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November 27, 2007

Filed under: gaming»impressions»ds

Demented

The funny thing about horror movies is, while I love them, I sometimes dread watching them. They're not technically a "fun" experience. Watching a good horror flick means voluntarily becoming a nervous wreck for an hour and a half. When it's over, the feeling of catharsis and relief is actually what makes it all worthwhile.

When you make a horror game, the same feeling applies. I really enjoyed Resident Evil 4, but I always had to work up the energy to actually start the game, and to keep playing when I died. If Capcom had increased the barrier to entry, or made it too annoying to continue, I wouldn't have gotten past the first village.

Which is exactly what happened with Dementium, a horror game for DS (and one of the platform's only Mature-rated games). The building blocks are well-crafted: the engine is stunningly good for a DS game, the atmosphere is refreshingly morbid, and the sound design is very, very good. But they made the decision to send players back to the start of a level after every death, sucking a lot of fun out of the game. It's not nearly so scary the second time through. Or the third, or fourth. Meanwhile, my annoyance at the game's few missteps (no directional indicator for damage?) grew, until I finally set it aside during Chapter 7 (about halfway through) and turned to Touch Detective instead.

Touch Detective has gotten kind of a bad rap for being all about pixel-hunting and bizarre object usage, but I didn't notice that on my play-through. I did figure out what might give people that impression. The game has a lot of characters that move around as the story progresses, and conversations with them are required before you can get any farther. That's in contrast with the old Lucasarts adventures, for example, where people mostly stayed in the same place--i.e., they could be counted on to be consistent pieces of the puzzle, not dramatic actors. Much like in Hotel Dusk, when the actors in Touch Detective act in unexpected ways, it can take a while to find them and figure out which one will trigger the next puzzle. But in its favor, there aren't that many locations or characters. Come on, guys, it's not that frustrating.

And the rewards for enduring those moments of confusion are a few gems of quietly oddball writing, and a genuinely funny fourth-wall gag. It doesn't hold a candle to Monkey Island, but what does? At ~$20, who cares?

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