Modern games today have become obsessed with accessibility: Littered with tutorial prompts, guiding arrows dictating where to go, and the current objective jarringly flashing on screen. La-Mulana looks to jump back a few generations when these trends weren’t the norm.
Initially designed to imitate the look and feel of games on the old MSX systems, this remake has enhanced the color pallet and sprite resolutions from the original Japanese version (released in 2005) while keeping the old retro-style difficulty intact. Starting a new game throws you right into La-Mulana’s two-dimensional open world with no indication of where to go and little back story on the main character Lemenza, besides the notion that he’s prepared to explore the ruins of La-Mulana. From the beginning it’s emphasized that it’s up to Lemenza to explore and scrutinize the surrounding areas for clues on how to progress. It creates an experience that may be intimidating for some, while other experienced and patient gamers looking for a challenge will find it refreshing.
One could accurately sum up La-Mulana as a puzzle adventure-platformer, and it wonderfully blends the genres together. While Lemenza is able to explore a good portion of the ruins initially, certain paths only become accessible as various power-ups and other items are obtained via solving puzzles or defeating bosses. The puzzles aren’t presented in any particular way, but rather are integrated seamlessly into parts of the ruins. Practically every interconnected screen the player travels through has some secret to be unearthed once a section of the ruin is solved.
The puzzles themselves range from breaking a funny-looking wall to some challenging riddles that obliges every explorer to keep their thinking fedora on. Throughout the ruins you will find tablets that are etched with history, hints, and pictures to assist in this process, however unless you’re gifted with a photographic memory, get ready to pull out your notepad and jot them down along with the locations of anything of particular interest. You’ll often stumble across sections in the ruin that can only be solved later by acquiring something in a completely different area, which can be easily forgotten.
The movement and physics aren’t designed to give Lemenza a lot of finesse while airborne, so jumping becomes a small commitment to the direction you’re moving. Because of this, mastering “half-jumps” becomes a necessity to land on small platforms throughout the ruins. This plays well with the general pacing in La-Mulana where twitch reflexes aren’t as important as calculated movements, all while still demanding a certain level of execution. Because you will traverse screens vertically almost as much as you do horizontally, expect to encounter plenty of frustrating ladders. You have to start climbing these hellish ladders from the bottom or top, and you’re unable to cling to them mid-jump. Lemenza is unable to manually jump off ladders, but has no problem being flung off them by any damn flying bat that happens to collide with him, sending him tumbling to the ground.
Progress throughout the game is noted through the power-ups, weapons, and other items Lemenza collects. Some minor grinding for gold is present, but overall the economy scales well over time and you likely won’t find yourself with either a huge stockpile of gold or so broke you can’t afford a required item in a shop. Weapons are broken into two categories, main and sub-weapons, and all of them do a decent job in serving some purpose in the game, particularly against certain bosses.
And oh yes, the bosses (and sub-bosses) in La-Mulana are surely no joke. They’re definitely on par with the adversity in the rest of the game. The boss difficulty however, unfortunately derives from their vulnerable points being so picky and hard to hit. You have to be so precise in hitting these weak points that the game feels broken during these fights. It’s so noticeably bad I found these hit-boxes on some bosses to be the one outstanding blemish on an otherwise polished game. As mentioned, there are particular weapons that help greatly against certain bosses, and perhaps it was designed this way so to make those weapons serve their purpose, but there really isn’t any indication or hints towards this that I found within the game.
La-Mulana at its core is a solid platformer that feels familiar to other games of its kind. I didn’t find myself interested in learning the history of the La-Mulana ruins or the premise in general, which is presented in small snippets throughout the adventure. The selling point really lies within the gameplay and the sense of accomplishment when solving the challenging brain teasers. There will plenty of instances where progression will halt until you find and solve the next puzzle, but if you’re up for a daunting challenge, there are some notable nuances that will make La-Mulana a memorable game.
La-Mulana was provided for review by Playism. It is available on Wii Ware and Steam.