Since the Nintendo Switch launched, there have been many games that have defied my expectation, maybe because it’s a game I haven’t heard of before that point, or that I just simply didn’t think it would be anywhere near as good as it ended up being. I could put games like Golf Story, Kamiko and The Coma: Recut in that bracket, to name but a few. Detention is another such example, as I went into it expecting very little but came out of it with huge respect for the developer, Red Candle Games, for not just making a great indie game, but a great game in its own right.
Set in 1960’s Taiwan, during the time that the country was deep under martial law, we meet Wei, a student that falls asleep in class and wakes up to find that everybody else has been evacuated due to a typhoon that is on its way. The school is now dark, eerie and just a whole lot more haunting than what it was. You shortly come across Fang Ray, who acts as the main protagonist who you will be playing as for the majority of the game. As with most horror games or movies, the plot can be quite thin at times, and it can be equally so here, but only during very small parts. As a whole, however, the developer has included a story that I personally found very engrossing. Even after beating the game I am still thinking about it because it isn’t just your typical horror story, there are elements of other things like the afterlife and politics included too that help make the game feel a bit more distinct and fleshed out, not to mention thought-provoking, than other horror stories you might come across.
As you go off exploring the school you will uncover more and more about the story, not just in terms of its general progression, but via notes and other little tidbits. Some of the notes that you pick up might not seem to bear any significance to anything at first, but it helps you to understand what was going on in the school beforehand better and it gets you thinking about how it does actually all link in.
In terms of the gameplay, it’s a very simple game in terms of mechanics. I found it very similar to The Coma: Recut, but I would have to say that The Coma: Recut felt slightly more involving than Detention in that field. You collect items in the school and work out where they go to progress further into the game. An early example would be a gate that has been lowered and now requires a crank in order to lift it back up, so you must search around nearby rooms to find the said crank. The game sometimes tells you outright what it is you need to find in order to progress, whereas other times it gives you a vague clue, such as you need an item long enough in order to pull something towards you that that is unreachable by hand.
One thing that I found to be very annoying was that there is no toggle for movement speed, the game either makes you run, which isn’t exactly all that fast to begin with, or walk which is incredibly slow and tedious. When you come across the “lingered,” which is this game’s main enemy and danger to you, you are able to hold your breath for a short amount of time and then walk past, but you can’t hold your breath forever and if you don’t time it right then the lingered will chase you down and attack you.
The audio and visual design featured here is above and beyond what I expected. The developer has gone with a sound design that is very minimal, but incredibly effective. It is creepy, disturbing, and builds up the tension tenfold. I have always felt that one of the most unsettling things any horror game can do, is to allow you to hear the sounds of the thing you’re trying to avoid – in this case the lingered – without letting you see it, and this game does that in such a brilliant way. Visually the game can strike a mix of realism and an almost anime type feel, but it never goes too far over the top with it and it never feels too cartoony. It is a very dark game and a lot of murky colours have been used, so the game doesn’t have any vibrancy to it, but that is exactly what is needed for the visuals to be effective in a horror setting. Overall, I really enjoyed the visual style that they went for here and I was constantly impressed by it in every way.
I played Detention in both Handheld and TV modes and, in both instances, the game ran pretty flawlessly. I didn’t once encounter any framerate issues or anything of that nature. The only complaint I have about performance is that sometimes the loading takes a little bit too long when going from one room to another, which can pull you out from the experience somewhat. I always say that I prefer to play horror games on the Switch in Handheld mode and that’s no different here. Being able to wear headphones allows the game to fully showcase the great audio design that it possesses.
Detention is a game that deserves your attention. It may not be the most gripping gameplay wise, but everything else that encompasses it is undoubtedly top-class. The chilling atmosphere and just overall tension the game presents to you, coupled with the excellent and original story helps eliminate its overly simple gameplay problem. It seems like horror games are finding its feet on the Switch now, so if you have finished Layers of Fear and The Coma and are itching for more top-notch horror experiences, then you need to play Detention.