Review: Cursed Mountain (Nintendo Wii)

Cursed Mountain
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Deep Silver/Sproing Media Interactive
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 08/25/09


The Wii, astonishingly enough, has been building up quite the library of quirky niche titles behind the scenes. Now, of course there’s a metric ton of shovelware on the console, but as competent developers have begun to hit their stride with the system, we’ve begun to see all sorts of interesting and novel games pop up that really take advantage of the hardware and make the games interesting. Trauma Center: New Blood, Madworld, Zack and Wiki, and Little King’s Story, among many, many others, have shown what the Wii is truly capable of when the developer responsible cares about the end product, be it popular or otherwise. Cursed Mountain is another game to add to that list, as it’s an interesting, story-driven experience with some neat concepts wrapped up inside of its survival horror mechanics. It’s not quite as solid as the other games mentioned, mechanically, but it’s a solid addition to the Wii library on merit alone, if not entirely on actions.

You take on the role of Eric Simmons, a famous climber who’s heading out for the climb of his life. It seems that his brother Frank was hired by a retired climber, Edward Bennett, to scale Chomolonzo, a mountain that had never, at that point, been summited. Bennett was looking for Frank to retrieve an artifact from the top of this mountain, as when HE tried to do it, well… things ended badly. Well, your brother didn’t fare much better, as the man he went up with has returned without him, and now it’s up to you to see if you can find your brother and, if possible, complete the climb and grab the artifact. Oh, there’s just one small problem that’s barely worth mentioning… it seems that your brother has somehow upset the goddess during his climb, and now almost everyone and thing on the mountain is dead, and oh yes, the mountain is haunted by malicious spirits who all want to end you as soon as possible. Fortunately, the few remaining monks on the mountain are willing to help you by teaching you the necessary chakra to banish these spirits, and you turn up some useful items and artifacts that allow you to combat the restless spirits, so you’re not completely on your own, but make no mistake: you’re not welcome here, and finding your brother, assuming he’s even still alive, won’t be easy.

The story is told through a combination of semi-static cutscenes, Eric’s own narration as he progresses, and various documents you discover as you explore the area, and for the most part the story is generally quite good. Various elements of Buddhist faith pop up, and while knowing what the faith is about might be helpful, it isn’t required, as the game will explain what you need to know for storyline purposes and gloss over or ignore the rest, which helps streamline the storytelling a bit. The motivations of the characters are generally easy enough to understand, and the game has a distinct feeling of desolation to it that works with the storyline well to be engrossing enough to carry the experience on its own, which the solid characterization and interesting mysticism only help. The game occasionally feels like it’s a little too interested in the concept of mountain climbing and Buddhist religion, but these instances aren’t frequent enough to damage the plot significantly, and overall the story in Cursed Mountain works well from beginning to end.

Visually, Cursed Mountain isn’t bad looking, though nothing that it does looks especially stellar, either. The character models look acceptable and animate well enough, though Eric occasionally looks like he’s flailing around when attacking. The ghosts and demons you meet generally animate well and are convincingly rendered, and the warping reality effect that follows them around as they move and teleport around is convincing. Indeed, the game does a little with a lot; while the visual engine is generally unimpressive and the texture rendering isn’t anything exciting, the game employs some interesting visual effects with fog and smoke, as well as some visual filters and special effects, that help make the visuals convincing and effective, if not technologically impressive. Aurally, the game is also generally solid. The game music is mostly haunting ambient score that changes with the situation and sounds fine. The voice acting is mostly solid, and Eric himself has been cast very well, though a few of the voice actors, such as those of the monks you encounter early on, aren’t as good as the rest. The sound effects are generally outstanding, as the various noises of the ghosts you encounter are appropriately frightening, and the game uses audio to great effect, using whispered voices and haunting effects to enhance the fear of the player as they progress.

After the first half an hour of exploring, the game gives you the basic tools you’ll need to survive, and they’re all pretty easy to use. The Nunchuck stick is used to move Eric forward and backward, as well as to turn left and right. Holding the Z button allows Eric to run when moving forward, and holding down the Down direction on the D-pad allows Eric to look around. The Plus button on the Wii-mote brings up your inventory, which allows you to look at items you’ve collected, review notes you’ve acquired, equip different weapons, and review objectives. You can interact with the environment with the A button to examine highlighted objects, open doors and pick up items and notes you find scattered around the environment. The game also occasionally asks you to scale cliff faces and shimmy across ledges and such, and these mechanics are generally self-explanatory or are explained at the time they appear, but the bulk of the game is you wandering around various locations looking for clues and ways to progress.

Of course, there are ghosts and demons looking to erase you from existence, and you’ll need to fight them off, which Eric is thankfully capable of doing. At first, Eric is given an ice axe his brother left behind which is capable of breaking pottery and dispelling ghosts, and you swing it with a press of the B trigger. After an encounter with a monk early on, Eric gains the ability to look beyond reality and see the spirit realm by using his Third Eye. By holding down the C button, the world shifts to black and white and Eric is able to see hidden seals on environmental objects and ghosts that he can dispel. By highlighting those seals and pressing A, you will then be prompted to swing the Wii-mote and Nunchuck in different directions as Eric performs the chakra needed to dispel the seal and, in turn, the object the seal is affixed to. Eric also discovers an item that, when affixed to the ice axe, allows him to fire energy bolts to damage ghosts and demons with a press of the B trigger, thus allowing you to hit enemies from long range, though there’s a significant delay between shots and moving enemies can be hard to hit, making it a bit more challenging to shoot at long range than it first seems. You’ll acquire various upgraded pieces of weaponry that can fire a faster bullet or fire spreading bullets, for instance, which you’ll be able to switch out as needed from the inventory whenever you want.

