Set in the mid-'80s, Cursed Mountain follows the story of Eric Simmons, who is scaling a mountain in the Himalayas in order to rescue his brother who was lost while making the climb to the summit — but this is no ordinary mountain. After arriving at base camp, Eric finds the typically bustling area completely deserted. Beset with freakish visions and specters of the undead as he makes his ascent, Eric must rescue his brother without getting lost or falling victim to the curse himself.
Playing as Eric, you are limited by the tools of a climber. You're not a weapons expert or an ex-solider, so your primary weapon is an ice pick. It's an unusual choice but one that fits with the environment and the character. It also helps to reinforce the idea that you are alone out on the mountain with only your wits to save you. There isn't a cavalry. There aren't reinforcements. In fact, there aren't even that many other people. Aside from the antagonist and a side character or two, most of the "people" that you'll meet on the mountainside are already dead. They're ghosts.
This is the component of the story that pulls inspiration from Buddhist beliefs. The ghosts on the mountainside are there because they are victims of the curse. Instead of passing on to enlightenment or being reborn to continue the lessons of life, they have been trapped within Bardo, which, loosely described, is a sort of the waiting room of the afterlife. Being eternally trapped (we're guessing that waiting room music is just as bad in the afterlife as it is in real life) has made these ghosts more than a little annoyed. Annoyed ghosts are aggressive ghosts, so therein lies the challenge.
While your ice pick works pretty well against the undead, it's not the only weapon you can use. As you progress through the game you will gain the ability to "look" into Bardo yourself. While in Bardo, your ice pick can be used as a ranged weapon against the ghosts. You'll do this by finding different artifacts and attaching them to the front of the pick. In the real world, the artifacts are simply decoration, but within Bardo, each results in a different type of ranged shot. The energy fired from the artifacts can only affect the ghosts and cannot be used on "real world" items.
With the ice pick acting as a melee weapon that pushes back opponents and the artifacts giving you a ranged attack, Cursed Mountain rounds out your arsenal with a prayer motion. Ghosts can be defeated solely through the use of the ice pick, but when weakened, a prayer symbol appears on their chests. Hitting the prayer symbol results in a short Quick Time Event with anywhere from one to six gestures, depending on the relative level of the enemy. Correctly performing the gestures will act as a sort of "finishing move," allowing the prayer to release the ghost from its ethereal prison. Dispatching ghosts with a prayer takes a little extra coordination, but doing so rewards you with a small health boost.
The source of the curse is the mountain goddess herself, who has become angered because an ancient artifact, the Terma, was stolen by the game's antagonist. The Terma is a time capsule containing hidden wisdom that was lost to the ages. It is told that there are many such items hidden in the mountains of the Himalayas, and that they will be found when their wisdom is needed by the world. The only way to appease the goddess and lift the curse is to find the Terma and ensure its knowledge is put to good use.
In addition to the standard ghosts, you will also fight a number of boss creatures, which are inspired by, but not copies of, Buddhist gods and goddesses. According to the developer who demoed the game for us, the team wanted to use the mythology of Buddhism as a backdrop for the game but also wanted to respect the belief system while doing so. Thus they made the conscious choice to create their own boss battles in order to avoid inadvertently insulting any adherents to the religion.
Both the environment and the timeline were specifically chosen due to their isolating factors. Climbing a mountain trail can be a challenging experience at the best of times, and back in the '80s, there were no handheld GPS units or personal satellite phones. Climbers back then had to rely on themselves, with no easy backup. The mountain itself is also a challenge, with the environment holding potential for danger at every turn. That said, technology isn't completely absent from the game, and some of it is implemented in very innovative ways. For example, at the start of the adventure, some information is relayed across your walkie-talkie. The sound doesn't come out of your TV speakers but from the Wiimote speaker, just as if you were holding a walkie-talkie in your hand.
Visually, the game looks to be on par with what you'd expect from a Wii title. The color palette is generally muted, as it would be on a mountainside with little vegetation, though certain points are accented with bright and vibrant items, such as when you find a shrine or explore a village with Buddhist prayer flags decorating the area. One point of note is the way the game shows your progress through the 13 levels. Since most of your adventure is outdoors, you can always look up the mountain to see how much further you have to go or look back down to see how far you have come.
Though our time with the demo was limited, the one aspect of Cursed Mountain that impressed us the most was its flexibility in play style. You can spend hours digging through every little nook and cranny, turning up hidden items and collecting every last little thing that has been hidden in the game. You can get fancy with the fighting and alternate weapons on the fly in order to keep all your enemies at bay. Or you can ignore all the extras and just run through the main story using nothing but your ice pick.
As an M-rated, Wii-exclusive survival horror game, Cursed Mountain has a lot of potential. Aside from the imminent release of EA's Dead Space: Extraction, there is little in the way of direct competition so Cursed Mountain is going to live or die (no pun intended) on its own merits. Deep Silver obviously has high hopes for the game, as it has announced plans to ship a U.S.-exclusive special edition of the title, which will include a copy of the game's soundtrack on CD. The special edition will ship in a steel box case and will be available at launch.Assuming that Cursed Mountain can keep the tension level high for an estimated 15-20 hours of play time and deliver a solid story, it might be the title that makes Deep Silver a name on the Wii scene. On the other hand, if it fails to deliver the goods, Cursed Mountain could find itself cursed to spend eternity haunting the bargain bins of your local game shop. Check back at the end of August for the final verdict.
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