Smoke and mirrors? If a developer can hide the ugly bits of a game, isn't that a good thing?
I can't say that mountain climbing is on my big list of things that I'm desperate to do. I'm physically pushed enough by a decent run around the park, and I'm also quite fond of breathing properly. Then there's the snow, of course - why would I want to spend days knee deep in that stuff? Nonetheless, it is a relatively unexplored avenue in the gaming world, and it's Cursed Mountain that delivers a refreshing new setting to the survival horror genre.
Deep Silver Vienna's debut Wii adventure title follows the journey of mountaineer extraordinaire Eric Simmons as he goes on the hunt for his brother Frank in the Himalayas, the sibling having gone missing trying to recover an ancient artifact, a terma. The problem is, the fictitious Chomolonzo mountain is packed full of ghosts and everybody has either fled or been murdered - that's what happens when naughty climbers don't get permission from the Goddess. The Goddess being one tied to Buddhist beliefs, a central theme of the game.
When you think of a survival horror, you generally think of dark, dank environments with zombies or other nasties pottering about. Cursed Mountain flips the genre on its head by doing away with this, for the most part, by placing you in bright areas, thanks partially to the stark white of the snow that adorns the peaks. You have no traditional weaponry, either, having to rely on a magical ice pick that can be either used in standard melee form (hit B) or can shoot energy with some upgrades (enter pointer mode, aim, hit B). Your enemies are also not always visible, being ethereal; you must focus your mind and use the mystical Third Eye technique to view them.
The approach that has been taken for Cursed Mountain is fantastic. The developers are clearly passionate about their subject matter and there are all kinds of random bits of information about Buddhist and Tibetan beliefs thrown in there; the whole idea is something that has not been done before in a horror game. The atmosphere can be superb, with crying ghosts, whispers and mysterious bells ringing in the distance. It's all a bit unnerving, especially when you realise that usual stalling methods possible in other games, such as putting some distance between yourself and your enemy by running around, say, a table, are not possible - ghosts will just liberally float on through to you. However, it's important to draw a distinction between 'unnerving' and 'scary', as Cursed Mountain is not a particularly frightening game aside one or two mild jump moments early on as you acclimatise yourself to the setting.
That does not work against it. Even without the fright-factor, the atmosphere described is enough to sustain and justify its subject matter, and the adventure literally takes you to heights not experienced in other games. As you go higher you not only have to battle the spirits but also nature as wind swirls against you, oxygen deprivation takes its toll and cliff faces cause you to slip. The depiction of the mountain is beautiful, with coloured prayer flags flapping daintily in the wind, and though elements of the visuals seem underdeveloped - your character does not leave footprints despite walking through snow for the entire game, for example - it is made up for by swirling snow effects and the scale of the backgrounds, which feature areas that you have just travelled from. One suspects, though, that the use of fog, rightfully thicker the higher you ascend, is convenient not only for the setting but also to mask technical limitations of Wii in terms of draw distance.
Wii functionality is important to Cursed Mountain, and there are some very clear positives and negatives associated with this dedication to the system. The use of the pointer is great, restricted to Third Eye mode and used to target ghosts or symbols. The same holds true for the remote's speaker, which lets out wails and doubles perfectly as a radio in key parts of the game. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the motion control, which features a lot: amongst other things, it's used to climb cliff faces at a greater speed, to balance across walkways, to vanquish runes and finish ghosts. It's the latter that causes the greatest issue. To break seals on doors you must enter your magic view, point at the symbol and hit A, which then prompts a motion control on screen. You swing the nunchuk or remote how it asks, and it's done - simple. Enemies, once damaged enough, are superimposed with the same symbol and can be dispatched compassionately in this way to regain health (or you can just shoot them to re-death if you're feeling evil). The problems arise, though, when you have to do it in a timely fashion when enemies are swamping you, as happens in the second half of the game at a time when the motions have become more complicated and require four or five different movements in a combination to destroy your foes. Swiping side to side is fine, but the upward motions can be terribly difficult to activate and it's actually easier to just waggle both portions of the controller until the threat goes away. It gets the job done, but not in the manner that Deep Silver intended.
