There's definitely something to be said of niche developers: those few determined souls who will buck the status quo and produce titles that are completely against the grain of what is popular. Renegade Kid is one of those niche developers, producing high-quality and surprisingly hardcore titles for the Nintendo DS. While the system is best known for brain training titles and abysmal shovelware, Renegade Kid has produced a pair of first-person shooters for the handheld: the original horror-soaked Dementium: The Ward and the dark sci-fi mystery Moon. Renegade Kid has returned to the unhallowed halls of Dementium with the appropriately titled Dementium II. Can the horror still work on a handheld?
Set after the events of the first game, you're once again tortured soul William Redmoor, accused of murdering your wife and undergoing a radical treatment to cure your fractured psyche. The first game was set completely in your head, battling your inner demons as you floated between life and death on an operating table, being worked upon by the sinister Doctor. The second game starts with you back in the real world, except now your inner demons are appearing in the reality, nastier than ever.
However, what's real and what isn't real is up for debate. Dementium II has your character flipping between the "real world" and a twisted "other world" that's a pastiche of Silent Hill and the Cenobites' home turf, completely without warning. While the transitions are violent and obvious at first, the two worlds seem to almost bleed into one another after time, further blurring the line between sanity and madness. William's inner demons have even gotten a more disturbing coat of paint, making them more a part of this world. Zombies with yawning vertical mouths that split their sternums now sport leather restraint straps and cruel prosthetic hooks, and monstrous demons have their putrescent skin held together with a scattering of steel staples. They're instantly familiar to players of the first game yet different and disturbing enough to feel like new foes.
This grotesque design carries from the enemies over into the environments and highlight where Renegade Kid succeeds where others often fail. Instead of wrestling with the DS' limited hardware, they instead embrace the limited palette and low-resolution textures to craft a hideous look. Rust and filth seem to creep out of every crevice, and blood literally paints the walls. This is a dimension of pain and death, and it looks the part.
Perhaps the best feature of all is the upgrade to the previous game's crippled save system. Instead of predetermined save points at the beginning of a level, the game's more open design lets you save at any number of mirrors that a placed liberally around the level. As much as I love curling up with the DS for a couple hours, real life can often get in the way and being able to play in more bite-sized segments is a godsend.
So Renegade Kid has done it again, ignoring the trend of insipid DS games that have mass appeal and instead catering to a small, dedicated group of gaming adults who own and love the system. Pick it up, shut off the lights, and enjoy.