Dementium: The Ward (Nintendo DS Action/Puzzle Horror Game)

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Summary: In Dementium: The Ward, you wake up in a hospital, unsure of who you are. You wonder around, find a surprising amount of weaponry, and fight off and entire armada's worth of baddies, just to get to the bottom of it all; whatever that may be.

Friday, 25 December 2009

(22:21:58 CST)

Dementium: The Ward (Nintendo DS Action/Puzzle Horror Game)

You wake up with no memory in a wrecked hospital and start wandering around. You find a flashlight, and a billy club, and give a few old monsters a whack. There are lots of monsters, by the way. Not too many at first, but enough to keep you from being altogether healthy. Zombie-ish things, quasi-zeds, with great big beating hearts (oh, I wonder what their weak-spot might be?). Then come the devil roaches. Then the "infants": these little crawlie mouth worm things that scream at you as you get close. Later, quasi-zeds show up without legs and the ability to crawl on walls (differently abled) and the screamy little "infants" turn green. Oh, and the screeching faces. Don't get me started on the screeching faces. Rat bastards, they are.

The premise of the game is (a) you have no memories but appropriately creepy flashbacks, (b) this hospital is surprisingly well armed, (c) you have tons of monsters, and (d) you have a vague series of puzzles and tons of rooms to slug through to find out why. There is nothing like motivation at start, and after about an hour of game-play, your chief motivation is mostly not letting that first hour go to waste (by quitting). This isn't a puzzle to solve in the sense of a jigsaw, this is a philosophical conundrum to work out: Why am I here? Why am I shooting these zombie things with beating hearts? Why can't I hold a pistol and a flashlight at the same time? Why does everything scream at me while attacking? Have these game designers seen a hospital?

When you first start playing, your frustration is going to come from a small handful of sources: (1) You have no idea what you are doing or why, (2) You have to put your flashlight up to take out a weapon, even one handed weapons, and (3) Your ammo supply is amazingly limited. Oh, and the control scheme is pretty weird. The bottom screen of the DS has a heart monitor and some menus and such. You can choose your weapon once you get them. You also have to aim your character with this bottom screen, dragging the stylus over the heart monitor (but be careful not to hit one of the random clickables because that throws the whole thing off). Your other hand is moving the character in the four cardinal directions on the d-pad. Any and all turning is done with the stylus. The end result is you having to fine tune motions with the stylus and make big motions with the left hand on the d-pad. You shoot with the "L" button. It will take some getting used to, but it's really not that bad once you do.

There are later frustations you will become aware of. First off, monsters sometimes respawn upon every single leaving an entering a room. Combine this with some paths requiring you go down to a dead end and back-track to solve puzzles, well, there you go. Then, to make it all one huge barrel of laughs, if you do get hit the handful of times it takes to kill you, you have to replay the whole chapter. Some chapters involve a half-dozen rooms and a single puzzle. Some chapters involve half-an-hour of hospital-wandering tedium and fighting through hordes of beasties. If you just turn the game off, it auto-saves it to the room you are currently in, so they have that technology. No, they send you back to the start of the chapter because they hate you.

I just named a dozen reasons why not to play this game, so what are reason to play it? Well, the sound work is great. Creepy little drips and directional sounds and grunts and screams and stuff. Mood-making it is, and the soundtrack is not half bad. The visuals tend towards grainy and kind of heavily repetititve—you will see that chair over and over again and you will see that busted cabinet jammed in a doorway more than once—but some of them are fairly effective. Once you get a couple of three extra weapons under your belt (especially the Machine Gun and Buzzsaw), you will find the game a whole lot less stressful. But mostly, so much of the game is "game-able" that you get a whole new bonus game called "How can I play Dementium without breaking my DS?" The boss monsters tend to have some trick to beating them with only a minor challenge. If you turn your DS off before you take the final hit, then you can restart in the same room. Puzzles don't have random elements, so once you solve them then you can just enter the codes and such right off. Once you get the buzzsaw, you can walk around (if you put up with the noise) with it in constant attack and mop up the floor with just about everything.

And that's that. As a game, there are a list of complaints a mile-wide: you have to fight with the controls, put up with uneven chapters and save points,d eal with repetitive monsters. On the other hand, nearly everything bad about the game is somehow breakable and you can get some enjoyment out of it that way. It's something of an either-or. And the mood, well, I liked the mood, which is mostly why I wanted to play it to begin with.

Mood aside, though, this is a largely cobbled together out of other games game and the sum of the parts does not make a worthy whole. Finding out the weakness of the boss monsters, assuming you don't cheat and just turn off the DS, can equal to replaying thirty-minutes or even hours of the game just for the chance to try again. The first time you come across the screeching head things, you have no real weapons to fight them and no warning they are coming until it is too late. You find yourself dead and replaying the last twenty-minutes of the game by what amounts to a Zork-like insta-death.

The game gets a heavy Meh unless you cheat, in which it crawls up to something mimicking a Fair-Good game but never quite there. I'm interested in the sequel that's coming out, since it might fix several of the problems here. If not, oh well. Maybe the sound team guy got better work elsewhere.

Si Vales, Valeo


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