Console Is Still Just Not Very Scary
Survival horror for the Wii has had a rocky road on the path to success, and with the coming of Cursed Mountain, Wii gamers will find not a reward waiting in the midst, but rather a rank disappointment. As a complete experience, this title was a test to my will and dexterity, but given the game’s themes of mentally and physically challenging environments, maybe this reaction was intentional.
Cursed Mountain puts us in the shoes of Eric Simmons, famed climber of monstrous mountains and the favorite son of his family. As it turns out, Eric has been called to the Chomolonzo Mountain in Tibet because his never-good-enough, trouble-bound brother Frank has mysteriously disappeared while trying to summit one of nature’s snow-covered death traps.
Upon reaching the village at the base of the mountain, Eric finds that all the inhabitants have either fled their mountain home or have gone mysteriously missing. The farther Eric ventures along the mountain path, the deeper the situation dives into horror, as Buddhist beliefs and a fight against the elements are paired with ghosts, gods, and restless souls.
Now, I consider myself one of the most "In the know" gamers when it comes to survival horror; quite simply, it’s my niche. So you can understand how excited I was to have a true horror title that involved ghosts and religious beliefs show up as a Wii exclusive, and while Cursed Mountain had a number of successes, its numerous failures made it intolerable as you edged closer to the end of the game.
First off, let’s talk about controls. It’s come to the point that I’ve started to hate the Wiimote in regards to the horror genre. Frankly, I don’t particularly care to carefully aim at my ghosts with "projectile weapon X" as a primary way of getting rid of baddies, but it seems that every title that makes itself available to the Wii gets hooked on this feature to the point of obsession.
As a frill advantage toward defense, the aim and shoot technique is tolerable, but as the primary means of attack, I simply can’t bear it any longer! That’s not to say that primary means ONLY method of attack. Oh, no. We’ve got one other, which is actually housed in the same weapon!
While going up against the mountain’s aggravated ghosts, Eric can also swing at them with his holy ice pick of doom! (Though it will do about as much damage as you would expect a weapon of this caliber to deliver.) Other than that, you’ve got nothing.
And honestly, this wouldn’t be so bad if the game would focus more of its attention on the unfolding story than on its unyielding amount of ghostly encounters.
Yes, it is quite possible that I would have had a higher appreciation for this game if the developers hadn’t insisted on trying to make it an action game. And since the main character seems to only be able to move at a snails pace through the entire game (oh, there is a run option, but that only gets you moving at turtle speed), the idea to up the action aspects of the game was not to ramp up Eric’s moving pace, but rather to introduce a series of ghostly attacks every five paces.
These attacks are much like that of God of War, where you are confronted with a determined number of enemies that block off your path with a wall of impenetrable fog. Only instead of having the ability to roll, sweep, dodge, and power swing through your opponents, you only have the before-mentioned means of defending yourself.
Not only that, but you also find that the ghosts of this mountain appear in the form of blind and groping villager, evil monk, flying evil monk, or left-for-dead mountain climber. Oh, the marvelous variations!
Of course, there are also a few boss battles thrown into the mix, but for the most part, repeated attacks from these types of ghosts are what you have to look forward to, and the frequency of which you have to pause the evolving storyline and break up a ghostly gathering gets annoying.
Add on all of this to the nauseating use of the Wii controls to induce a feigned attempt at interactivity and you’ve got yourself a boring time in front of your television screen.
To the rescue, however, comes Cursed Mountain’s plot, which treats Tibetan Buddhism much the same way that Hollywood treats Catholicism in the horror realm. Still, as far as detail goes, the game’s writers pulled out all the stops in constructing a complete tale of terror, desolation, and personal devotion. Adding to that accomplishment is the game’s use of environment.
First off, let’s acknowledge that the Wii’s capability of delivering a beautifully rendered game are lacking, especially when the game in questions encompasses a large span of level maps. That said, however, Cursed Mountain does what it can with what it has to work with, both by going with your standard low-visibility fog overlay to your less-than-standard use of a third-eye component. The story’s cut scenes are told in a slideshow format, which neither helps nor hurts, but simply relays the plot points as conservatively as possible.
With these compliments allotted, there is the blaring fact that several other devices could have been used in creating a more complete experience and in adding to the scare factor. For example, Eric’s voice recorder could have been incorporated into the gameplay to deliver some eerie messages, or you could have something other than clay pots to smash open in the hopes of receiving random sticks of healing incense. (But, who knows. Maybe Eric just really hates clay pots.)
Finally, the ascent to the mountain’s summit caused a feeling of deep hatred for this game, partly because of the overwhelming reliance of inadequate controls and partly because the feeling that the developers were trying to "prolong the horror" and were only succeeding in testing my patience.
One can only hope that lessons will be learned from this encounter and that future Wii-exclusive horror games (I’m looking at you Ju-on: The Grudge) will do better at delivering the jumps and chills that so many of us anticipate.
Developers: Deep Silver