Welcome to another installment of Retro Weekend, the weekly feature where I play a classic game and get the chance to write whatever I want about it! This week, I’ll be talking about the 2007 DS release, Dementium: The Ward, and how it has completely blown my mind as to what the Nintendo DS was capable of.
Hindsight is 20/20. That can either be a good thing or a bad thing, but in the case of Dementium: The Ward for the Nintendo DS, looking back has left me kind of dumb-founded. Why weren’t more people talking about this game when it was released back in 2007? It’s a first-person horror game — a genre that is virtually nonexistent from the entirety of the DS library — it runs like a freaking dream, and it’s a solid game despite some noticeable flaws. Very few times do I throw a game in and find that the first word out of my mouth is “wow.” Dementium did this, and it came out seven years ago.
Let me quickly throw out that I’m no DS savant. I only own a handful of games for the handheld and tried out another handful on top of that. Most of the library is a complete mystery to me but from what I’ve played, and how the DS’ buttons are laid out, I’ve never once thought, “Hey, I want to play a 1st-person game on here.” Even though games like Metroid Prime Hunters and some of the Call of Duty titles have received decent scores, the footage I saw never looked all that smooth. I can’t sit here and talk about those games I haven’t played, but I can tell you that Dementium shows me how oblivious I was to this little handheld’s capabilities.
First things first: this game runs so smooth, it’s almost uncanny. How is this possible!? What witchcraft is being used to get Dementium to run at 60 frames per second so consistently? It’s like the developers at Renegade Kid didn’t realize they were working with a Nintendo DS, then when they realized the limitations of the system, they just made their vision work anyway. Walking around with the D-pad and using the touch screen to look around and aim is more fluid than I ever would have imagined. In some ways, thanks to a little auto-aim, I felt even more comfortable shooting weird, deformed monsters in Dementium than most console first-person shooters. Maybe I’m just oblivious to the DS, but even after playing this game for hours, I’m still just as impressed as the first time I turned it on.
Even the visuals are great. Sure, the textures definitely get uglier the closer you get to them, but overall, Dementium is one of the best-looking DS games I’ve played. The monsters all have a distinct look and some nice animations that make them come to life. While a lot of hallways feel like they repeat, there’s still tons of detail sprawled throughout the game. From bloodstained doors, to tipped over furniture, to notes and writing on the walls, there’s a lot to take in here. There’s even a great looking flashlight effect used in the game that will brighten up the rooms you use it in, while still being brightest in the area you’re pointing. Then as you walk around the light will flicker on and off, something that keeps putting me on edge regardless of the fact I know it’s supposed to do that.
I can’t say I find Dementium to be as scary as games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but the developers did a great job at capturing a mood that’s fairly unsettling. I’d count that as an accomplishment, since I find that handheld horror games never really get to me as much as their big-screen counterparts. The sound may be what puts it over the edge. You’ll hear your character’s heartbeat throughout the entire game and the more you get hurt, the faster it speeds up. You’ll hear moans and groans in the distance without ever knowing for sure if the source is right around the corner, or four rooms away. I heard a little girl singing after I opened one door early on and almost peed myself. The game is dark, the sounds are eerie, and it’s smooth as butter. What more could you want?
Well, here’s where I flip the script a little and explain that Dementium: The Ward definitely has some problems. My biggest complaint is the melee weapon’s hit detection, which basically doesn’t exist. You’re never given an clear idea if your billy club will actually connect with an enemy or not; you just have to wing it. Considering all the guns show off a red reticule when aiming at an enemy, I would think having a similar system for the melee would make it less frustrating for players. There are these little slug-like things in the game that crawl and jump at you occasionally. In an effort to save ammo I tried smacking them with my club, but almost every time I took this route, I ended up dying. It’s just incredibly hard to ever know where the sweet spot is. Then once you’re dead, it’s back to the beginning of the chapter, another really upsetting design choice considering the game saves after every door you walk through.
I’ve heard that Dementium: The Ward is not a long game, so I’m hoping to finish it up this Retro Weekend! I’m really enjoying playing it so far, not only because of how the game itself plays, but because I’m really just so impressed by what it pulls off. Renegade Kid had a lot of courage to create a game like this on the Nintendo’s little handheld, but seven years later, I’m glad they did. Throughout my days of playing so many video games it’s rare that I play something that absolutely stuns me. Renegade Kid was formed in 2007, and this was their first release. A game that came out of nowhere and, from what I can see, completely pushed the Nintendo DS to limits few others were willing to take it. Now I think I have to play the sequel.