Editor’s Note: This is the first of two reviews. The Reviewer wanted to concentrate on both titles separately. La Mulana 2 will be coming soon!
Hoo boy, this game. This freaking game. La Mulana is an action adventure ninja archeologist in a sweet retro styled package. While other games claim retro and simply degrade their graphics but miss out on the important parts, or just rip something off, La Mulana really nails that “challenging in a fun way” that I haven’t seen in quite a while.
Lemeza Kosugi is an archaeologist taking after his father, Shawn Kosugi. Descended from a clan of Archaeologist ninjas (yes I’m being serious), Lemeza shows up to the ruins of La Mulana after his father has gone missing in the ruins. Now chasing after his father, Lemeza strives to discover the mystery behind the ruins of La Mulana, claim the Secret Treasure of Life. To do this, he must solve the puzzles that abound in the ruins, avoid the deadly traps, and defeat the guardians that protect the treasures of the ruins.
Gameplay is a wonderful throwback to ye olde NES days of platformers. You walk around, jump, and flail your whip at the largest collection of damn bats I’ve seen since that cave in Pokemon. Controls are clunky, but they’re supposed to be, and oddly enough it works well. When you jump while in motion, you’re stuck in motion. Maybe you have a little bit of leeway on the descent, but not much. If you jump straight up, you can control the descent, but you essentially lose half your jump. This control scheme is clunky, infuriating, and a real kick in the nostalgia. Played straight though, as the developers actually designed puzzles and platforming sections around this clunky control scheme, so while it can be frustrating when you make a jump and totally flub it, in the end that’s all on you.
Lemeza will acquire a large swathe of treasures throughout his journey through the ruins of La Mulana, some will help his movement, giving him a faster walking speed, or a double jump. Some will be weapons, such as an axe or a katana, or some will be sub weapons, consumable items that are generally thrown or fired as a form of ranged attack. By the end of the game, I had settled in to a play style I felt was rather comfortable, only to get kicked in the teeth by the next boss fight. No really, they start…easy, I suppose, and get progressively more ludicrous. Except baphomet, for whatever reason I crushed her despite having to spend about an hour on the previous boss. This largely sums up combat in La Mulana: adjust or get scrubbed. Common enemies can be generally dispatched with relative ease at the beginning, but by the time you hit the backside stages? You’ll be swapping gear fairly often. At least it’s super easy to adjust on the fly.
So, for an action platform, let’s talk about the puzzles. So, puzzles are a thing. They’re a thing in most games. In more recent games, puzzles are generally “here’s how you solve this” and in older games they were “check the back of the game case” (screw you metal gear solid, that was a rented copy without the cover). La Mulana takes this about seventy two steps further. It literally took me an hour to think of what to write here because I kept getting PTSD from some of the more obscure puzzles (about half of them) AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE GATE OF ILLUSION. When I first started playing La Mulana I thought it was “tricky yet fair”. And then I near the end of the game, and there’s a puzzle that I got stuck on for a solid 2 hours. I remembered reading a helpful tablet that are strewn throughout the ruins pertaining to this puzzle. The problem is these aren’t logged anywhere. Yes, you can get an item that will record text, but that isn’t helpful when you either don’t use it, or didn’t have it. The tablet was in the first freaking area. That’s almost 20 hours ago.
So here I have to point out that the puzzles are infuriatingly obscure most of the time, often leading you to yell “WHAT THE BALLS” loud enough to scare the neighbours (true story). The bosses are tough. The platforming is brutal. Everything about this game is designed to slap you upside the face. La Mulana pulls no punches. Or rather, it does because it’s winding up to punch you in the gut hard enough to have you coughing blood for a week. And I loved La Mulana for it. Not the blood, the gut punching. That may have come out wrong, but I digress. The game is fun. Tough fun, but fun nonetheless. Here’s a wonderful tip from someone who literally threw something in anger: get grid paper and a notebook. Make your own map, mark everything in a room, the room name, and write down what the tablets say. Pay attention to the backgrounds of the tablets. Save after a tough puzzle or boss, even if it means a bunch of backtracking. Biggest point: try your hardest not to use a guide. The fun is in the challenge.
Now, I’ve often said that a soundtrack can really make or break a game, but shouldn’t define the title. La Mulana takes the same approach to music as it did with their puzzles: go hard or go home. The soundtrack is really great, each BGM matching the area and boss it’s associated with, they sound great, and most importantly: they still sound good even with the retro style the game is gunning for. I highly suggest giving the soundtrack a listen.
As a remake of the original game released in 2005, the graphics have gotten one heck of an upgrade, and even some of the puzzles have been revamped slightly. One unsolvable puzzle is now solvable, with a major punishment if you don’t actually solve it. The big change really is the graphics though as they’ve gotten a major overhaul. While still maintaining the retro feel, everything still looks nice. Special mention goes to the fact that every area is based off real life ruins that you could actually pick up a book from your local library and learn about.