Hollywood Crimes

Game: James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Year: 2011
Reviewed: 2013
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Puzzle
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

Appearances can be deceptive. Judged by the title and box art style I was all set for this to be yet another of those identical hidden object games. Thankfully, it isn’t. Hollywood Crimes is a puzzle game that links its puzzles with a storyline, yet which manages to avoid the trap of being a Professor Layton clone. Well, to give it the full title on the box, it’s James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes 3D. I have no idea who James Noir is or why his name is on the box. Is it a pen name of someone who works alongside Paul Western and John Science-Fiction, or did the guy get involved with detective stories because of his name? Does he even exist? I never spotted his name on the credits, so it’s all a bit random. Oh yes, the game! Let’s get back to it.

Hollywood Crimes Worms Puzzle
Nothing could be more Hollywood than dragging coloured worms around a board! (All screenshots are photos of console, so apologies for quality.)

Set in the 1960s, Hollywood Crimes alternates between two related segments with radically different moods. Firstly, you’re a contestant on a tacky puzzle-based game show called The Incredible Puzzle Masters Then, shortly after your first appearance, someone from your past, now working for the FBI, asks for your help in solving a case involving a serial killer. It seems all the victims are former contestants from the game show and the killer is leaving behind a trail of clues in the form of puzzles.

As you can tell from that description, the whole thing is very silly, but it gets away with it by the fact that everyone involved seems to be aware of this. Simply the idea of the most successful show on TV being a game show about watching people solve puzzles is quite bizarre. (Yes, I know The Crystal Maze was basically just that, but that was different to this as you’ll see later in a moment.) The show involves a board containing a variety of puzzles, each being worth one of three different numbers of points. Presumably the higher scoring puzzles are supposed to be harder, but I found the difficulty to be all over the place, though the puzzles did get harder later in the game. Rather than competing directly against each other, each episode apparently only features one contestant working through the board to meet a target score. That’s where things seem really badly thought out. You can do as many puzzles as you need to in order to reach the target and there’s no penalty for giving up on a puzzle or getting a wrong answer, and you can always just try again. Not that you’re likely to get into that situation, since there’s no time limit and for most of the puzzles there’s no way to get them wrong anyway, when it comes to things like sliding blocks. The game is happy for you to start a puzzle and stare at it for 10 minutes if you like. That must make for really exciting TV. No wonder it’s the top rated show and apparently makes it to newspaper headlines.

Hollywood Crimes Worms Puzzle
It may not look like much, but this board hides one of the most nonsensical scoring systems around.

Silliest of all, and one of the main flaws of the game, is how the scoring works. Each contestant has a target score and you carry on until you have reached that, as mentioned. Once you’ve reached it you can’t carry on, yet the person with the highest score after all the rounds wins. This means that what ultimately matters is the amount you exceed the target by. So someone who does a lot of lower scoring puzzles can end up with more points than doing all the highest scoring ones. There’s also a hint system where you can use up to three hints per puzzle, but you get five bonus points for each hint you don’t use. Paradoxically, because of how the scoring works, you could end up getting a higher score by using the hints than if you avoided them. Technically you have to earn the hints through doing well first, but realistically by the time you are likely to even think about needing a hint you’ll have dozens available. Despite all this, I guess it’s still better than Deal or No Deal.

In between rounds of the show, you’re called on to help investigate crime scenes. These contain several puzzles, often on the sides of boxes, and solving them brings clues regarding the location of the next victim. The storyline here, however ridiculous, was actually better than I was expecting. It’s full of the usual red herrings that lead you to suspect just about everyone at various times during the game. It even becomes surprisingly dark towards the end.

Hollywood Crimes Cube Puzzle Hollywood Crimes Cube Puzzle
Puzzle on the top screen and controls on the bottom isn't an ideal setup.

In terms of the puzzles, the game is pretty good, though the same few types of puzzle do keep turning up again and again. There’s the odd unique puzzle, but you’ll find yourself returning to Numberlink puzzles, Battleship puzzles (under a different name), a Sudoku style puzzle involving putting colours into squares and various other puzzles many times over. Some of them are at least different to puzzles you get elsewhere, such as one where you have to drop coloured tokens into a mechanism to get them to fall into the correct coloured receptacle at the bottom, which is something I’ve never seen before. Despite the repetition, they’re generally fun to solve. The crime scene puzzles are the ones that make use of the glasses free 3D screen of the console, but it actually works against it in some ways by unnecessarily complicating the controls. Since only the top screen is 3D and only the bottom a touchscreen, by displaying the puzzle cubes on the 3D screen it prevents you from directly interacting with them. Instead, you have to move the stylus around the touchscreen to clumsily move a cursor around the other screen, and then tap when you want to use something. It’s a bit fiddly compared to how simply it would be on the touchscreen and the 3D doesn’t add enough to the game to make it worth it. I’d rather have decent controls than a cube with a slight illusion of depth.

3D is also used in the occasional cutscenes and it’s a little more successful there, though there are some jaggies that really stand out badly when they’re shoved up into your face. These scenes utilise real actors, though with only about three frames for each animation repeated throughout the game, making it just looks strange and jerky. The FBI agent you are helping is Adam Jensen, or at least Elias Toufexis, the actor who voiced him, and he and the other actors seem to be enjoying hamming up their roles. As mentioned, everything seems knowingly silly, and because of that it just about gets away with it.

Between rounds of the show you get to read your mail, consisting of obsessive fan mail or weird hate mail and occasionally messages from the killer. Sometimes the mail will contain puzzles that fans have sent in and these show that some care has gone into the design that never went into the rules of the game show. Although the same types of puzzles show up in various places, they’ve been adapted to fit appropriately into the setting. On the show, a puzzle might be clean and professional looking while one of the same type sent in by a fan will look like it’s been hand drawn on paper. To get all the fan mail you have to score as highly as possible in the show, since the more points you have the more fans you get, and the more puzzles you solve in the fan letters, the more hints you get.

Hollywood Crimes Lt. Matt Booker
The FBI often choose random people who they've observed watching the news to help with their cases.

The other thing you can do between rounds, or at any time in the menu, is to replay earlier chapters of the game. This includes the ability to do the other puzzles in the game show rounds in order to clear the board. The actual story of the game isn’t likely to take more than about five hours to play through, but you can add a few more hours on top of that to go back and complete all the other puzzles that you didn’t attempt before.

While far from a classic, Hollywood Crimes is an entertaining enough game that should please puzzle fans for a few hours. It might not be especially memorable but it’s enjoyable while it lasts. If you’re looking for some puzzle-based gaming for the 3DS and have already played all the Professor Layton games, then this is at least worthy of a few hours of your time. Solid, but unspectacular.

Save System Review: Saves automatically after every puzzle, so no problems here.
Graphics: Decent graphics for the system, though the animation is poor. 3D works well enough though the occasional jagged edge stands out.
Sound: Whether intentional or not, the hammy acting fits into the spirit of the game. Sound effects are decent.
Bugs: There was one single puzzle in one of the fan mails where I found a second solution which fit but wasn’t accepted.
Gameplay: Some good puzzles, spoiled only by some of them turning up a bit too often.
Storyline: Silly but entertaining pulp storyline with some nice twists along the way.

Arbitrary Final Score: 2.5 stars

If you like this, you might also like: Professor Layton series, Puzzle Agent games, Noir crime stories

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