In Manhunt 2 on the Wii, you physically act out a murderous rampage. Meanwhile, a lower-key horror game on the Nintendo DS uses the trembling in your hands to make you feel like a victim. As you use the stylus to peer around a pitch-black, blood-soaked asylum, your flashlight flickers and the view keeps shaking. Holding the game steady for long stretches is tough, and the discomfort in your pinky finger reminds you of the vulnerability of your character—a patient in a mental ward, surrounded by monsters and constantly fumbling between a flashlight and a gun. With just a few simple ideas and a killer aesthetic, a team of less than a dozen developers has sucked you into what may be the DS' biggest scare.
Of course, you have nothing to fear but fear itself. Not only will the plot points feel familiar to anyone who's seen horror flicks, the story feels like a slideshow, and while the puzzles are clever, they're just tacked on to gate your progress before the next set of shadowy halls and screeching monsters. Dementium's simplicity wears against it over long, repetitive stretches, and whenever you replay a level—which, thanks to the punishing save system, is often—it's never half as scary. But like the best midnight movies and pre-Code horror comics, Dementium genuinely wants to make you shake, spook, and puke, and its enthusiasm makes up for a lot.
Beyond the game: The visual experience is so dead-on that it's easy to forgive the horror clichés—like the mental-ward setting, the foreboding Englishness, and of course, the creepy little girl straight from central casting.
Worth playing for: Turn off the lights. Put on your headphones. Hear that? Wait—turn down the cheesy music. Now do you hear the screech of metal against the walls? Yep, that's scary.
Frustration sets in when: While the touch-sensitive gameplay is key to the atmosphere, it's easy to tap the wrong button when you're lunging for your weapon. And the risk of hand cramps is no joke: The developer recommends holding the DS between the pinky and ring fingers of your dominant hand, for maximum endurance.
Final judgment: Another triumph of blood over budget.