Survival-horror videogames have been in need of a renaissance for a good long while now, something larger than the few key titles that have contributed a handful of now-clichéd, stock conventions. Resident Evil made zombies part of the core curriculum, Silent Hill required that players be shrouded in darkness and a dense sea of fog, and Dead Space added zero gravity and aliens to the equation. Cursed Mountain proves that there’s still a lot of ground to be broken in reaping scares from a videogame, but it doesn’t have all the answers itself.
Although the story isn’t special, the setting is: Players take on the role of mountaineer Eric Simmons, climbing the Himalayas to find his brother Frank, who has gone missing while searching for a mysterious artifact. Nothing spine-tingling, but the higher you ascend and the more oxygen-deprived you become, the more your character hallucinates. Sometimes the transparent mountain dwellers and enemy monks are really there; sometimes they aren’t. Conveniently, the ghosts inhabiting the Himalayas all share a dubious, common weak spot: They crumble after a few blows from your climber’s ice pick. Although the frequent random battles can get annoying, an upgrade to the ice pick unlocks another level of inventiveness to Cursed Mountain: Aiming with the Wii-mote, you can zap a ghost-busting laser at your enemies, then perform rituals to cast them off via Wii-mote and nunchuk gestures.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the ice pick is good for. You’ll spend most of your time trudging through abandoned villages, hunting down keys for locked doors or smashing clay pots for the items they contain, rather than venturing further up the mountains. And you’ll take it slow, too: The game warns you early on to “be careful not to jog to alert nearby ghosts.” Surely someone searching for a lost brother would pick up the pace a little: Simmons arthritically plods through the snow even when there’s no one around. Presumably this is to enhance the fright factor of a game meant to spook, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as the picture randomly draining to black and white, and the camera going unnervingly askew. Sometimes, the little touches make a big difference (when’s the last time you saw a Buddhist chant on a game-over screen?), but even those aren’t enough to save Cursed Mountain when it leans too heavily on its genre’s cursed monotony.