Hollywood of the 1960s might not scream "3D-optimized puzzles," but that doesn't mean the two can't go hand in hand. James Noir's Hollywood Crimes knows this is the case. As a contestant on fictional quiz show Incredible Puzzle Masters, you're naturally the best choice to help the FBI with its investigation into a serial killer who leaves puzzles at every crime scene. Not only are you the best choice, but the victims are also past champions of the show. Puzzling. It's a slightly weird game; there's a low-budget feel to it, with puzzles that are great fun if a little repetitive. But the B-movie feel of Hollywood Crimes actually contributes to its charmingly off-kilter atmosphere.
There's an unusual disparity at the start of the game, but it's one that actually works rather well. The game fluctuates between gaudy '60s quiz-show dressing and moody crimes scenes, with both settings offering puzzles to solve. The quiz show is laid out neatly; you have to solve 12 puzzles that are divided into three score brackets and achieve a target score. It's a good idea and allows you to choose which brainteasers you solve to progress, meaning (at least in some parts of the game) you're never going to be stuck on one specific conundrum.
The main downside here is that there isn't much puzzle variation. Usually, each type of puzzle appears multiple times, and although there's justification for this later in the game, some more variety would have been nice. There are numerous puzzles where you have to navigate a 3D maze, puzzles where you have to drop coins into the correct slots, lock-picking puzzles, sequential puzzles, and the occasional clever one-off brainteaser.
Most of the puzzle types are a lot of fun and make decent use of the 3DS tech. This extends to the game overall, with such neat touches as seeing yourself reflected in mirrors or having to rotate a 3D object to get the correct perspective. Some challenges also make use of the tilt sensor and have you rotate your 3DS to slide a block around a maze. To compensate for the fact that you have to move the handheld around, the 3D itself is sparse and nonintrusive, which adds a small amount of depth to the visuals without ever really straying much into full 3D territory. It's a good example of knowing when less is more.
The most unusual aspect of James Noir is the fact that it uses full-motion video for the characters. Presenter Glen Darnby sits at his desk, played by a real actor, and vibrates in a sinister manner. Host Monique shudders on the spot, pirouetting to display your score. There are about three frames to signify speech, with each character's mouth flapping open and closed like a creepy marionette. Rather than just looking cheap, it adds an air of foreboding to the game, whether it was intentional or not. Characters are barely fleshed out, although the script makes a few halfhearted attempts at providing backstory, but this rarely extends beyond "Glen Darnby is an alcoholic."
The presentation is interesting, too. Chapter dividers take the form of typical noir-genre advertising that is reminiscent of Raymond Chandler book covers. The quiz show takes place on a tacky set, complete with a faceless, shadowy audience. Annoying jingles play out as Darnby reels off catchphrases and you solve puzzle after puzzle. This is then offset by the few crime scenes that offer brief glimpses at a darker Hollywood underbelly. The game spends very little time exploring this, and some fleshing out would have been extremely welcome, although certain things come into play later, which would be a shame to ruin. It's a bit silly at times, and occasionally, there are some fairly glaring typographical errors in the text, but there's a certain charm to James Noir that is impossible to ignore.
It's also a fairly short game, at least in regard to finishing the main plot, but there are more than 140 puzzles, including some especially enjoyable sequential puzzles, and you still have plenty left to solve once the main plot is over. The story only takes four or five hours tops, and it is utterly ridiculous, as well as quite poorly scripted in places. But the midpoint twist, which completely changes the focus and setting of the game for a while, keeps things fresh.
There's too much puzzle repetition for Hollywood Crimes to stand alongside Professor Layton. But the puzzles, as much as they're repeated, are a lot of fun, and due to their nature, they can't really be done wrong. The structure also means you're not forced to do every puzzle of a certain type, or you can return to them later, which makes things a lot more digestible. It's silly and fairly forgettable overall, but it's enjoyable while it lasts. Perhaps it's not a game that can seriously compete with some of the big hitters out now, but for a fun distraction when you have a few spare hours, you could do a lot worse. And in the words of quiz show host Glen Darnby, "That's dead on!"