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La-Mulana (Switch) Review

by Neal Ronaghan - March 10, 2020, 10:00 am PDT
Total comments: 3

7

If you think Hollow Knight or Dark Souls is child’s play, have I got a game for you.

As I get older, I find myself coming across video games that I wish I played during a different time in my life, back in an era where I had more time and found more enjoyment in very difficult video games. Whether it was endlessly replaying Ninja Gaiden on NES until I could beat it on the regular, or more recently keeping a notebook to puzzle out the mysteries of 2012’s Fez, I’ve found a lot of joy in losing myself in those games. To that end, I wish I played La Mulana when the remake hit WiiWare and PC in 2012, because while I appreciate the depth and wonderment nestled in Nigoro’s MSX-influenced masterpiece, it didn’t coalesce into something I found quite as enjoyable in 2020.

In La Mulana, the name of the game is difficulty. You will die in this game. A lot. You play as Indiana Jones-esque archaeologist Lemeza as he journeys through a variety of ruins and tombs. Each of the areas are distinct and sizable. The deeper I journeyed into La Mulana, the more absurd the number of locations was. This is a long game, likely to take an average player somewhere in the ballpark of 25 to 40 hours (and even more if you go for full completion).

That journey takes cues from the Metroidvania style of gameplay, as Lemeza searches for items that open up new areas, comes across diabolical bosses, and stumbles upon oodles of secrets. A few of the puzzles are insanely trying, essentially requiring note-taking and out-of-the-box thinking, but for the most part, I found the discovery and exploration of this world clever and enjoyable (though I do recommend having a guide on hand to prevent ultimate frustration; I highly recommend this hint-based guide). When the challenging puzzle-solving was fused with the unforgiving nature of the rest of the game, be it combat, platforming, or otherwise, that’s when La Mulana swiftly crossed the line from mystique to exasperation. It’s very easy to lose significant chunks of progress while exploring. Getting lost in these ruins is something that will become second-nature by the late stages. I fully recognize that stern challenge is for a lot of people; hell, it was likely for me for a handful of years. However, it is not something I found nearly as enjoyable now. La Mulana is punishing and hard on another plane of existence when compared to the likes of Dark Souls or Hollow Knight.

La Mulana is a smashing success in what it attempts to do. It’s a diabolical and lavishly-layered set of ancient ruins that will test your video game skills physically and mentally. I respect the hell out of this commitment to brusque, difficult game design. At the same time, I’m exhausted after playing so much La Mulana. It’s overall a breathtaking game, but it’s clearly not something for everyone and as I found out, it’s not for the 2020 version of me. Now, introduce time travel and 2012 me is probably super into this game. But I can only confidently recommend those who want the sternest of retro-fueled gameplay challenges tackle this behemoth.

Summary

Pros
  • Great MSX-inspired presentation and design
  • Jam-packed with secrets and mysteries
Cons
  • Punishingly difficult
  • Seriously: it’s very unforgiving

Talkback

Darth AsterixMarch 10, 2020

I love puzzle games. I love escape rooms. I love out of the box thinking.

This game INFURIATES me. It's violently obtuse to the point of being categorically unfun to me. And it's not like it eases you in and the ramps up or anything, it's a brick wall from the first level of the game.

It's some people's cup of tea, I get that, and that's fine. But I got it on Steam for $5 at the recommendation of a friend, and it wound up being $5 too much.

ejamerMarch 10, 2020

I disagree with Darth Asterix, only to the point that the first two or three levels are difficult but not what I would call "violently obtuse".  However... maybe that's because I saw just how crazy the game gets in later stages and am grading on a scale? The opening stages certainly aren't easy.

My advice to anyone who starts playing: You are probably best off to explore parts of several different areas, going back and forth whenever you get stuck instead of trying to brute force your way through a section that stumps you. That will often let you get some power-ups or help teach you new tricks about the ruins that can be useful in other areas.

However, after you get deep enough in the game does become "violently obtuse". There are some puzzles I never would have solved without looking up the answer online. Still, I enjoyed the game immensely and found it extremely rewarding whenever I could solve a puzzle instead of relying on walkthroughs. My biggest complaint is probably that a few of the bosses were just too challenging for my liking... I enjoyed the puzzles and exploration more than the combat most of the time.

ClexYoshiMarch 12, 2020

You know, when NIS Announced these switch ports, I thought about talking to you guys about writing up reviews as a freelance guest writer here. :P

Honestly though, Neal, I would have even suggested to time traveling you to play the 2007 freeware game on PC. this game blew my college freshman mind. La Mulana is one of my all-time favorite games, as long-time community members infamously may know. I love La Mulana so much that I ran an entirely grassroots knocking-on-doors political campaign to see La Mulana played for Retroactive for the telethon one year.


Funnily enough, I ragequit Hollow Knight when the Godseeker stuff and Nightmare Grimm came up in my playthrough. that stuff is a million times more punishing than any of the combat in either La Mulana title, because I felt like I just simply did not have the hand-eye coordination to handle the speeds unto which some of the optional bosses ask of you,e ven when you give yourself every advantage the game offers you.

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Game Profile

Genre Action
Developer Nigoro
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: La Mulana 1 & 2
Release Mar 17, 2020
PublisherNIS America
RatingTeen
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