As you progress through the game, you’ll find various items, most of which are used to solve puzzles throughout the game. You’ll also find incense sticks, which can be burned at small temples you’ll encounter as you progress to regain health. The game will also give you back health for successfully purifying ghosts, and Eric can regain up to a certain amount of health if he’s near death simply by remaining stationary for a bit. The game throws a couple of bosses at you, as well as some ghost traps that require you to kill all ghosts before proceeding or purify certain symbols, and these zones can drain your life, though again, they’re not unmanageable. The core game is about six to eight hours long, and while there are some challenging moments to the experience, all in all the difficulty is reasonably well scaled, even though the game is not especially challenging on its own. Playing through the game once unlocks nothing, unfortunately, so there’s no reason to come back to the game once you’ve completed it except to experience the story again, though the story is solid enough that you may well want to do this upon completing the game.

Unfortunately, the biggest flaw against Cursed Mountain is that it doesn’t play very well. Now, the game is somewhat slow paced, as Eric moves slowly even while running and the locales are fairly expansive and require a bit of backtracking, but this by itself isn’t even a huge condemnation. No, the problem is that the combat simply isn’t very well implemented. Fighting one ghost or two weaker ghosts is fairly manageable, especially if they’re coming at you from one direction, but when fighting multiple powerful ghosts or ghosts from all directions, the experience falls apart. Eric’s slow movements make turning to accost monsters difficult unless they’re right in front of you, the aiming mechanic (pointing the Wii-mote at the screen) can be difficult to adjust to at first because you often find yourself having to re-acclimate your aim due to the chakra motions, and there’s no quick turn option to speak of, so if ghosts appear behind you, you need to run or take a hit. Further, shifting into Third Eye vision isn’t seamless from a gameplay perspective, as there’s a delay between pressing the button and actually aiming, which can make firing on ghosts that have appeared right in front of you awkward. Unfortunately, this happens often enough to be annoying. Also, Eric’s inability to heal during battle makes large battles against multiple enemies more frustrating than they need to be, due to the controls getting in your way. Finally, the chakra motions aren’t always responsive; while slicing left and right is easy, pressing forward can take several attempts to make work, which is more annoying than anything else, but could be a huge problem in the middle of a boss battle.

The game also seems to be designed with style, not substance, in mind, and while the aesthetics and presentation are often nice, there’s simply not enough to the game. The combat is one-dimensional and limited, and the chakra motions, though cute, don’t make up for it. There are only a few weapon upgrades to acquire throughout the game and a few ghost types to see, and while both generally work well enough, neither is varied enough to carry the experience on its own. As noted, there’s also no reason to play the game over once you’ve completed it, as there’s no way to change or add to the game after you’ve finished it. If the combat were fun and interesting, this might mitigate the lack of replay value somewhat, but it’s generally either frustrating or a chore after the first two hours, and after playing through the game once, there’s really no reason or motivation to play through it a second time.

Cursed Mountain is a stylistically solid experience, with an interesting and engaging premise and presentation, but unfortunately it’s shallow on substance, thanks to some lacking gameplay elements. The story blends Buddhist religion with an interesting ghost story that almost manages to carry the entire experience, the visuals are solid enough to do the job, while not outstanding, and the audio is mostly high quality. The game mechanics are interesting conceptually, and the Wii-Mote motion controls are implemented in reasonable ways at various points of the game, and as such, many of the game sequences are entertaining and enjoyable. Unfortunately, the combat is not especially solid and the lack of things like a one hundred and eighty degree turn or the ability to heal in most battles can potentially be frustrating. Further, the controls and mechanics for combat in general aren’t especially solid, there’s a significant lack of variety in enemy types and general combat, and there’s no reason to return to the game once you’ve completed it. Cursed Mountain is worth seeing through to completion once, just because it’s generally enjoyable stylistically and the story is entertaining enough on its own, but unless you’re a big fan of style over substance or you’re a huge survival horror game fan, you can probably wait for a price drop or a rental copy to check it out.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: BAD
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Cursed Mountain is perfectly enjoyable if you’re willing to forgive its gameplay flaws, as the presentation of the game is generally solid and the concept is interesting and different, but if you’re a fan of gameplay over all else, it might not be worth your interest. The story is engaging and generally well written, the visuals are solid and mostly engaging, and the audio is generally fitting and well designed across the board. The gameplay is simple enough to learn and understand, and when it works, it generally suits the game and its concept reasonably well, and survival horror fans should find some fun in the game. However, the gameplay mechanics aren’t especially polished, combat is clunky at times, and fighting ghosts can become boring and frustrating the further you go into the game. There’s also not a lot of variety to the experience, in the enemies or the combat, and once you’ve beaten the game there’s no reason to come back to it. Cursed Mountain is generally a worthwhile investment as a rental or a budget price acquisition, but as a full priced game, unless you love artistic style above all else or you a big survival horror game fan, it might not be worth the investment.

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