There’s nothing I like more than a pleasant surprise. Finding a 20-dollar bill while walking down the street, finding a piece of cake while walking through the park, or in this case, a much better than expected Wii title. In fact, I would rank Cursed Mountain as one of the top surprises of 2009 so far.
Cursed Mountain popped on my radar the day before it was released. I had heard the title in passing but that was all. When I read that the game is about fighting ghosts while climbing a mountain, I knew I had to try it. Hell they might as well have called it “Cursed Mountain: A Game for Shawn” because it sounds just like the kind of game I would like. But then again, there was a time when I thought the same thing about Escape from Bug Island. What’s the opposite of a pleasant surprise? I suppose it would be a punch to the dick. While Escape from Bug Island was one of the biggest punches to the dick on the Wii, Cursed Mountain goes the opposite direction and ends up being a damn solid title.
The story follows your character as he climbs up a mountain in the Himalayas in search of his brother Frank. Of course, as with most mountain treks, you have to deal with angry monk and mountain climber spirits along the way. The story is actually quite good, and there are a lot of journals to collect that provide a lot of back-story on what is going on. It’s certainly not the best story I’ve seen in the horror genre (a title that still, and perhaps always will, belongs to Silent Hill 2) but it’s done well enough to keep you interested and progressing through the game.
The graphics vary between impressive and serviceable. Anything that takes place as you scale the mountain is pretty damn good looking. When standing on the side of the mountain you can see quite far into the distance and it’s pretty cool to be able to look down and see just how far up the mountain you’ve come. There are also some impressive effects such as the wind blowing at your parka. The visuals when you are in one of the villages are not quite as effective, but they are by no means bad. It’s not ground breaking by any means, but I must say this is mostly a fine looking game.
Sound is put to great use in this game. Not too long ago we got ourselves a sweet surround sound set-up (god I love alliteration!) and this game really put it to work. When climbing the mountain you can hear the wind whipping all around you. When you’re in the villages you can hear the moans of ghosts coming from all directions. There is lots of cool stuff. They even use the Wii Remote speaker in a cool and unique way in a couple of sequences by having a voice guide you through treacherous areas. Not nearly enough Wii games make good use of that speaker (it’s always just sword noises!) so they definitely deserve credit for that move.
On the topic of original ideas, I have to say I’m surprised at the amount of variety this game offers. It’s not just running around and fighting with ghosts. Sometimes you’re scaling the sides of the mountain, there’s a sequence where you need to collect oxygen tanks in order to stay alive, there’s of course the section where a voice has to guide you along your way, etc. It keeps things interesting and it’s always refreshing when you get something different to do.
Now seeing as this is a horror game a big question is whether or not it is actually scary? I would have to say sort of. There are definitely some creepy moments early on, as well as a couple of effective jump scares. The early fights with the ghosts can be quite tense as unlike zombies (the staple of this genre), these sum bitches can disappear and then re-appear right behind you or right in front of you. That being said they also tend to do a lot of zombie like shambling around. However as the game goes on you basically become desensitized to these battles and they are no longer scary. In fact they can sometimes be annoying as by the end you are sometimes facing upwards of 5 or 6 ghosts in a single battle. It has moments, but it can’t quite reach the levels of fright the Fatal Frame series consistently achieves.
Fun Fact: Fatal Frame is the only game to this date that I shut off because I was simply too freaked out to continue playing. The more you know.
The combat system works well and is quite simple to use. You can fight close range against the ghosts by swinging an ice axe (god help me I have no idea if that’s even what they’re called, our mountaineer readers are gonna be pissed), which isn’t always the most effective method. You can also do long range combat by using your “third eye” and firing….beams?...out of your ice axe at the ghost. You can aim by simply pointing your cursor around the screen and it all works well. My only complaint about the combat is that you can banish a ghost by doing a spell (it’s optional and regains you some health), which translates to a series of motions with the Wii remote and nunchuk. While these usually work, I occasionally found myself flailing wildly, wondering why the hell my motions weren’t translating. Thankfully this doesn’t happen all that often but man is it frustrating when it does.
One thing I feel I should definitely mention is that the game is very slow-paced. Yes you are scaling a mountain and fighting waves of the undead, but I would never call this an action game. It feels much more like a horror adventure game. This could be a deal breaker for a lot of people but I actually thought it added a lot to the overall atmosphere of the game. Not every game needs to be a super intense “run and shoot everything!” experience and I commend this game for taking a risk and offering a much more slow and methodical pace.
The game is not that challenging as health items and checkpoints are quite common. Some of the boss fights may take a few moments to figure out but once you know the strategy you should be able to move along with ease. I mentioned some of the later fights could get overwhelming but those are really more frustrating than difficult.
Also I read numerous reviews that stated it’s around a 20 hour game but it only took me around 9, and that includes getting lost a few times. Once you’re finished you may play through it again simply to experience it, but there are no unlockables or extra incentive to do multiple playthroughs.
Cursed Mountain turned out to be a far better game than I ever could have expected. It has a great, creepy atmosphere, lots of unique touches, fun combat, plus it looks good and sounds great. It’s really too bad this game will most likely go overlooked amongst the slew of fall releases but if I were you, ignore all that stuff right now (except Beatles Rock Band, go get that right away…oh and Batman…poor Cursed Mountain…) and give this one a try.