What it's not is perfect. Of course, no game is, but Dementium is peppered with a few looming frustrations that bring down the game experience. It is developer Renegade Kid's first effort, and at times it shows, and it's a somewhat clichéd game from a genre built on the power of cliché. The good news is that none of those frustrations are terribly huge. The bad news, however, is that some of those flaws may be just the sort that keep certain types of gamers away.
Dementium: The Ward opens with a chaotic montage that leaves you alone -- or so you think -- in a hospital. Once you step into the hall, it's clear that some extreme badness has been going on while you were out, but unfortunately, you are clueless ... and weaponless. Both of these things are doubleplusungood, but luckily for you, at least one of them is remedied pretty quickly.
The first chapter serves as an introduction of sorts. You find some helpful goodies (including the flashlight you should always have equipped when you are not actively fighting), deal with your first puzzle, and face your first enemies. You also get more than a few hints of some of the horrors to come, including a quick clip of a guy you're pretty sure you don't want to face ... at least until you find something a hell of a lot better than your first weapon, which is a nightstick. Like, a rocket launcher would be good, or a crate of grenades. Unfortunately, there's not one just lying about in a supply closet. At least you find a lot of medicine to replenish your health!
Once you learn to navigate and explore, the game moves quickly into Chapter Two. Chapters come and go at various places; you never quite know how long the next one will be. And here is where the biggest issue (for most people; not so much for this reviewer) comes in: the save system is chapter-dependent. When you die, you restart from the beginning of that chapter, which means you have to fight your way back to where you were. While I found that this added a much-needed layer of difficulty to the game, many people have found it extraordinarily annoying. Your mileage may vary.
The biggest issue I, personally, had with navigating The Ward is much, much simpler: the sheer number of empty, useless areas. I like to explore everything, every nook and cranny, because you just never know what you might miss. Unfortunately, there's a lot of wasted space here, and a lot of things you just can't interact with. Of course, on a DS cart, there's limited space -- and here, it was put into creating an atmospheric wonder -- but it left things feeling a little empty at times. The fun of exploration quickly evaporated ... but the game offers enough to almost make up for it.
Dementium is really all about balance. The game is short, but beautiful. It's not too difficult, but certain parts are brutal. It is deeply terrifying at moments, but the audio cues that signify the presence of monsters takes away a little of the fun factor of surprise. Overall, it is more than worth the play experience, but the developers are clearly still finding their way, despite an effort that should be lauded by DS owners everywhere. It's easy to recommend ... but the recommendation comes with caution.
The basics (or, the review is in the details):
Controls: Anyone who's been paying attention when I've been around on Game Nights knows that I, personally, hate Metroid Prime Hunters with a deep and abiding passion. I hate it. I appreciate the concept, I wish I loved it, but in practice, I find the controls a nightmare. Dementium is similar -- but since the game isn't as frenetic, it's a lot easier to handle the controls this time around. The developers clearly recognized, however, that it's not the most comfy scheme ever -- they included "comfort" tips in the manual! Despite any latent carpal tunnel issues, however, the controls here work really well, but they do take a little getting used to. Fortunately, the first chapter is incredibly easy, and you have lots of time to orient yourself before your abilities are tested.
Visuals: Overall, Dementium really shines here. The heart-pounding cutscenes are above and beyond what we usually expect from the DS, especially in a game like this. Monster design is a little uneven, however, with some that look fabulous, and others that seem to lack much real detail. Also, sometimes things are a little jagged around the edges, but usually, you're so wrapped in making sure nothing is busily kicking your ass that you won't even notice.
Sound: Simply awesome. Dig out your headphones, because you'll want to appreciate every scrap of audio here.
Story: Hey, you're a guy in a hospital, and you have no idea what's going on! Look, there are all these horrible creatures that want to eat your face! Haven't we been here before? It's called survival horror, and yes, we have. Dementium isn't really breaking new ground, but neither are most horror titles. We love them anyway, and even the clichéd moments are handled well here -- particularly in terms of the cutscenes.
Difficulty: Here, Dementium suffers a little. Not only is it short, but it just isn't very challenging, either. This is the main reason why I, personally, am not fussed over the save system -- it adds a need to get through things with skill and style. Enemies tend to be pretty predictable. The first time you encounter a certain type (if you haven't read our strategy guide), you can be a little thrown, but you quickly pick up the best way to handle them. The puzzles aren't much of a challenge, either. So when the game expects you to play through a chapter and get it right, it isn't that onerous ... but it can be a bit frustrating at times.
Final verdict: 8.0/10. While it may be flawed, Dementium is still a shining example of what the DS is capable of, and we hope more developers take a cue from Renegade Kid. Let's push the envelope, guys!