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Jeremy Jastrzab
06 Oct, 2009

Cursed Mountain Review

Wii Review | Scaling the peaks of unique experience.
Apparently, the Wii is an easy system to develop for. While this may seem like a good opportunity for budding development studios and indies, each gem seems to be outnumbered by Nintendo’s casual philosophy, mini-game compilations and shovelware. However, it’s our job to highlight when these little gems come along, and hope that a few manage to pick them out of the crowd. As such, a little known Austrian developer, Spriong, has managed to come up with one of the most unique gaming experiences in the form of Cursed Mountain. And that’s not just for the year or for the Wii.

Set sometime in the 1980s, a famed (but fictitious) mountain climber, Eric Simmons is called to the Himalayas by entrepreneur treasure hunter, Edward Bennett. Apparently, Bennett had previously sent Eric’s brother, Frank, up the revered Chomolonzo or ‘The Sacred One’ to retrieve an ancient Buddhist artifact. Unfortunately, Eric was called in because Frank bit off more than he could chew and is stuck somewhere close to the inhospitable peak.

However, climbing the mountain is the least of Eric’s problems. Upon arrival at the base of Chomolonzo, the village of Lhando, Eric finds that the place has been completely deserted. Save for some angry ghosts. That’s right, the ghosts of the villagers and mountain climbers that have perished in the region have been unwittingly released onto the mountain by Frank. Delving deep into Buddhist mythology, the perilous journey up the cursed mountain confronts the player with rescuing Eric’s brother, solving the mystery appearance of the ghosts and, in the process, facing life long demons.

You are not alone...

You are not alone...
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The story and premise of Cursed Mountain are superbly put together. There is a fantastically compelling mystery that slowly reveals itself through cut-scenes and contextually relevant cut-scenes, while only coming together completely at the end. The collection of notes and books through the adventure give a variety of insights into what’s gone on before and after this horrific incident. But what’s most striking about the story is the reverence and detail paid to getting the Buddhist aspects right. While some developers try to be overtly artsy and obscure to try and propel the gaming medium, Cursed Mountain proves that the same can be achieved by respectfully relating to the real world through aspects such as religion without being too high brow for the player.

Furthermore, the setting and feeling of isolation are something rarely witnessed or even felt in a game, let alone on the Wii. It’s not a closed or confined experience, as you really feel like the only live and sane person on the entire mountain. It’s something completely unique to Cursed Mountain. You’ll have a mix of mountain climbing, which allows you to witness some stellar yet poignant scenery, and the exploration of deserted villages and monasteries. While the game may lack the high level of graphical fidelity that is available on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, the skilled direction and choreography make up for this.

Originally positioned as a horror game, it would be a stretch to call Cursed Mountain a horror game, per se. It doesn’t really scare the player, but it makes up for creating a tense atmosphere. Through a combination of the scenery, story, pacing, music and isolation factor, Cursed Mountain firstly creates a heavy, tense experience, while later on the experience becomes more desperate, particularly as you get closer to the peak of Chomolonzo. For those willing to immerse themselves in the created scenario, they’ll come out of a play session with a profound feeling that wasn’t there before. While not in a bad way, it’s a game that can really get to you, by appealing to deeper senses.

Haven't been here before in a game.

Haven't been here before in a game.
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These are the aspects that make the game great and manage to drag the fairly standard gameplay along. Overall, while it works and gets the job done, there are no great innovations and no mind-bendingly clever puzzles to solve. It’s rather straight forward, fairly linear and not a difficult game to get through in around ten hours. While these aspects might hurt other games, thankfully, Cursed Mountain is backed up by other strengths. That’s not to say the gameplay is bad, but it’s unlikely to float everyone’s boat.

While somewhat slow-paced, this just adds to the tension and feeling of isolation and futility. However, it’s the rather basic nature of the gameplay that may put some off. You are essentially playing a stripped down key-hunt. Go from point A to point B, but sometimes you’ll have to go through C to get a key or other important item. However, the locales that you’ll be exploring have enough atmosphere to lift this out of being a chore. Also, while once you’ve got the formula down, things are fairly straight forward without being frustrating.

Being a Wii game, there are some obligatory motion controls, though they are well placed contextually. Early in the game, you find one Frank’s climbing axes, which combined with Buddhist artifacts becomes your primary weapon. In fighting ghosts, you either have a melee swing or you activate your ‘third eye’, you use the Wii remote as your pointing reticule and ‘fire’. The ‘third eye’ will also allow you to see ‘beyond the veil of reality’ which will come in handy when finding your way around and revealing secret seals. When damaged enough, a symbol will appear on the ghosts, and you can trigger a compassion ritual. Upon completing the prompted motions, you will have defeated the ghost. Ghosts get harder the further up you climb and while the process is fairly repetitive, the ‘boss’ ghosts require more thought and strategy to defeat. The only downer is that you don't often really feel like beating is boss is more special than a group of ghosts.

