Cursed Mountain – Frightening, Frozen Mountains (& Fishing?)
Cursed Mountain sees you climbing Chomo Lonzo, a mountain in Tibet, to rescue your lost brother. Unfortunately, your dopey sibling seems to have unleashed ghosts and spiritual monstrosities in the area. That’s on top of the freezing cold winds and lethal falls that await a clumsy mountain climber. Or one trying to fight ghosts with an ice axe while trying not to take a tumble. It’s not an easy climb. You’re better off going ghost fishing instead, which is far safer. If stranger.
This Wii game didn’t get much press upon release, but it offers up a (literally) chilling atmosphere and an interesting story that draws from Tibetan Buddhist folklore. Few horror games can boast that they’re still terrifying when it’s daylight out, too but even under the bright white light of day, it offers some disturbing encounters with its frozen dead. Even if its combat can get a little bit strange. Let’s just say your skills at Billy Bob’s Huntin’ and Fishin’ may just save your life, here.
Chomo Lonzo makes for a surprisingly frightening backdrop for Cursed Mountain. Despite the sun shining down on you for far more of the game than one would expect from a horror title, it does nothing to dispel the nervousness you feel in exploring this snowy, windswept place. You are nearly constantly surrounded by white, whether it be fog or snow whipping around you. You’re always making steep ascents through this cold haze, or walking along uneven paths that dip off the side of the mountain. The ground is so far down you can’t even see it. It played havoc with my fear of heights.
This made the game feel different from one that took place in some haunted home or abandoned town. There is a certain menace in places that the living have abandoned. You can feel it in those empty houses and streets. You can sense that something has gone wrong in them. Here, there’s a feeling of hostility to the place itself. Not that something bad has happened, but that the place itself has turned sinister in some way. With all of the wind, ice, and rough terrain, it feels like you have to fight for every step against something that doesn’t want you there.
It feels like the mountain itself wishes to shrug you off. That nature hates you, specifically. It was a different kind of scary atmosphere than most horror games I’ve played, but no less powerful. Or maybe I just don’t like balancing on narrow edges as I try not to fall to my death.
Not that no one has ever lived here. Monasteries lie in your path throughout Cursed Mountain, as do a few ruined base camps left behind by other climbers. You’ll stumble across bodies left by the those who couldn’t make the ascent. People who failed to survive the mountain’s trials. They feel like victims of some powerful being, but instead of being stalked by it, you’re literally ascending its colossal form.
These things gave the game a different sense of menace. I’m used to all kinds of disturbing monsters chasing me in horror games, and the game DOES have creatures that will dog your path, but there was this sense of almost religious fear in the game. That there was some natural, powerful, supernatural being that inhabited this place. That this deity was going to remove me using the elements and the land itself. It felt like some aspect of a living world had turned on me, leaving me nervous to progress. How do you deal with it when the earth beneath your feet wishes you dead?
You feel truly alone as you face this force, too. Cursed Mountain leaves you by yourself for long periods of time as you explore, without so much as a ghost or body or anything to see. It’s just you, the mountains, and occasional abandoned monasteries for minutes on end. Even from the very start, when you spend a good five to ten minutes by yourself in an empty place. In it, you can feel that force of nature staring you down. You can feel this promise of deadly power being aimed at you, and you feel all alone in dealing with it. Save for a few banners every so often in the mountains, their brilliant colors flapping in the rushing wind, there is almost nothing up here with you. Nothing besides a living world that wants you dead.
At least the ghosts and deadly spirits will keep you company when they appear. Your spectral foes will often rise right up out of the snow, hurtling at you out of nowhere as the wind and snow swirl around you. You’re forced to run around the rough terrain, breaking through deep snow as phantoms lash out at you. It’s frightening to fight ghosts, yeah, but it’s more that I feel like the terrain is slowing me down or trying to send me flying off a cliff while my attention is elsewhere. The ghosts simply feel like an extension of that violent nature that wants to kill me.
You have several handy tools for fighting Cursed Mountain’s ghosts. Here, though, that atmosphere the game has built up gets a bit…stranger? You can fight ghosts with your ice axe, but hitting a ghost with a handheld tool puts you in more danger than you’d probably like. Who just starts trying to club a ghost, anyway? Apparently the testers who wanted more combat put into the game is who. You get other, better tools, like the ranged Katrika, Kila, and Khorlo, all of which fire shots at varied speeds/strengths. Best to keep ghosts at arm’s length, as any ghost photographer can vouch for.
Ranged spiritual lasers kind of mess up the game’s atmosphere, but there is still an interesting mechanic at play. When a ghost is weak enough, you can do a Compassion Ritual. This involves performing gestures with the Wiimote (designed to mimic mantras) to exorcise the spirits. It’s a bit dodgy due to unreliable motion controls, but having to do these spiritual gestures adds this strange peacefulness to combat. It feels like you’re calming the spirits, in its own way. You gain a bit of health back from calming and banishing spirits this way, so it feels far more vital to do things this way instead of just bashing or shooting the ghosts. Like you both gain from doing things this way. I can see why this was how the game was originally designed to be played.
But then you go fishing for ghosts in Cursed Mountain, and you’re totally on-board. You pick up a weapon called the Lag Pa at one point, and this fires a line of energy at the ghosts. If it snags the ghost, you can snap the line and tangle them up for a few seconds, sometimes giving you enough time for a quick ritual to banish them. If you can get good at this, you’ll be able to stomp the game by firing out spiritual fishing lines and snagging ghosts. It’s more stressful as you have to move faster and you don’t regain health from doing the ritual in this way, but it’s great for thinning enemy groups. Also, it’s ghost fishing.
Now I’m imagining one of those pictures people take with their catch, but while holding a ghost upside-down. Which makes for a better picture than you holding a fish for your Tinder account, I guess. I’d much rather go ghost hunting than fishing with someone. Just saying.
Cursed Mountain offers an odd, ambitious mixture. Its environments make for a fearful feeling as you explore them, constantly being attacked by the hostile world around you. You learn to fear this place more than the creatures that inhabit it, creating this sense of oddly-spiritual fear. It’s like you are waiting for some cruel, unknowable deity to crush you. At the same time, it further explores its spiritual themes through its combat, having you exorcise its phantoms to give them peace. It’s frightening, yet powerful in a way I rarely see in other horror games. But then it got focus texted to pieces to add laser beams, ghost-stabbing, and basically phantom fishing. Which is fun, even if it feels weird compared to the rest of the game. It’s a bizarre mixture like few other games, and a horror experience well worth trying out.