There are certain things that diminish over time. In the gaming industry, the idea of a scary video game seems to be such a thing. Even the Resident Evil franchise, which many consider to be the definitive survival horror experience, has become nothing more than a run and gun shooter, stripping away all that might cause someone to jump with fear. Some enjoy the departure, calling the old methods archaic, and some wish that games would, more often than they do, try and scare players. Deep Silver's Cursed Mountain speaks to the second group, with the developers attempting to create a game unique to the Wii. With a good amount of positive buzz leading up to launch, Cursed Mountain looked like a perfect title to kick off the Wii's holiday lineup, hoping to snag gamers before they got pulled into whatever the winter season may hold.
After being hired to find a mysterious artifact hidden atop a mountain in the Himalayas, Frank Simmons goes missing. Before long, his brother Eric attempts to find him, retracing his sibling's path and attempting to learn what secrets the mountain holds. The secret, as it turns out, is right in the title: the mountain is cursed. Different types of ghosts and creatures protect what they call "The Sacred Mountain," trying to stop Eric at all costs. Before long, they confront the hero, only to be warded off by a monk, who teaches Eric rituals to destroy the monsters that roam the cliffs. By wielding a ritualistic pickax, which is upgraded at several times throughout the game, Eric can destroy his opponents by either slashing them or firing red bolts of energy. After a few hits, he's able to use a ritual to destroy them completely. It works fairly well, bringing somewhat unique combat to the horror title, though it gets old fairly quickly. While the enemies Eric fights change from time to time, the methods to defeat them never really differ. Because of wonky controls, the strategy in defeating one ghost or five ghosts is essentially the same: stand in a corner and shoot them a lot, perform a melee attack if anything gets close, and then run to an opposite corner to repeat while the ghost(s) are stunned.
The actual act of destroying the opponents is accomplished with swings of the arms, something Deep Silver prides themselves on accomplishing. While making the game, the developers did a lot of research on different rituals of monks that live in the Himalayas. Beyond chanting, arm movements were important - something easily replicated thanks to the Wii's motion controls. It helps give a tangible feel, and it's one that couldn't be accomplished on other systems. Whether or not it's worth it to give players a physical connection to the game by sacrificing graphical fidelity is the question, and the answer for most would likely be no. While it's fun to flail around, the moodiness of the horror title is greatly diminished by the lack of a solid graphics engine. Audio isn't really affected much, since the Wii can pump out bones clanking and ghouls "boo"ing as well as the next system. Atmosphere, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.
For a Wii game, Cursed Mountain looks fairly good. Early on, when Eric first begins to ascend the mountain, the snow effects mixed with the wind rippling his parka look fantastic. It's a startling introduction, simply because it looks so much better than most games on the Wii. The focus on ascension, too, works in the game's favor. As Eric moves up the mountain, the previously explored areas can be seen in the distance, reminding players of the areas they've already visited. When he finds his way into the actual towns that are scattered across the mountain, this level of polish is whisked away, leaving something that looks more like a traditional Wii title. The Wii can't pull off photo realism. It just can't. Stop trying. Either do something different or don't develop on the system, because seeing PlayStation 2 character models and muddy textures in a game released in 2009 is just plain embarrassing.
But the graphics aren't really that important if the gameplay is rewarding. When it comes to that, Cursed Mountain still doesn't really deliver anything special. It's a slow game. An incredibly slow game. Everything about it moves at a snail's pace, making nearly every action feel as though it drags on forever. Moving around the levels, fighting opponents, and even picking up items takes much longer than it should. On top of that, it's extremely repetitive, and the basic elements are repeated throughout the entire game. Actually, recycled might be a better word, since it all feels very Resident Evil. The movements of the characters, the random items being used as keys, and even the white serif font just looks like it's trying its best to be Resident Evil. Random quick-time events? Got it. Endless pick-ups with pages of backstory the developers didn't feel like actually working into the game? Check. It's as if they took the pacing of the old Resident Evil games and mixed it together with the movement of the new ones, and it's a mix that doesn't work too well.
That alone isn't enough to damn Cursed Mountain. Being a Resident Evil clone isn't necessarily a bad thing - it made Dead Space one of the best games of 2008. Being a mediocre Resident Evil clone, on the other hand, can work against it. Its reliance on decade-old gameplay mechanics make it feel dated, and the few enhanceements it adds to the formula do little to move the genre forward. Throughout the game, it's hard to shake the feeling that Cursed Mountain was a PS2 game that was simply ported to the Wii with added waggle. In order to progress up the mountain, backtracking is often demanded in order to find objects or use new abilities to open doors. This wouldn't be an issue, and might actually work in the game's favor, if it wasn't for the lack of any guidance as to where to go. There's no map, no radar, and only the occasional hint about where the next objective is located. Everything looks so similar that even when the game haphazardly takes control of the camera to show Eric where to go, it's still difficult to find the specific door it references. Mix that with the game's 10:1 ratio of unmovable doors to unlocked doors and it's a often a chore to play Cursed Mountain. Not only that, but the only way to find out if a door is able to be opened is to walk up to it - there's usually no visual indication. It's like going trick or treating, except all of the doors are locked and no one left a bowl of candy outside.
In order to break up the extremely linear, slow-paced wandering, an occasional glimmer of shine makes its way through. From time to time, Deep Silver remembers that they made the protagonist a mountain climber for a reason. When all else fails, Eric can whip out a second pickax and begin scaling a mountain wall, something that, while not all that interesting, does wonders to break up the endless jogging that is Cursed Mountain. Other times, when it feels as though he should be able to climb, however, it's back to meandering the haunted towns. It's not that the game should be open-world or anything, but some choice wouldn't hurt, especially considering the main character's abilities.
And now, after all of that, the question needs to be posed: is the game scary? Strangely, and almost surprisingly, the answer is no. All of the elements are there, from the spooky townspeople to the creepy music. It's always dark, and a strange, ominous wind constantly blows, begging players to be frightened. It even, on occasion, has enemies jump out of nowhere, going for the shock value that horror games have tried to move past for years. Even when opponents suddenly appear and scream it's just not scary, likely because the other aspects of the game don't stack up.
The graphics really can't be held under too much scrutiny, since Wii owners sort of know what they're getting into. The problems that can't really be forgiven, however, come from the slow pacing. True, slow pacing on its own doesn't necessarily mean bad pacing, but Cursed Mountain's molasses speed doesn't work in the game's favor. In the end, it's worth checking out the game at some point, just not when so many other games are right around the corner. Anyone who owns multiple systems will likely be busy with games far better than Cursed Mountain very soon, enjoying the holiday season's releases. As for those who prefer the Wii exclusively, however, there isn't much like it on the system. There are those who will enjoy Cursed Mountain. The slow, monotonous gameplay might be a turn-on for gamers tired of the run-and-gun shooters that seem to own the year 2009. As for the masses, however, it's best to avoid this curse altogether.