Dementium II Preview
When it comes to horror games, you probably don't expect something on the Nintendo DS to be worth your while. Developer Renegade Kid changed that in 2007 with the release of Dementium: The Ward, a first-person shooter with a horror theme that took place inside a twisted mental facility. Its stylus-based controls mimicked Metroid Prime: Hunters, and its creepy-crawly creatures worked well on the modest DS hardware.
Now, they're back with a sequel, simply called Dementium II. You'll play the same character but now he's at a new facility, the Bright Dawn Treatment Center. You'll still be slipping in and out of the nightmare world as you did in the first game, and the same basic gameplay is in use, but you'll find new, disgusting enemies, a bigger and badder story, a little more user-friendliness with save points appearing more often (although you'll still have to manually save your game), and even the chance to leave the facility and explore places like a sleepy, snowy abandoned village.
There are some new weapons, too, like the sledgehammer which will allow you to perform a power attack to clobber the disgusting mouth-chested zombies that attack you in the nightmare world. You can bust through boarded-up doors, too, and the little mini-map helps to make sure you know where to go when you need to do a little backtracking to find spots like this.
The controls are still done in the same way as before, with the default scheme having you use the D-pad for movement, movement of the stylus on the touch screen turning and aiming, and the left trigger to attack. Tapping spots on the touch screen will also allow you to open doors, and touching the inventory will pause the game and open up a window - you drag and release to use an item or switch to a different weapon. There's a lefty control scheme available as well that allows you to use the buttons and right trigger to move along with your left hand using the stylus to look around, but I found that even as a lefty, I was better off just using the regular one - I'm way too used to having movement on the left hand and aiming on the right. There's also the issue of some awkwardness with holding the DS basically by a corner with one hand while you press down on it with the other, and that can lead to some discomfort after extended sessions, but it's nothing that players of the first Dementium haven't already dealt with.
You'll start out with a simple prison shank, which lacks power or range so you'll need to be quick to finish a fight without taking damage. Eventually you'll get a revolver, but ammo's scarce early on so it's back to the shank often. Once you get the sledgehammer, things really begin to get satisfying, especially when you hold the left trigger and then release it for a powerful smash.
Early on, Dementium II includes some light puzzle elements and a couple of small mazes complete with creatures that you'll have to outsmart and avoid to progress - it's just enough to break up the action and sometimes let off on the tension of the game's atmosphere. That will be needed, too, considering some of those dark corners where all you can see is what your flashlight exposes.
The game's engine plays smoothly and while you won't see any award-winningly complex levels or jaw-dropping visuals, it still pushes the DS hardware to its limit to create one of the most original experiences you'll see on Nintendo's portable.
One element of this game that must be mentioned is the sound. Dementium II, much like the first game, has some eery and atmospheric sound that really only works if you've got some headphones. Other than that, do whatever it takes to get you immersed, whether that means playing in the dark or alone - but getting the full range of sound is key. With a somber and creepy soundtrack and some frightening skittering and wailing, the developers know when to assault you with sound and when to back off.
For anyone who loved the first Dementium, picking the sequel up will be an easy choice. But if you are skeptical about how a horror game could even work on the DS, I think you might be surprised with what Renegade Kid is accomplishing. Dementium II will be released by publisher SouthPeak Interactive in April.