There are other silly little niggles that also take the edge off the experience. Despite the light setting, things sometimes get dark and difficult to see, even with in-game brightness turned right the way up. You cannot move while healing (accomplished by lighting incense sticks at altars placed around the mountain and town areas), and if you're hit whilst recovering life you essentially come out with less health than you had going in; why put health points in the middle of boss battles, or areas with a glut of enemies - the points they are needed the most - if it's nigh on impossible to use them without leaving yourself completely vulnerable? Checkpoints, while regular, always seem to come just 30 to 60 seconds too late; if you're about to reach a difficult section, the developers have generously put in a nearby auto-save, but they always seem to come just before an unskippable cutscene or puts you just far away enough to have to walk half a minute to reach the challenge again. It doesn't sound like much, but if you have particular difficulty with a section and have to keep going through a small section to get another shot at it, things get frustrating. Then there are glaring sections where checkpoints are necessary but not included; one major example comes at the end of the second to last chapter, where you are absolutely swarmed by enemies. Be stupid enough to die and you have to repeat all the waves again. Parts like this are an exercise in futility, not a challenge. The lack of option for players to save whenever they want is also a sore exclusion.
Outside of these - quite significant - drawbacks, the game is great. It's got a compelling story and it's something totally new for the third person adventure genre; there's a real feeling of journey in there. It's a slow-paced title (appropriate for the subject; you're climbing a gigantic mountain, so you're not exactly supposed to be sprinting around), and it does have problems, but if you're looking for something original and are a fan of horror, ghosts, curses and all that malarkey, Cursed Mountain is well worth consideration.
There are moments when things feel repetitive: climb, kill ghost, climb, kill ghost. The motion controls don't always work properly. But, overall, it's a solid game that suffers from a few problems, not one that is completely consumed by them.
The weather effects are good, though it's quite possible they're smoke and mirrors to disguise limitations. The cutscenes have a nice style.
Mainly great voice work, and the environmental sounds build up an unsettling atmosphere.
The adventure's around 12 hours long if you know what you're doing, though it's quite linear anyway so it's doubtful that that length could extend too significantly.
Cursed Mountain smacks of unfulfilled potential; if the problems could have been solved, it could quite possibly have been one of the best games on the system. As it stands it's a flawed but fun title, and if you want something a bit different in the third person adventure mould then it's a decent choice. Here's hoping that Deep Silver Vienna can hit the peaks initially promised by Cursed Mountain for their next title.
Smoke and mirrors? If a developer can hide the ugly bits of a game, isn't that a good thing?
i really don't know about this one. There are so many other wii games in the way that are probably better choices than this one, and i don't have the money to buy them all. I think i'll skip this one or maybe buy it but much later.
Seems to suffer from lack of polishing. Shame. Much potential gone to waste. Maybe as a budget title...?!
Is it better then Disaster? I know, completely other genre, but Disaster - Day of Crisis was fun to play and had solid controls and atmosphere.
I love the game so far.
Its no Eternal Darkness, but its clearly ED inspired in places, and quite a worth game of purchase for fans of ED.
Also, I think its excellent texture/artwork running from a low-tech engine.
(If you got those artists using the Conduit engine, youd have something very impressive)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the controls. To do the thrusting motions move the remote/nunchcuk from the horizontal position to the vertical position and jab forward. Once you get the timing right it works every time.
I really can't understand how so many reviewers have failed to get this right.
This game deserves a score of 8 at least, the only complaint I have is that it's a little too easy...but the scares along the way make up for that imo. The ad shown in the UK on the telly may look unbelievable but you really will jump several times thanks to a combination of the slow pace of the game, excellent sound and music and some very well placed stingers that build up the tension very nicely.
Buy this game whenever you have the chance, it's excellent!!!
I'll probably get this when I see it for a good price. THere's too many bigger games coming out soon.
I'm surprised to see this get a big push in advertising. Looks really good. (even if the boxart is very, very ugly)