999 Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
20th Jan 2011 | 19:30
Nine people wake on a boat. In nine hours it will sink. A series of doors, numbered one to nine, hold the key to escape.
Pat on the back for Chunsoft's naming guys. A literal, straightforward name for a literary and far from straightforward game. Wrongly classified by some as a visual novel - it has too many interactive puzzles for that - 999 is wordier than most DS adventures.
Speech plays up top - à la Ace Attorney - and third-person exposition fills the gaps on the touch screen.
Aksys' decent localisation, along with handsome manga character art, really nails the drama of the situations. Pared back enough to rattle along at a good pace, the 'less is more' approach is particularly effective in the (frequent) moments of violence.
Rather than spoil the moment with low-res pixel gore, the text casts quick, lurid glances at horrific sights. This is as mature as DS gaming gets - even if the cussing is a little too self-consciously adult.
Locked room puzzles punctuate the yarn - think Crimson Room and Flash games of that ilk. Two or three connected rooms stitch into a mini point 'n' click adventure.
Find this item, combine those and use the results to solve a simple sequencing or maths conundrum.
Chunsoft hit the puzzling sweet spot: convoluted enough to make the brain throb with satisfaction, but with enough subtle hand-holding to prevent the feeble-minded from flagging.
It's likely you'll dash through it in six hours or so. Then the game begins properly. The tale branches like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Only by walking every path will you truly comprehend our victims' predicament. Revelations in one strand cause a domino rally of realisation in the next. Starting as a hammy Saw-alike the tale blossoms into a fiendish web of relationships and sci-fi conspiracy.
It doesn't have Cing's or Ace Attorney's heart, but they don't have 999's muscular legs.
Replays do require you to re-cover old ground. A fast forward function expedites matters (stopping at branching points), but locked rooms must be solved again.
While different narrative decisions lead you through new puzzles - each playthrough takes in five or so of 16 rooms - the crossover irritates.
If we never see the tutorial room again it will be too soon. That said, this is a torture boat, so it can't all be sweetness and light.
999 may not warm the cockles, but it does drag them kicking and screaming through hours of gripping entertainment.
Ghost Trick is more immediately entertaining and Last Window more charming, but neither of them have exploding stomach bombs. We rest our case.