Where the survival horror genre-defining Resident Evil series draws on Gothic locales and biological monstrosities for its scares, newcomer Cursed Mountain draws instead on the paranormal and also on authentic Tibetan folklore. Set in the Himalayas in the late 1980s, Cursed Mountain is the story of Eric Simmons. He’s searching for his reckless and overambitious brother Frank, who went missing attempting to climb Mount Chomolonzo, the only unconquered peak in the Himalayas. It seems that Frank’s disregard for local customs has angered the goddess of the sacred mountain, and she’s released tortured spirits to haunt its villages.
As Eric, you’ll have to solve puzzles and do battle with ghostly apparitions, making your way up the mountain to seek closure over Frank’s fate. Your only weapon is a blessed ice axe, which can be used to wound hostile spirits. Early on in the game, you also learn to use your third eye to look into the ‘Bardo’ – the spiritual realm between life and death in Buddhist folklore. This allows you to fire spiritual energy at your enemies through your pick axe. Also in the Bardo, when ghosts are weak enough, you can perform a ‘compassion ritual’ by locking on to them and then executing motion gestures with the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk as prompted on-screen. This allows you not only to dispatch enemies faster than usual, but you’ll regain some of your health by showing mercy on their souls. However, as clever and satisfying as this system is, getting the motion gestures just right can be problematic, and sometimes your commands won’t be recognised. Pro tip: make sure you consult the diagrams in the instruction manual to make sure that you’re doing the ‘thrusting’ gestures in the correct manner in order to save yourself some serious frustration. The correct motion for the ‘thrust’ manoeuvres requires that the Wii Remote or Nunchuk ends up in a vertical orientation, which is not obvious from the on-screen prompts.
The combat gets increasingly difficult as you encounter tougher and faster ghosts (sometimes in numbers) that require more complex combinations of motion gestures to defeat them, so the sooner you get the hang of the gestures, the better. Many of the puzzles will also require these motion commands in order to, for instance, remove a supernatural seal from a door that is impeding your progress. Interestingly, you can only regain health at certain locations (aside from the compassion ritual in combat) by lighting incense at ceremonial altars – a nice touch that leads to some intense and nerve-wracking low-health moments.
Stylistically, Cursed Mountain takes many obvious cues from older Resident Evil titles, using many of the same stylistic devices to portray horror (for instance, the occasional use of fixed camera angles to give the feeling that you’re being watched). You can examine various objects and debris littered around the environment for chilling first-person textual descriptions, and there are a number of documents to be found that flesh out the story. Like Resident Evil, you’ll need to find various artifacts in order to unlock certain doors and solve other puzzles. The navigation is slow and rather plodding, like the classics of survival horror, but this may frustrate some gamers when the current trend for the genre seems to be to increase the pace.
Cursed Mountain feels very much like a classic survival-horror title from a previous generation that incorporates some innovative motion functionality in a way that makes sense. It got off to a slow start and struggled to hold my interest in the early stages, but perseverance paid off. Stylistically, the game takes the genre a step backwards, but for that reason it feels almost nostalgic, as if you’re revisiting the heyday of survival horror. Current-gen enthusiasts might be a little disappointed, but horror fans itching for something substantial on their Wii should check this out.