Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Your spine shakes with chills as your heart begins to race. Your mind wanders with the fear of the unknown, and just when you think you were safe from whatever hunts you, you feel it’s grip across your throat. It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means, a series of reviews on some of the scariest horror games out there today! Welcome to my 13 days of horror reviews, where we honor the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky side of video games, both past and present. Today, we look at Cursed Mountain
When Cursed Mountain came out with a whimper at the tail end of the summer, I was skeptical on all fronts because it was an old school survival horror in broad daylight on a mountain. Thankfully, what the end result was is a pretty decent romp through treaded ground, in a new setting.
Eric Simmons is our protagonist; a mountain climber in the late 1980’s who is looking for his lost brother Frank on top of Mt. Chomolonzo in the Himalayas. Eric is a good climber, until he discovers the horrors of Tibetan apparitions’, which begin to plague his climb as he desperately goes from the bottom to the top to find his sibling, so he can escape this mountainside of hell.
Cursed Mountain is unique among survival horror games as so much it’s not in a nighttime, zombie infested setting. Rather your on top of a mountain, isolated from the world pretty much, contending with Tibetan spirits from Tibetan folklore. Developers Deep Silver definitely did their homework, as the monsters you do interact with are from real life stories in the myths of Buddhism and Tibetan tradition, which adds a bit of realism to the game in that regard.
And the pace of the game is also well crafted. Most sections you’re just going from point A to B, but since you’re climbing a mountain it’s difficult and the need to worry about enemies is not necessary. When you do have to fight the spirits of the mountain, it becomes a standard fare of survival horror combat; complete with sluggish controls and poor turning. The games biggest weakpoint is that it’s a throwback to archaic control schemes, more akin to Resident Evil 2 than Resident Evil 4. Turning is slow, walking is slow, aiming is slow and coupled with Wii controls, and it becomes a problem.
But for the most part, the wiimote works. When in combat you don’t fight with guns or knives, but rather, spirit power. You need to stun enemies by waggling the wiimote, and then free their cursed souls with a little more waggling. It is not the best combat system in the world, but it at least works and doesn’t feel out of place like in other games on the system. At the very least, it is innovative enough to not be random wand flailing like most Wii games.
And I have to admit as one of the few Wii supporters, it is nice to see a breath of fresh air on the console. Since every other week we get casual mini-game mishmashes to contend with, M rated survival horror games are making a comeback on the wii, with the upcoming “Silent Hill Shattered Memories” and “Ju-On: The Grudge” being made both for the system over the wii’s powerful counterparts. That said though, if the controls continue to be dinosaur eggs from ancient times it might become a redundant problem.
Thankfully the game is thick with atmosphere thanks to phenomenal graphics. It matches the style of “Twilight Princess” and “Super Mario Galaxy” in terms of its looks, lots of color and dark, brooding corners. Haunted temples and huts littered across the mountainside, terrifying enemies, and even the mountain itself, in all of its majestic glory, has the dignity to be not just pretty set-pieces, but also add to the sense of fear in the game. The draw distance is amazing, making you slowly realize how far, or how much further, you have to go to actually just be safe from Mother Nature herself in the game, and that just adds to the already disintegrating hubris of Eric Simmon’s own fears.
The sound is also done really well. Deep Silver was clever to put specific sounds in the Wii speaker, which, despite being a weak speaker in the controller, is really underutilized in a LOT of games on the system. Here, sounds emote from the tiny device, creating more atmosphere into the game. The music is also particularly moody, and subtly spiritual in its tone, giving off a hint of dread as you climb higher and higher to your destiny.
“Cursed Mountain” is a good game on a decent system that no one will ever play, because the system has not catered to it effectively. In fact, I don’t think I would have known the game existed, let alone come out this past August, if GR mentioned it on the podcast and my own store carried a few copies of it. But since its price cut to $30.00, it’s clear that “Cursed Mountain” is not a big hit. And it’s a shame too, because Deep Silver created something good that survivor horror fans should definitely check out, poor controls withstanding. And hopefully, when “Shattered Memories” does come out, it will rekindle interest for survival horror on the Wii, because god knows it needs a new niche audience besides rail shooter fans and mini-game enthusiasts.