The survival horror genre has graced just about every console imaginable in the last three gaming generations. The Wii has been no exception to this rule, having seen a balance of both good and bad titles in the genre. Interestingly enough, all of the good Wii titles seem to come from game series that started their life on another console family. When the best original horror game on the console is Calling, you know that someone has to fill the void for players who are craving something new instead of something familiar. Luckily, the team at Deep Silver had the idea of bringing something fresh to Wii gamers, and the result is Cursed Mountain. Unlike other original survival horror games on the console, this one is quite good, albeit a bit flawed.
If there's at least one thing that will make players turn their attention to the game, it would certainly be the plot, which feels familiar but has a unique atmosphere. In the 1980s, an expedition team was sent to the Himalayan mountains to recover an artifact from the Chomolonzo mountain. However, one of the climbers has disappeared, and the rest of the party has either fled in terror or died. As Eric Simmons, an experienced mountain climber, your job is to find the whereabouts of your missing brother, solve the mystery behind the artifact he sought, and why entire villages around the holy mountain are dying.
In general, the gameplay is similar to many other games in the genre. It's played from the third-person perspective, you solve a few puzzles that don't require too much out-of-the-box thinking and solutions, and you rely mostly on melee attacks to defeat your enemies, though a few projectile-based attacks exist in your arsenal. In a way, this plays out more like the early Silent Hill games, where combat might not have been frequent but was rarely distance-based.
There are some differences, though, mostly in the health management and fighting sections. Unlike other games, you cannot use your health-based items as you please. Healing can only be done at special shrines, will become invaluable havens, but only if you have incense sticks available. You can get a small sliver of health when performing certain purification rituals on enemies and again if you stand still when you have barely enough health to survive one more hit.
The combat is another fairly unique element, as you are often forced into combat. Unlike other survival horror games, which let you flee from most of your adversaries, Cursed Mountain will often corner you when enemies appear. The experience does get a bit old when you simply want to get from point A to point B. There are a few fights with special stipulations, such as you constantly losing health until the area seals are broken, but it keeps the experience tense and fresh.
If there's one thing that makes people take notice of Cursed Mountain, it would be the story. Survival horror often uses the occult as a catalyst for the plot, but it rarely does the same with more formal religions. It doesn't do anything to discredit Buddhism, mind you, but having the game take place in a heavily influenced Buddhist region certainly gives the title some real-world substance. The plot makes the enemies slightly ambiguous in terms of who can and can't be trusted, and it also does a good job of characterizing your brother. If anything, the plot makes you despise your brother more, considering the actions you read in the scattered journals and cut scenes. In most games, you won't often have a victim who's a despicable person but still needs to be saved; it's refreshing to see a vibrant story when it could have easily been black, white and a few shades of gray.
The game certainly has a unique setting and plot depth, but that doesn't mean that it's flawless. The biggest complaint that can be levied against the title would be its pacing. The story is told quite well, and the combat situations get interesting, but the amount of backtracking feels unnecessary at times. This issue can certainly be seen early on in the game, when you reach a locked door to a mansion and have to go back to previously visited areas to learn the necessary technique to unlock the door. Most gamers who are fans of this genre have come to expect a scenario like this, but Cursed Mountain does it quite often in the early parts of the game. While it makes some sense story-wise, it feels like padding for a game that already feels rather lengthy.
The controls work well, for the most part. Movement and camera are both handled by the analog stick, while the Z button lets you sprint and the C button zooms in with your third eye to see the alternate world around you. The A button is context-sensitive, letting you examine doors and objects as well as pick up items, and the B button lets you slash in normal view and shoot energy when zoomed in. The IR sensor on the Wii Remote doesn't come into play unless you're zoomed in, and even then, it only controls the aiming reticle. For Wii players who are used to playing first-person shooters, the lack of camera movement with the Wiimote is jarring, but the acclimation period is pretty quick. Motion controls are used to break some seals and purify ghosts, and while it works most of the time, there are more than a few instances when the motions for the Wiimote didn't register the first time. The motions usually pick up again the second time purification is attempted, but the lack of immediate recognition does hamper the game's fun.
Graphically, the game is fairly impressive, especially the particle effects. The snow coming down from the mountain exteriors looks very good, and the ash billowing from the ground when using your third eye never ceases to amaze. The character models don't look spectacular, and there are some issues with them connecting to the environment at times, such as during climbing animations and walking down slopes, but their animations and texture work are better than expected.
Cut scenes are nothing more than still pictures with fast transitions and minimal movement, but the artwork, with lots of black shadows and the shaky nature of it all, makes more of an impact than full motion could. The environments look fine despite the use of bleak colors that seem to have permeated most Mature-rated games as of late. The sense of scale is well used in the environments, especially when you start to ascend the mountain and see the villages you visited in the distance, but some of the textures on the slopes look stretched out and blurry. The same can be said for the abandoned villages, where brown and gray are the primary colors, and signs of decay are only broken by a few instances where a texture might look slightly out of place. The game looks better than expected from a small development outfit.
The sound is certainly another high point for Cursed Mountain. Interestingly enough, this claim can be made without the musical score being present most of the time. The sound effects drive the soundtrack for a good portion of the game, and the resulting atmosphere is great. The buzzing of flies, howling wind gusts, and crunching of both gravel and snow help project the sense that things really are as cold and desolate as they look, and it certainly helps that the effects sound clear. When the music does pop in, it sounds like most other survival horror games, with a nice orchestral score that only appears when you're about to be attacked or stumble upon something sinister. The voices aren't spectacular, but all of the voices sound fit for the game. Special mention has to be given to George Anton, who voices your main character, since you'll hear him the most during cut scenes. His delivery is good and really conveys confusion, desperation and exhaustion without overacting, though it is certainly helped that the voice is almost always coming from tape recordings. All in all, this is one game for which you don't want to turn down the volume.
Cursed Mountain is a very good surprise for all survival horror Wii owners. The story and setting certainly give the game some charm, while the general gameplay is engaging enough to motivate you to continue playing to the end. The sound is good, but it could use work on some of the graphical aspects and the controls. Still, those shortcomings aren't enough to drag down the entire game, especially now that it's surely been marked down to a budget price. Fans of the genre who want something more original would do well with this game, as would those who are looking for a more substantial, well thought-out, M-rated gaming experience.
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