Cursed Mountain, like its ghostly enemies, came out of nowhere to surprise us: a bona fide adult game, where the phrase doesn't equate to gratuitous swearing, gore and nudity, designed exclusively for Wii. With a story heavy on Buddhist philosophies, a combat system that requires prayer gestures and plenty of other oddities, it's certainly unlike anything on this or any other console, but is there a good reason for that?
You play Eric Simmons, a world-famous mountaineer, whose younger brother Frank has been reported lost whilst attempting to climb the foreboding Chomolonzo mountain. Naturally, it's up to you to figure out what happened and bring him home, but as you'd expect there's plenty of danger along the way, not least from the departed spirits of the village and mountain. For reasons you discover in the game, the village at the base of Chomolonzo is deserted, with the exception of ghosts who wander the streets. Many of these spirits are in fact quite placid, and will only attack you if you get too close or jog near them with , although some are out for your blood from the start and will transform into vicious fanged killers as soon as they see you. Sometimes they'll even lurk in shadows, clouded in a murky smoke, and that's where the Third Eye comes in.
Essentially "Ghost Vision", the Third Eye lets you see things that are hidden in the regular world, with special symbols, spiritual seals and more glowing vividly with your Third Eye. Switching between the two is a simple matter of holding with the Third Eye vision being accompanied by the rather sinister sound of Eric's breathing and dark spots in your field of vision. It's a nice effect that serves to increase the tension significantly, especially as you tend to use it more whilst the threat of attack is high.
The rest of the game's production values are of a similarly high standard. The voice acting is deliberately understated for the most part, and the sparse soundtrack comes in with perfect timing and tone, with muffled breathing, muted groans and plenty of other atmospheric sounds making up the rest of the impressive aural experience. Play this through a decent stereo system and it'll enhance your enjoyment of the game no end.
Although the palette is mostly greys, browns and whites, that's not to say that the graphics let the package down: there's a pleasing amount of detail in the environments, and despite having little control over the camera that occasionally reverts to old-school Resident Evil style fixed-angles, the rare occasions where you're unable to see behind you generally contribute to even bigger scares. Animation-wise, the game doesn't disappoint, with Eric moving smoothly and even visibly altering his step to cope with steep or uneven ground. The enemies themselves don't have a huge range of movements but still move with menace - noticeably quicker than Resident Evil's zombies, with the advantage of being able to teleport behind you at a moment's notice, and even the larger enemies impress with their speed and agility. Outside of the gameplay, the cutscenes, menus and loading screens all share the same rich texture, conjuring up images of a traveller's journal, rather than a disc-based game. It would be a stretch to say Cursed Mountain is one of the best-looking games on Wii, but it certainly acquits itself admirably and with no shortage of style and polish. And yes, you can look around the mountain to see where you've come from or where you're going, and even make out the flags flapping in the wind far in the distance.
Not everything that was built up in the pre-release PR is implemented quite so well, though. Although the gesture-based controls received a lot of hype, promising to use prayer movements to combat enemies, the reality of fighting is a lot more traditional. Pressing swings your axe around, whilst (after a power-up) you can hold to aim and then press to unleash a blast of fire at your enemies. The gestures come into play once you've dished enough damage - a red icon appears in the ghost, and once you've activated it with a series of gestures will appear on screen. At first you only need to use a diagonal Wii Remote swipe, but later on you need to perform longer sequences to finish the harder enemies off. The gestures essentially play the role of finishing moves, and although they're not at all necessary they do recover your health, and certainly add another layer of involvement to the proceedings.
The other controls are pretty much as you'd expect, although the presence of Resident Evil-style "tank controls" is disappointing. Pushing down on the sees you backpedal awkwardly, with left and right turning you in that direction, resulting in some irritating moments stuck in corners until you acclimatise. Holding down on the puts you in first-person mode, but you use the rather than the Wii Remote pointer to look around; not a huge problem, but you have to wonder why the decision was made considering the IR pointer is used to aim when using the Third Eye.
There's no shortage of gameplay to get you comfortable with the controls, though. With eleven chapters each lasting anywhere between thirty minutes and a few hours, you'll have plenty of time to explore Chomolonzo and its strange goings-on. There's not much in the way of secrets, but you can find plenty of optional journal entries and writings to flesh out the story and explain some of the less well-known Buddhist principles. With the game well-paced, seemingly always giving you new gestures and abilities at the right time, completing it should be much less of a draining slog than ascending Chomolonzo.
Cursed Mountain is a game of considerable quality, with no shortage of commendable assets - an intelligent story, well-crafted immersion into a foreign world and a high standard of audio and visual presentation mark it out as a game well worth a buy. It's let down by some occasionally poor controls, and once you've made it to the end you're unlikely to want to play it over again, but otherwise it's refreshingly low on faults. Cursed Mountain is a highly worthwhile journey that Deep Silver and Koch Media deserve high praise for bringing to Wii owners seeking a more substantial scary experience.