Agnostic mountain climbers today don't know how good they have it with global positioning devices, high altitude helicopter rescue parties and 457 kHz standard avalanche beacons, something I realised while playing Deep Silver's Cursed Mountain.
Step into the shoes of Eric Simmons and his missing brother Frank if you want to know what mountaineering was really like back in the day. Or at least how it was back in the 1980s, when you still needed the blessings of a yogini to get to the summit of a fictional Tibetan mountain. If the yogini's appeasing-the-mountain ritual failed, then all the science in the pre-Internet world couldn't save you.
What Is It? Cursed Mountain is a survival horror game developed by Deep Silver Vienna exclusively for the Wii. Players take the role of mountaineer Eric Simmons and scale the haunted Mount Chomolonzo in the Himalayas to search for your brother, clues to why your brother went missing and a sacred Buddhist artifact called a terma that some rich dude with a peg leg hired your brother to find.
What We Saw I plowed through the first three levels of the game in about 90 minutes in the comfort of my own home.
How Far Along Is It? The game ships at the end of August, but I'm playing on a preview build that's probably a month or so old. The graphics aren't as pretty as they could be, but everything works.
What Needs Improvement? Game Should Come With a Wrist Brace: I wouldn't call this game a waggle fest because the combat requires rigid motions to perform the Buddhist rituals that banish attacking ghosts. However, my wrist still hurt after one particularly ghost-filled level. Part of it was probably due to the sheer number of ghosts that need banishing and part of it was from aiming at the ghosts while in the Bardo state. You go into Bardo by pressing C and have to point with the Wii Remote both to aim at ghosts and to turn Eric, since his feet are rooted to the spot while in Bardo.
Eric Can't Take Corners: Most of the game takes place in wide open, agoraphobia-inducing spaces; however some of the early levels force Eric to go through houses with far too many doorways and corners. I realise that mountaineering gear weighs the body down, but even in a space suit, it shouldn't be that hard to move between rooms in a house – especially when there's a ghost after you.
The Writing: I dig the plot, but the dialogue script and a lot of the text in documents you find throughout the game could use a Stephen King treatment. It's the least scary part of the game.
What Should Stay The Same? Creepy Music: The music in Cursed Mountain is subtle and eerie, just as it should be. The developer says the US-exclusive Steel Box version of the game will come with the soundtrack.
You Don't Have To Use The Buddhist-kill: You can get rid of ghosts by melee-attacking them until they're weak and then finishing them off with one blast from your enchanted pickaxe in the Bardo state. No motion controls necessary, except the aiming portion in Bardo.
Complex Plot: The story in Cursed Mountain is not so simple as "there's the bad guy, go get him." Even if you can tell who's to blame for the mountain being cursed right from the beginning, you can't quite fathom all of the events that happened leading up to it. This makes you suspect nearly every non-playable character you meet (though there aren't very many of them) and at one point something so terrible was revealed that I started to wonder if my character's brother was even worth saving.
High Anxiety: Fans of the horror genre know that there are different kinds of scary. There's jump-out-at-you scary, psychologically disturbing scary, sad-and-eerie scary and OMG-so-violent scary. Cursed Mountain relies on the first kind of scary at the beginning of the game, but eventually, it starts to incorporate a lot of the second. By the third level, Cursed Mountain was making me downright anxious both with its setting (being alone on top of a mountain where the sky stretches out around you for miles) and with its plot (why did my brother do that?!).
Final Thoughts Based on the reaction I got to my first impressions of Cursed Mountain with respect to religion, I'll leave it to actual Buddhists to weigh in on how respectful the game is of Buddhism. The developer claims to have consulted several Buddhist authorities during development and I certainly didn't see anything that raised any red flags. But I won't go so far as to say it was a deep and thoughtful portrayal of an ancient religion. Cursed Mountain is a survival horror game, after all, not a step on the path to Enlightenment.