What do you get when you mix mountain climbing, heavy Buddhist overtones, disgruntled ghosts stuck in limbo, and Wii gesture controls that not only include motions for Meditating, but also Deep Meditating? You get a chillingly good horror adventure that quickly scales up the rare echelon of quality adult-themed Wii games. Who knew?
Cursed Mountain puts you in the shoes of famed British mountaineer Eric Simons as he arrives in the Himalayas in search of his brother Frank. It seems Frank was hired to retrieve an ancient artifact high atop Mount Chomolonzo, but hasn't been heard from in days. As you arrive to a deserted village at the base of the mountain, itís apparent that something has gone horribly wrong. As you ascend to attempt to save your brother, you'll discover the events that were set into motion and they are presented with excellent pacing and intriguing plot progression. Those events often dip into areas of gray morality and mature themes that are handled in thought-provoking manners. Itís a slower paced affair similar to a Silent Hill, but the game is dripping with so much tension and atmosphere that I rarely felt like I was plodding along. The storytelling is excellent, unfolding in a way that always leaves a sense of mystery and it is further fleshed out through books and journal entries that are collected as you explore.
Early in the game, you'll find Frank's ice axe which has been blessed by the Tibetian monks of the mountain. This will act as your weapon throughout the entire game. Don't worry though, because this supernatural climbing implement has the power to become a powerful spirit blasting tool of righteousness once you collect various ritual artifacts. You see, most of the enemies in the game are the tenants of the mountain stuck in Bardo - a shadowy limbo state between the physical world and Nirvana. Apparently, this isn't an ideal place to be and they aim to take their revenge out on you. Fortunately, you have the ability to use your Third Eye to view into Bardo and free their souls through compassion rituals performed with your holy pick axe. (Yes, this game is a little bit out there.)
The combat rituals are really where the motion controls come into play. The game uses the Wiimote and Nunchuk combination and movement is handled through the analog stick. Once you activate your Third Eye, though, your character becomes stationary and the game turns into over-the-shoulder shooter utilizing the aiming of the Wiimote to target and stun enemies. Once the enemies are stunned, their glowing inner spirit will appear, alerting you that you can now perform a compassion ritual. These rituals are done through on-screen gesture prompts that have you slashing and punching with the Wiimote and Nunchuk. Crazily enough, this is actually a pretty fun way to deal with combat in a survival horror game and it adds a certain visceral feel to the experience.
Motion controls aren't limited to just the Bardo though, as you'll have to perform other tasks like shaking off ghosts that have you in their grasp and out running avalanches by pumping your arms. Then there is of course the meditation rituals that have you circling the Wiimote in the air while rhythmically banging a gong with the Nunchuk - who knew deep meditation was so similar to patting your head and rubbing your stomach? Amazingly enough, with all these motion controls, I rarely felt like Cursed Mountain was forcing them upon me, but rather, they actually made sense and the game was better for having them. The game even gets the Wiimote's speaker in on the action as survivors will contact you by walkie-talkie.
Now going in I was worried that the environment would get stale as an entire game taking place on a mountain didn't sound that exciting. Fortunately, thereís quite a lot of diversity as you work your way through the village, base camps, an ice cave, and a monastery in addition to climbing along the mountainís cliffs and visiting Bardo. It keeps things visually interesting and solving the environmental puzzles ("Hmm... this door looks like it's missing some sort of totem") makes sure you fully explore all the vistas the game has to offer. Additionally, the game contains a handful of boss fights to keep things fresh and, while they may all have predictable weak spots, I did die a couple times trying to take them down.
As for the negatives, the main issue I had was the compassion rituals' gesture controls not being recognized 100% of the time. While this never led to any deaths as you can quickly retry the rituals, it did take me out of the experience. That said, I don't think there was ever an instance where it failed to recognize the motions after a second try. Another letdown was the generally solid pacing seemed a bit drawn out towards the end of the game. The graphics are also a bit dated, but I never really found that to be deterring from my enjoyment in anyway. Camera angles are used in a thoughtful manner to frame the suspense and highlight the scope of the mountain, so it offsets some of the lack of visual fidelity. That said, camera angles can't mask sections where animations between Eric and the environment aren't quite right (ice axes placed into thin air while scaling the edge of a cliff... that type of thing), so those could have been fine tuned. Also, cutscenes are carried out through mostly still images and characters' mouths don't animate when they speak. I know that will bother some people, but the voice acting itself is well done.
Overall, Cursed Mountain succeeds where so many games aimed at a mature audience on the Wii have failed. The game just feels genuine and you can tell a lot of thought was put into not only the plot itself, but also how to properly use the Wii's strengths to tell that story.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $40.00
Current MSRP: $49.99
Cursed Mountain was provided for review by Deep Silver. The game's campaign was completed in eight and a half hours. I found the majority of the collectibles. There are no extras outside of the single player story. Cursed Mountain is available exclusively on the Wii.