In most cases, saying that a videogame meets the minimum requirements of its genre isn’t much of a compliment. But when the title in question is an M-rated horror game for the DS, a platform known almost exclusively for games that anyone can pick up and play, that’s a significant accomplishment. “Dementium: the Ward” is merely a competent horror game, but because it brings intensity and scares to Nintendo’s ultra-popular handheld console for the first time, it should enjoy outsize interest among adult DS owners desperate to play something more mature than “Pokemon.”
On any other console, “Dementium” would be dismissed almost out of hand. The story of a man who wakes up in a freak-filled mental asylum is both derivative of and inferior to any number of horror movies and videogames. Every dull convention is here, from eerie repetitive music to ammunition and clues left in the most ridiculously convenient locations to a Linda Blair-esque creepy young girl.
Rather than create something original, rookie development house Renegade Kid seems to have put most of its energy into just making “Dementium” work on the DS. It accomplished that task almost perfectly. The controls, similar to those in “Metroid Prime: Hunters,” take full advantage of the console’s touch screen interface, yet remain incredibly simple.
Instead of a health meter, the game uses a heart rate monitor to as a proxy for how badly damaged the player is. Though it’s not clear how the main characters knows what his heart rate is, it’s one of the “Dementium’s” few unique touches.
While nobody expects Playstation 3, or even PSP, caliber graphics and sound on the DS, the game uses effects like lightning and distant noises to create some real chills. “Dementium” is the first videogame capable of making players jump in fright while hunched over a videogame on a bus or in an airport.
Even though the DS is meant to be carried around in pockets, “Dementium” isn’t easy to play on the go. The game constantly claims to be “saving,” but it can only be started at the beginning of one of its chapters, each of which can take half an hour to finish. That’s annoying enough when the players dies, but even moreso when he or she loses 20 minutes of progress because it’s time to get off the subway.
Game suffers from some other minor problems, like repetitive environments and a flashlight that can accidentally be turned off even though there’s no reason anyone would ever want to. But by and large, “Dementium” acquits itself well as a handheld horror title. In a few years, younger generations may have a hard time believing that a videogame this simple was actually so pioneering.