A common argument against Wii games getting mediocre review scores is that the person reviewing the game just doesn't like the Wii and motion controls. It seems that the console has developed this kind of protection against criticism, with anyone against it simply being wrong. No doubt then there are people that will label Cursed Mountain the pinnacle of survival horror gaming, be dazzled by the way you use motion controls and accept the 'atmospheric' visuals. Most people, though, will feel they've wasted their money on yet another Wii game almost crippled by poor controls and rough presentation.
The setup is surprisingly solid and makes the disappointment to come even harder to take. A Himalayan mountain expedition has gone wrong after the climbers failed to pray to the gods prior to starting their journey. With no sign of his brother Frank, Scotsman Eric Simmons heads up the deadly peak in order to find out what's gone on and to bring back his lost sibling. There's a neat, if somewhat simple opening sequence in which you walk slowly up a hazardous mountain trail and then even more slowly climb a vertical ice wall with a pick axe. It sets the tone well and, despite my opening paragraph grumbles, is pretty atmospheric too. Then you actually have to play the rest of the game, and plenty of mindless wandering around empty villages, competing with awful controls, ensues.
The villages you come across are completely desolate, with the only inhabitants being ghosts that signify their presence through incredibly un-creepy mini-cutscenes. Being told that these ghosts are there removes one of the things the game could have had going for it, which is delivering pure old-fashioned scares. What you're left with is the odd unsettling moment where you spot something moving in the distance or a ghost that teleports from in front of you to behind you. In fact the most tension stems from the way you need to find oxygen canisters to stay alive once you've made it a certain way up the mountain. The search for these can be nerve racking, but why they're often in the ceramic pots that litter almost every street and room in the game is beyond us.
Cursed Mountain's big gimmick is the ability to see into this semi-alternative reality in which religious symbols can be seen and blessings can be carried out with your specially blessed axe. It's not a terrible idea by any means, but the motion controls required to bless these doors and other objects are often fiddly in the extreme, with the on-screen instructions failing to clearly explain what exactly you need to do with the controllers.
Even the simple act of moving around your character is a problem. All character movement is handled with the Nunchuck's analogue stick, with the camera entirely in the hands of the game. The camera does its job fairly well, rarely causing any viewing problems, but trying to make your Scottish climber go where you want him to is an exercise in frustration. Unless you handle that analogue stick with the precision of a leading surgeon you'll find that seemingly basic tasks such as walking backwards cause problems. Yes, the superb Resident Evil 4 had a similar single analogue stick control system, but here it just feels incredibly sloppy. You've also got to get over the fact that Eric can't get past even low obstacles nor through openings that are easily big enough for him.
Combat is especially terrible and it really didn't have to be. During the game's normal vision mode you can hack away at the ghost enemies in a fairly clunky fashion, but it's not broken. More of an issue is how awkward it can be to get Eric into the position you want him to be in in order to hack the ghosts into pieces of ectoplasm. Without the ability to strafe you'll get into the ludicrous situation where you're running away from conflict in order to get a better approach run at enemies - it's as if you're a fighter jet, not a man who through years and years of evolution has adapted to function perfectly in the world.
When you're looking through the eye into the alternate world you can fire projectiles at the ghosts. This sounds good in theory, letting you attack from distance, but from this view you can't move. You're rooted to the spot, with the Nunchuck's analogue stick being used to move the camera and the Wii Remote moving the aiming reticule. Why you can't aim and move the camera with the Wii Remote pointer, therefore freeing up the analogue stick for movement is beyond us. Add to this the same need to run away to get into a better position and you'll dread every enemy encounter in the game.
At times Cursed Mountain looks pretty good, with the eerie atmosphere coming across just as we imagine developer Sproing intended, but there's still far too many basically constructed areas, some terrible animation and extremely low resolution textures. Lots of this is hidden by a blizzard effect that drowns the entire game in a white haze, but this only serves to make navigation a nightmare. Yes, the game creates a decent sense of fear, but it's at the detriment to the game actually being any good.
Cursed Mountain has some good ideas and at times manages to put together some decent art design to create glimpses of a good game. For the most part, though, you're having to contend with an awkward control scheme and drab presentation. With Resident Evil 4 already on the Wii (along with the remake of the original) showing what can be done with the survival horror genre on the console, there's really no excuse for games like Cursed Mountain to get so much wrong.