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.