Halloween Gaming Special Day 3: Dementium: The Ward (DS)

Anime’s dead, but the DS shows some other tricks
Did you have a sleepless night after the brain sizzler Ghost Trick, or was it just too cartoony and made you sleep rather well? Nintendo DS games are for kids, you say? Think again…

Survive the horror in your hands
Survival horror has been around for ages it seems when it comes to gaming. No other genre has spawned so many sequels and reinvented itself with games like Dead Space. But usually it’s on the bigger consoles or the PC. What about the portable ones? Especially Nintendo’s often-called children’s/casual-gaming console?
With Dementium: The Ward there’s an unprecedented level of horror… right in your hands! So keep your hands steady, turn off the lights, get those earphones in and… DON’T LOOK BACK!

Dementium: The Ward
(USA 2007, developer: Renegade Kid, publisher: SouthPeak Games/TopWare Interactive)

After brain surgery, a patient wakes up and has to confront his past und demons come alive.

Welcome to the ward
Highly reminiscent of the Silent Hill-franchise, especially the older titles, the game creates tension and atmosphere by only giving hints to the player what is actually going on. Even if the story is not that complex and there are no characters to talk to, one still wants to know what happens next.

This is done remarkably well by having sections with no enemies to fight and then some rather heart-stopping coming-out-of-the-darkness moments, pushed even further by the life bar which works as a heartbeat projection.
The only problem the game faces is that objects are sometimes a bit too well hidden. This even gets to a point when certain clues which are necessary to progress in the game (like a photograph torn in three pieces revealing a door code) can be overlooked. Same goes for the story elements which are not always that well implemented.

This stays for you forever
Sound design is terrific and adds to the immersion of the player. Even if the soundtrack is a bit too much Silent Hill, it’s hard to find a creepier game on the DS (or any at all). Voice acting is at times amateurish, but as there aren’t any long dialogues and the few voices come from TVs or other sources, it can be disregarded.

Graphics may not be that great for people playing FPSs for ages, and it’s more like the oldest Doom game coupled with the first Silent Hill (which hasn’t aged that well in its technology). But it’s amazing to see it running with a smooth fps rate on Nintendo’s console. To look around the delapidated, dirty rooms with a 360 degree motion is something special on that small screen.

Control your fear
Of course playing an FPS on the DS was never going to be an easy task, and it certainly demands a learning curve, especially with boss fights which are rather clumsy to work around. Moving forward and backward, strafing left and right is easy enough, aiming with the stylus is also rather intuitive after a while, but firing with the left shoulder button can become tiring.

Another love-it-or-hate-it game mechanic is that one can only hold either a flashlight or a gun, but not at the same time. Like Doom 3, this creates terror in the player, but it is also quite cumbersome if one has to orientate oneself in the rooms.

Know where you are
It’s not a long game (maybe 4-5 hours), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It could even have been a bit shorter. As enemy types are not that varied (one is extremely annoying; you know it by its shrill screams) and most of the playtime is spent in the same location, it nearly outstays its welcome.

There’s also a problem with the map which helps a bit with knowing where the player is, but as the rooms are usually pretty identical it’s more like a maze game, especially since it’s impossible to make notes on it. Why it’s possible to do that on an implemented notepad for putting down codes or phrases which are essential for puzzle solving, and not for orientation purposes, is a bit strange, to say the least.

Save me
The save system is controversial as well. Manual saving is not possible as the game saves every time the player gets through a door (which of course happens constantly). This becomes a major problem when one is low on ammo or health, even if medkits (or in this case pills) and ammunition are more in abundance than in other survival horror titles.

What makes the game even more difficult is that when one dies it’s all back again to the starting point of the whole chapter. This creates tension for sure, but it’s also frustrating. Especially the last level is a slap in the face when there aren’t any save points before the final boss and it’s quite a long way to get there…

Puzzle Me This
Talking about puzzles: There are some, but like Silent Hill, they never become too hard to figure out and are not that inventive. Some (like counting dead men’s eyes) are sick and fit into this mad world, but they are nowhere as engaging than what the game does best: scaring the player.

Backtracking also become a bit annoying after some time, especially since the game area is quite large and if one misses a certain clue (like with the torn photograph), one could pretty much go through all the doors again and again.

All’s well that ends wrong
Still as it stands, this is a tremendous achievement on the DS. Technically impressive (even if it can’t compete with other FPS on the PC or home consoles), storytelling sound (a bit too many Silent Hill references), it’s a unique survival horror experience on the DS which is hard to find elsewhere.

Rating: 8/10

Wikipedia

Oh, and for some fun gory promo trailer, check this out

Buy the DS game on
Amazon Germany
Amazon Germany (in a bundle with the sequel)
Amazon UK
Amazon UK (in a bundle with the sequel)
Amazon USA

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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