Enter the Asylum
The DS isn’t exactly known for its mature-themed content or graphical capabilities, but two and a half years ago, developer Renegade Kid delivered a good-looking, gory, and frightening experience in Dementium: The Ward. Now, with the appropriately titled Dementium II, they return to the formula that brought them modest success last time around. This is one of the best-looking games the DS has to offer, and the gameplay works well for the most part, but a few significant problems keep it from being a must-buy.
Since the first game, little has changed about the basic idea. From a first-person perspective, you fight evil creatures in a blood-soaked old-school insane asylum. At the beginning of the game, you’re locked up after allegedly murdering your wife, and you just had a brain operation (performed by The Doctor) meant to stop your hallucinations. Then, something goes wrong. The lights go down. Your cell opens. You grab a shank and start stabbing your way through guards and zombies.
The Bright Dawn Treatment Center is quite large, and as you run through the basic first-person shooter and survival-horror tropes (kill all the enemies in the room to unlock the door, get this key, find that item), you can track your progress on the Super Metroid-style map that appears on the bottom. Ammo is scarce, so you’ll be relying a lot on melee weapons, which is a nice twist but a little too frustrating. You have to time your hits perfectly to keep your enemies from sapping your health (which is also scarce), and the smaller and/or quicker enemies (such as the slugs, or the fast-moving breed of monster that hurls projectiles at you) are tough to hit. The lack of ammo also keeps you from enjoying the game’s later projectile weapons, which include some big, fun machines of destruction.
Overall, though, it’s a good experience to roam the halls, deal with enemies, trigger the many spooky cutscenes, and take down the occasional tough and interesting boss. The game even throws some variety your way; in one section, you have to navigate a maze without running into ghosts. If you hit a ghost, you’re teleported to a room full of zombies, and when you kill the zombies, you’re teleported back to the beginning of the maze. There are other puzzles as well, which make for a good distraction, even if they’re not as intriguing as those in, say, a Zelda game.
Your beautifully rendered surroundings only add to the experience. This looks like a top-notch Nintendo 64 game, with great lighting, well-designed environments, and remarkably detailed cutscenes. The zombies convincingly stagger toward you, the slugs ooze along the floor, and the bosses are appropriately big and menacing. The A.I. can leave something to be desired, but at least the enemies don’t respawn whenever you return to a room, as they did in the original Dementium. Those used to playing shooters in HD might not be impressed, but they should be.
Fortunately, the controls are top-notch; they’re straight out of Metroid Prime Hunters. The stylus serves as a mouse to look around, the D-pad walks and strafes, and the L trigger shoots. You can run by double-tapping the D-pad, and jump, crouch, and use your flashlight (with any one-handed weapon) by touching icons with the stylus. You can use items or switch weapons by navigating quickly through a menu on the touch screen. Anyone who’s played a modern first-person shooter on a computer will feel right at home crouched over the DS’s two small screens.
That’s not to say this is a perfect game, though. Far from it. The save points are often spaced too far apart, which can lead to some incredibly frustrating moments later in the game. This type of thing is bad enough on a full-sized console title, but it’s even worse on the DS, given that the whole point of a handheld is that you can play it for a few minutes at a time without losing your progress. For those who’d prefer to cruise through the game, though, the developers provide an adjustable difficulty setting.
Also, while the sound effects are decent, the music is horrendously cheesy. It’s clear the composer was going for some truly haunting minor-key sounds, but in reality, it sounds like it comes from a parody of a slasher B-movie. Some players might also dislike the fact that the music warns you when enemies are nearby, thus ruining some of the scares, but given the scarcity of both health and save points, we didn’t mind too much.
Further, for a $30 game, Dementium II is a little on the short side: there are five chapters that take, on average, a little more than an hour each to complete. You can replay the game at a higher difficulty if you’d like, and as you progress, you unlock various versions of the action-packed “survival mode” (which is fun at first because ammo is easier to come by, but gets old quickly), but that’s about it for replayability. Most gamers should rent this one instead of buying it, or at least wait for the price to come down.
In the end, the question of whether to give Dementium II a shot is a simple one. Do you want to play a survival horror game on the DS? If the answer is yes, this is the best place to go. If not, this is a good game, but not a must-buy. Stick to the simple and fun games on the DS, and play out your disturbing murder fantasies in full HD on the TV-connected consoles.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
This is one of the best-looking games the DS has to offer. 4.7 Control
They’re very intuitive, and straight out of Metroid Prime Hunters. 2.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects are fine, but the music is irredeemably cheesy. 3.2
The gameplay works for the most part, but there are some annoying problems, and it’s short.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.