It's a long way to the top.

It's a long way to the top.
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Throughout the more tense and distinctive moments of the game, such as breaking out of a sacrificial ritual, escaping an avalanche or when a ghost grabs you, you'll find they have their own set of motion prompts. Overall, while there are numerous publications out there stating response problems with the Wii controls, we actually found them to be fine, once we read the manual on how to do the ‘up’ motions correctly. So while all the gameplay aspects fit into the game, some may dismiss the slow pace, simplistic mechanics and typically sluggish ‘horror’ controls as unremarkable. However, this will be their loss.

For a Wii game, Cursed Mountain looks very good, thanks to a very focused style, good attention to detail and excellent direction through dramatic camera angles. Occasionally, the game will have you playing through a white fog that is annoyingly difficult to see through, the ghosts aren’t really varied and the cut-scenes are animated stills. However, these are better than poorly put together 3D scenes and the lack of technical issues is welcome. Now the soundtrack is among the most exceptional aspects of the game. A mix of traditional and recomposed Buddhist music and chants, as well as silence when needed make the game what it is. Without it, the atmosphere would be completely lost and you’d have an entirely different and lesser experience. Other aspects such as voicing and the sound effects don’t quite match up but at worst, get the job done.

While Cursed Mountain doesn’t not excel in providing innovative gameplay, mind-boggling puzzles or even a truly terrifying experience, the relatively unknown development team at Spriong ought to be applauded for what they’ve done well. Very few games have created a deeply mysterious but unpretentious story, a tense atmosphere of isolation and created a real connection with religious practice. It’s rare that a game comes along and makes you feel 'something' once you’ve put down the controller and walked away. Sure, the controls and pacing are sluggish, and the game is not all that scary, but we’ll be damned if this is not amongst the most unique gaming experiences you’ll ever have. Period. And for the right reasons. Regardless of how the game does, it's these kind of gaming and developers experiences that should be seen more on the Wii.
The Score
Even with a lack of endearing gameplay advancements and actual frights, Cursed Mountain is the kind of unique experience you want from the Wii and up and coming developers. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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10 Comments
4 years ago
Great review Jeremy and I have to say that I was rather surprised to see it out at JB just last week, I had to do a bit of a double take as I had a strong feeling that this wouldn't ever reach our shores!

Anyway, from reading what you have said here it seems just like I hoped. The mountain setting had me from the start and it's good to hear that it plays on the isolation and atmospheric aspects of the setting. I have to admit that I'm really surprised with the kind of feedback the story has been getting and what you have said only intrigues me more icon_smile.gif I may just have to pick it up at some point after the thumbs up you have given it.
4 years ago
Great review. This is a superbly crafted game that much like friend-o was surprised at the quick release locally. Along with Disaster and Deadly Creatures and Dead Space Extraction (hmmm triple D's), Cursed Mountain shares similar game design principles with all the right production work used at the right places while creating a refreshing experience that's sure to please those of us who are starting to get a little jaded with all the FPS and 3rd Person Shooters.

Unfortunately, I am unsure if enough people will buy these games to warrant similar creations from developers. But for now I lap these up like a drunkard to a beer.
4 years ago
Thank you, gentlemen. You two are obviously men of the highest class and with the finest tastes icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
It looks like it bombed overseas. Its just a really divided market this gen, its that simple and its going to take work to fix it.
4 years ago
Cheers Jeremy, good job with the review.
4 years ago
Actually never heard of this game before but you make it sound like it's quite good. Will try pick it up at JB or somewhere else this weekend. I can't wait to play it with my Nintendo Wii console
4 years ago
Good game is good. Rough in quite a few areas, but none-the-less a very unique setting, atmosphere, and mood really bring the world to life.

Worth it if you're hankering for something that speaks the language of old school survival horrors, and are able to look over production flaws.
4 years ago
Good review! The only thing throwing me off at the moment is the price point. I've been hearing so many mixed reviews. I guess it comes down to whether you're into the genre or not.
4 years ago
I think as a game in general it feels like (from a few hours play) a 6/10 quality game, but to single it out against Wii only titles (in terms of quality and this 'type' of experience on the platform) it would probably get an 8.
4 years ago
This is 55$ at CD WOW

Good price
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  23/09/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Madman Interactive (Funtastic)
Genre:
  Adventure
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  1

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