestant on the TV show The Incredible Puzzle Masters. Your skills at puzzles propel you to the national spotlight, but it seems the show is fraught with danger. Someone is murdering past winners of the TV show, leaving taunting messages and cryptic puzzles at the crime scenes. It's clear that someone connected to the show is behind the murders and there are a range of suspects, from the show's host and score lady to your fellow contestant and the show's producer. Along the way you also run into an old friend who's an FBI agent that enlists your help to try and solve the puzzles, though you soon discover that he suspects you for the killings.
The gameplay itself oscillates between playing out puzzles live on the quiz show to progress through rounds and segments outside of the game, such as puzzles at crime scenes and those which are given to you by other characters. When playing on the game show, you must select a puzzle from a list of 12 with varying levels of difficulty and point value, and play enough to get the score for the round. You're also given hint tokens that can be used to unlock tips on how to solve the puzzles. If you hold back on these within the game show portion of the game, you will gain bonus points and also have a better chance of receiving more fan letters at the end of each round. The fan letters take the form of super hints which can be used for the more head-scratching puzzles that can be found out in the field. As you progress through the rounds, your fan rating will also rise against that of your opponent, in turn resulting in more fan letters. On top of getting fan letters at the end of every round, you will also receive a horoscope reading, the purpose of which isn't immediately apparent.
The puzzles themselves have a lot of variety to them. Some will see you using basic maths, spatial awareness and sometimes simple trial and error in order to progress. The puzzles don't have a sense of rubber band difficulty about them, but most of the time they aren't terribly engaging at all on several levels, and the variety doesn't make up for the shortcomings. There are a lot of puzzle types that you may not have seen before in other games, but solving them isn't anywhere near as satisfying as it should be.
Perhaps the lack of engagement with the game can be put down to its audiovisual properties. The graphics of Hollywood Crimes 3D aren't spectacular and definitely don't make the most of the capabiltiies within the 3DS. The characters themselves are animated in what resembles a rotoscoping format. Though there is some variance between these animated segments between scenes and camera shots, the animation tends to be looped in each camera shot, regardless of what is being said or the events that are unfolding. The puzzles and various environments you visit through the course of the game are all pretty bland and don't have any memorable qualities about them. Which is a shame, as the general 60's aesthetic the game is going for does have some appeal, but the details don't back it up. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the visuals is the infrequent use of the 3D capabilities of the console. Almost none of the standard puzzles in the game show segment of the game utilise 3D effects, which could have made for some very inventive brain teasers. The general cutscenes and some puzzles out in the field do use the 3D effect, but it's not put to the best possible use and rarely ever becomes a gameplay element. Which is a real shame - the handful of parts that make use of such 3DS qualities as its gyroscope are actually pretty fun, but such inventiveness could have been used across the board to give the game a more distinctive feel. There is also another neat use of the camera within the storyline and puzzle segments which shows that the developers were trying to reach a bit higher, but it's not sustained anywhere else.
By the same token, the various sounds within Hollywood Crimes 3D more often than not lack impact. The voice acting isn't too bad mostly, with the rants of the quiz show producer being a highlight. The rest of the cast is a real mixed bag of enthusiasm, which is a shame as the setting really gives them a chance to constantly ham it up throughout the course of the game. Music within the game is a series of plonky tunes that suit the setting but are nowhere near the kind of ear worm status that would single it out for praise. All of the other clicks and effects associated with the puzzles are just barely serviceable and come off more as stock effects than anything else.
The lifespan of the game will really depend on how much you can endure of the puzzles. There are plenty of them both in the game show portions and the story parts, but even the most ardent puzzle fans might not find them appealing enough to persevere with after the credits have rolled for the final time. While the story itself does take some mildly interesting turns, they are too late in the piece to really grab your attention in the long-term.
James Noir's Hollywood Crimes 3D isn't a bad game in any sense, but it's also not a terribly interesting one either. Glitch-free it may be, but its so-so presentation and under-utilisation of the Nintendo 3DS technology, especially for a puzzle game, make it a real missed opportunity.