I ain't afraid of no ghosts.
After almost three years of being on the U.S. Market, the Wii continues to hold a large share of the current console market despite the perception that it is not as oriented towards the hardcore audience. Though it has suffered the usual criticism of Nintendo’s recent consoles in that it caters more to younger audiences, it has seen a recent influx of mature titles to help boost genre diversity in its games library. Titles such as MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill, and No More Heroes help to attract the mature gaming crowd. However, can Deep Silver’s latest endeavor, Cursed Mountain—a survival horror title based around ghosts, dark rituals, and an ancient treasure—provide the same level of quality of previous mature titles that have graced the system and can it scratch the surface of two of the greater survival horror games both playable on the Wii (Resident Evil 4 & Eternal Darkness)?
Cursed Mountain follows the quest of a fearless 30 year old mountain climber as he attempts to uncover the mystery behind his younger brother’s disappearance. Eric Simmons knows that his brother Frank had embarked on and never returned from a particularly dangerous climb up the sacred Chomolonzo, a mountain that has said to have never been fully scaled (and for good reason as the eerie surrounding décor of ancient ritual sites would scare off even the most seasoned climbers). Thus, his journey entails climbing the same mountain that could have killed his brother.
The game actually begins amidst Frank’s journey as players play through a small portion of the cutscene leading up to his own disappearance. I feel that this type of storytelling is an effective way to pull the gamer into the story from the outset and portray an understanding of the dilemma that stories alone cannot depict. After the brief segment, the game’s title screen is flashed and the story then flashes to the main protagonist of the story, Eric.
Eric begins his journey at a town on the base of the mountain by searching for the first piece of evidence, a man named Ed Bennet, who had actually organized the expedition that his brother never returned from. And once you learn the basic plot points, the story drops off a bit from here. Sure, you do learn new pieces of information as you travel from place to place, but the story itself kind of drags for the next 6-7 hours of gameplay. I do enjoy that Eric’s thoughts are constantly spoken as you traverse the environments but I still had problems getting into the story for much of the game (unlike titles such as Eternal Darkness where the storytelling is supreme).
Cursed Mountain does help you to better understand the back story of the current situation by adopting a technique from the Metroid Prime series where players constantly find remnants of journals, legends, etc. throughout their adventure (similar to the scan visor). This helps you to get a better idea of the problems at hand, their origins, and even Frank’s own motivations/thoughts. I liked this portion of the storytelling coupled with the still framed yet cinematic cut scenes that occurred frequently throughout the game.
Another part of the storytelling that helps to build upon the atmospheric environments and music is the variation of camera angles. For much of the game, the camera floats behind Eric as he traverses the mountain but at many times the camera may change to the classic fixed angle in order to accent some portion of the background or that something is about to happen, thus instilling suspense in the gamer. Occasionally, the player may even have to perform a quick action such to save himself from sudden doom. It is this mix of camera angles and suspenseful moments that helps the game build a few of the emotions expected from the survival horror genre.
Survival Horror Without Zombies?!? (kind of)
One thing remains common in today’s survival horror culture: zombie games are a dime a dozen. Apparently Deep Silver was prepared to be bold and deviate from the tried and true path. This time around, we’ve got ghosts haunting our callused climber and the change is certainly welcomed, except… the ghosts are zombies (in essence). Aside from their translucent appearance and the fact that they can occasionally rematerialize in different locations, most of these undead spirits trudge along at the same pace as your typical zombie, latch on to you when in close proximity, and even have a delayed attack.
Eric can attack their immaterial bodies with a trusty pick axe but most of your attacks will derive from your hidden ability: visualizing the spirit world with your 3rd eye. After learning this skill, players can hold down the C button to see zombies and attack with special spirit attacks brought about by upgrades to his axe (by aiming with the Wii Remote and pressing the B button). These upgrades are obtained progressively throughout the game and help to speed up the mundane task of killing and sealing ghosts as well as vary the combat.
After weakening ghosts with attacks, players can then choose to either outright kill them or seal them away with a special compassion ritual and absorb the remaining health from the ghost. To perform this ritual, you must home in on an emblem that appears on the ghost and press A. Then, a series of motions are displayed on the screen in which the player must perform the corresponding motion with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Though the motions are fairly simple, Nunchuk motions are a little unresponsive at times and may hinder the flow of combat. Still, I felt like this was a nice, fairly nonobstructive way to implement motion controls.
Other motion controls appear in the game and for the most part are simple enough to perform effortlessly. However, the lack of Wii MotionPlus one-to-one motion coupled with some excessive motion commands make a few parts of the game more painful than not. For instance, the manual shows a part where players must meditate by swinging the Wii Remote in wide circles. This would be fine if you only needed to do this for a second but at the part of the game where this occurs, you’re forced to do this repeatedly for around 10 seconds before triggering the desired result.
The problem is, it’s very difficult to tell if you’re doing the motion properly and the game does little to reinforce the proper motions. Thus this part can not only tire you out but may frustrate you with its vagueness; I’m no noob but it took me literally 2-3 minutes to do this part correctly. And don’t get me started on the “meditating deeply” portion of the game where players must swing the Wii Remote in circles while shaking the Nunchuk back and forth excessively (think of rubbing your tummy with one hand while patting your head with the other and saying toy boat 10 times fast perfectly). In summary, Deep Silver did a good job of lightly implementing the motion controls aside from these painfully placed portions of the game.
There were a few other parts of the game that were particularly annoying to me, one being the fact that the autosaves (the only method of saving within the game) are sometimes placed at inopportune times. For instance, the first boss can be a little difficult to defeat and though you’re almost destined to die a few times on him, the autosave point occurs before activating the three spires necessary to summon him. Thus, I was forced to spend around 2-3 minutes curing and activating spires for each time that I died.
Scaling the Game
Overall I was impressed with the game’s cinematic quality despite being housed on the Wii. The game’s graphics and music were equally beautiful and cinematic despite the story being so slow for the first 6-7 hours. All in all, the game is a traditional survival horror game with a large amount of high and low points; nothing too innovative with the combat, progression, or even the storytelling. However, the game is still a solid title worth considering for any Wii library even if it doesn’t live up to the likes of Resident Evil 4 or Eternal Darkness.