Cursed Mountain on the Wii had the potential to be the best survival horror game of this generation to capture the feel of the classics from a decade ago. Only one thing held it back. It’s on the Wii.
With the 360 Kinect and Playstation Move taking over, I fear all the next generation gaming systems are going to be motion activated. And I HATE it (the majority of my Wii games are games that are compatible with Gamecube controllers). Maybe BEING the controller is better than swinging around two separate controllers (Wiimote and Nunchuck) attached by a wire (that hit me in the face numerous times while I played this game), but it’s just not the same as grabbing a joystick, which I’ve been doing since 1980. And survival horror especially does NOT benefit from the use of the Wii controllers (see my blogs about Escape from Bug Island or Dead Rising Wii as well). In fact, using the Wiimote for Cursed Mountain became more of a nightmare than the nightmarish elements of the game….
While many complain of the unresponsive controls of this game on the message boards, there are those who think they’re so cool and respond with “it’s your fault for not knowing how to read directions or just sucking at video games” comments. Well let me say to all those guys—you fucking LIE. The controls in this game SUCK. See, you have to point at the screen with the Wiimote to shoot your special magical weapons at the ghosts, and after a number of times, you get the opportunity to do some sort of compassion ritual on them to free their souls. This consists of a number of onscreen commands (up to 5) requiring you to swing the Nunchuck and Wiimote in specified ways. Problem is, they are so inconsistent, unpredictable, and unreliable. And this can work against you or for you. The game would be a winner if the controls responded correctly. But the fact is, they don’t. I have a witness who saw me doing commands exactly the same, and sometimes they would work, other times they would not respond AT ALL. And other times, I could swing the WRONG controller and it would register that I swung the correct controller. Yet other times, I wouldn’t move EITHER controller and it would register that I did. Unfortunately, the times I got in a freebie were far outweighed by the times I got no results at all.
The big problem is with the forward thrust, which many online describe as a straightforward punch at the screen with the Wiimote or Nunchuck held vertically. Quite frankly, doing it just as they and the direction manual described, I RARELY had success. After hours playing and flailing wildly at times and getting lucky, or completely focusing and being deliberate about my moves other times and having no success, I finally determined that what actually worked best for me in terms of consistent motion was to do the SAME motion with BOTH controllers every time it called for a forward thrust of just one of the controllers. And, I could not do the forward thrust as described. Instead, it actually worked best if I held the controllers vertical and raised them right up toward the ceiling, and very often I had to finish with a sort of downward circular swoop toward the screen. And yet, that didn’t even work consistently. For instance, say I had a compassion ritual on screen that consisted of FIVE forward thrusts that alternated between one controller and the other. I might be lucky if the first 2 or 3 gestures worked like a charm (rather, ritual), and yet doing the SAME EXACT MOTION for the next few prompts had NO EFFECT. Yeah, it’s THAT BAD. And guess what? If you fail to do the ritual in a certain amount of time, you have to shoot the enemy again to get the prompt to shoot him AGAIN so that you can AGAIN try to perform the same ritual. NIGHTMARE.
While unresponsive controls is the biggest problem with the game, that’s not the only one. Next, we have the autosave system. This has become a very popular practice with games of this generation—and it concerns me. No more typewriters so you can save when you want, on a different save slot each time. No. Modern games, such as Cursed Mountain, make the decision when to save for you—and overwrite the previous save each time. No going back to an older save so you can go hunt down some more ammunition or health before facing a boss battle that you unintentionally walked into with little weapons and little health. As a result, there were times when I was pretty sure I was going to have to QUIT Cursed Mountain (or, start over again) because I was in a predicament where I was being swarmed by enemies with my lifebar almost depleted already. But somehow, I made it through. I think I was determined to show the motion controls that they could not get the better of me.
Another issue is the “cheap shot.” Many were the times I’d watch an animation introducing a hoard of new enemies I was about to battle, and as the game was transitioning from the cutscene to actual game play, while I’m still unable to control my character in any way (no moving, no fighting), the ghosts actually could hit ME and deplete my health!!! WTF??? Talk about beginning a battle with a handicap! You sit there and just watch a ghost shoot some supernatural shot at your frozen character or whack you across the screen with his arm!!!
Okay, so the game sounds HORRIBLE, right? But I did say this could have been a great old skool survival horror game. And that’s because it also has classic game play elements like exploration and searching for items and notes and files to read, creepy atmosphere and locations, suspense and tension, and richly detailed graphics. In fact, with its Asian and ghost themes, this game is very reminiscent of the Fatal Frame series. Only, this one takes place on a cold, snowy mountain (you actually feel cold while playing with the wind and snow blowing constantly). Your ultimate goal is to climb to the top of it (there are actual mountain climbing segments), exploring small mountainside villages on your way up as you unfold the mystery of what became of your missing brother, who had climbed the mountain before you. Even that (not to mention the conclusion of the game) is very similar to the plot of the first Fatal Frame.
The game most definitely has its frustrating moments (mostly because of the controls), and by the end of the game, as you near the top of the mountain, you are constantly thrown into repetitive battles against a swarm of ghosts, seemingly just to stretch the playing time. Some of these battles are harder than the actual boss battles, which are all very doable, so they don’t slow down the pace of the game. Also interesting to note is that, while the introduction to ghost battles features a cutscene of sorts, there are no cutscenes used for exposition. When it is time to reveal more of the plot, the game uses a sort of graphic novel style, with still shots fading in and out, accompanied by voice-overs that unravel the story. I assume this technique was used because of the limited power of the Wii, but it’s a very unique and stylized approach that really works, since most of the “cutscenes” are presented as flashbacks.
So really, Cursed Mountain is a great game spoiled by the infuriating Wii controls. The game was also ported over to the PC—WITHOUT motion controls. I haven’t played it on PC, and I’m not sure how they’ve adapted the controller schematics, but it might be a better option for those who really want to experience old skool survival horror without the bullshit controls. If Cursed Mountain used standard controls, I would gladly play through a second time (although none of your built stats carry over to a new game, so you start from scratch). However, I would NOT opt to play the Wii version again. The controllers zap it of all its fun. It’s the only zap of the controllers that actually has dead-on accuracy….