Review / James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D (3DS)

James Noir isn’t a real person, I don’t think. I’ve googled him and everything, nothing there.

I’m not entirely sure why his name is on the box of James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D, then. But given that type of title and the system it’s on, you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming this was going to be that [insert TV celebrity name/reality show here] type of game that the DS was known for as it became more popular.

Turns out though that Hollywood Crimes is a perfectly capable, confident and surprisingly well-made Professor Layton clone. Ditching the Prof’s anime style in favour a more Cole Phelps kind of world, the game tells a linear tale, forever throwing increasingly difficult puzzles in the way. Initially the game uses the guise of a TV game show to present a large number of these problems, though it eventually grows into a murder mystery case. It’s more cheesy than chilling, but cheesy in a light-hearted, Sunday afternoon Diagnosis: Murder rerun way.

What that boils down to is simply watching a cutscene, then solving a puzzle, rinse and repeat. Fortunately the brain ticklers are varied and challenging enough to hold your attention throughout. Observational puzzles are the most interesting of the bunch, requiring eagle-eyed players to scan the environment then write their findings down on the touch screen. When mixed with the logic-based challenges, it’s a satisfactory, if a little standard mix that doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve seen before.

There are however some really interesting presentational aspects to Hollywood Crimes that make it worth looking into beyond the puzzles. One of the most enjoyable parts of the game is how it recreates the feeling of watching a 60s crime show. While most of the story is given to you by actors talking directly into the screen there are flashes of nostalgic brilliance in the game’s recap narration segments that are drenched in the noir atmosphere. Scene changes are punctuated by opening-credits style titles and most of the characters carry the same kind of over-exaggerated presence that was actually taken seriously 50 years ago.

Clever steps are taken to put you in the tale, too, like using the 3DS camera to simulate looking into a dressing room mirror. It may not be the most revolutionary story-telling seen in gaming, but its smart stuff, especially for a game where you wouldn’t expect such effort to be made.

It’s clean looking, too. It may not be the most technically advanced game out there but it certainly puts the system’s tech to good use. That said, don’t expect the 3D part of the equation to cause any fuss. The effect here is rarely any use, which is a shame given how the game utilizes other aspects of the system.

Hollywood Crimes has the benefit of being the only game of its kind on the 3DS at the moment. It’s sure to have stiff competition soon enough but for anyone looking to get their first taste of puzzle-solving on Nintendo’s latest, this isn’t a bad place to start at all.