La – Mulana – Review (Nintendo Switch)

Title: La – Mulana
Genre: Platform, Adventure
System: Nintendo Switch (also on PC, PS vita PS4 and Xbox one)
Developer|Publisher: Nigoro |NIS America
Age Rating: EU 12+| US Teen
Price: UK £13.49| EU € 14,99 | AU $ 22.50|CA $ 19.83| US $ 14.99
Release Date: 20th March 2020

When I was a young boy, smaller, more handsome and innocent, my parents brought a computer known as the Amstrad. The reason for this was so that my father and mother could process accounts from home. What it ended up being was the first gaming machine I would enjoy with my mother and brothers. From there a lifelong video game passion was born.

One of the many MSX models

La – Mulana is a game that takes us back to this time when micro computers ruled the gaming earth. Originally released as a love letter to the MSX computer which was very popular in Japan and certain areas of Europe. This title was originally released in 2005 on PC, it had the graphics, sounds and gameplay of the MSX. Years later the game got a full remake made from the ground up with new graphics, sound and gameplay tweeks. While it has already been available on PC, PS Vita and Wii (provided you downloaded it before the Nintendo store shut down on the system) La – Mulana now makes its way to modern consoles.

So it’s time to head into some ruins and see how this title fares.

Enter the Ruins

You play as Lemeza Kosugi who looks a lot like a famous archaeologist from movies and games of that year. I actually thought ‘Rick Dangerous’ before Indiana Jones but that’s just me. He’s on the hunt for the secret treasure in the ruins of La – Mulana. Fortunately you’re not completely alone. At the start of the game, provided you search in the tents, you’ll come across an old man who says he will email you to give you hints and tips as you explore the massive map of Mulana. He also adds quite a bit of the games humor, showing the developers witty side, which made me chuckle on multiple occasions. You’ll spend a lot of time returning to this area in the game as there’s a hot spring to the left that will completely heal you and additional tents with items for sale that you’ll need to conquer the ruins.

La Mulana no afraid to show its funny side

From the get go you are quite free to go wherever you want. Of course many areas will be gated off by locks or giant enemies you just can’t kill yet. La – Mulana requires a lot of exploration and paying close attention to the environment. At the start of the game you can purchase a ‘hand scanner’ which is essential to read various tablets and wall marks in the game, doing so for some will solve puzzles and open chests. It’s one of those games where it will really help you out to read the manual first before starting, like the old days. This is still available on the developers website here.

Where to begin?

Jumping Troubles

La – Mulana controls well but with just a few issues. The first being the jumping.  If you fall of a ledge but press right or left you will still just plummet straight down rather than continue to move in your preferred direction. So instead you need to jump up first and then move. Additionally there is an item in the game which helps you cling to walls which became a hindrance at times. During some of the many challenging boss fights I was trying to get my character to jump up to a new ledge but if I wasn’t spot on he would cling to the side of the ledge instead which lead to some frustrating deaths. Once this ability is acquired you have no way to switch it off, you just make sure your spot on with your control inputs.

one wrong step and you could fall into a trap

Prepare for a Challenge

You will quickly discover La – Mulana is a very difficult game both in its gameplay and puzzle solving. Death can come quick and easy. Enemies can be a pain, especially those darn bats, until you find an item later that makes that much more bearable. Bosses are punishing and often require you to repeat them again and again to learn their patterns until you finally conquer them. There are also traps in the game. Death defying spikes on your head, getting squished on a wall and various other nasty ways to die quickly. The developers expect you to die a lot and learn from it. Most importantly respect the ruins. Fortunately save points are not too far away and I did notice there is zero load times when you recall to a save point or checkpoint which is just lovely.

Death can come pretty quickly especially on boss fights

On doing some background reading the developers wanted you to feel like a archaeologist when entering the ruins. Meaning you should take your time and explore everything pay very close attention to changes and not be reckless. The puzzles in this title are convoluted and brutal. But are very rewarding to the player when you’ve figured them out. I won’t lie: I needed to look up the solution on multiple occasions to see how to progress. Had I not done that, this review may not be ready for another year. Also, there’s no shame in asking for help.

Puzzles can be complex. Also this enemy looks like its attacking you with poop.

As you progress you will unlock multiple items, which will grant you new abilities to access new areas that you couldn’t access before. Also there are new weapons as well as software for your laptop, which will give you additional tools in your options menu to help your quest. It felt like a light bulb just dazzled in my head when I finally found the one item to get to the area I visited before, several rooms back. The map in this game though is utterly enormous so it’s very easy to get lost. Once again you’re required to really give this game your full attention and not something you just dip in and out of occasionally. Characters in the game will give tips if you’re really stuck but for me, that sometimes meant reaching for the guide again. The game also features multiple secrets to discover so expect hidden walls, switches all sorts. I often discovered secrets by accident but felt pretty good when I found them.

There are several items to discover and aid you in your quest

Looks and Sounds of the Past

I love the graphical style of La – Mulana. Characters are this cute retro inspired sprites while the backgrounds, enemies and bosses have this more realistic style, making it this odd mash up of cute and horror which I just dug. The sprite work detail did not go unnoticed. I love how your character holds his hat when he jumps. Also when you pause the game his idle animation is him eating what looks like a bowl of noodles then when he’s done he falls asleep which made me chuckle (you may want to remember this happening to solve a puzzle in the game).

There is also a catchy orchestral soundtrack which was quite the treat for the ears. The developers also featured the original soundtrack inspired by the MSX should you want to switch over. Despite revisiting the same areas again and again, I did not tire of the soundtrack. In fact hearing the soundtrack that plays when you return to the surface to heal up or buy more equipment felt like a celebration each time.

Cute retro character meet scary mini boss

Summing it all up

La – Mulana is a game that is designed with great care and attention by its developers. Clearly a lot of thought and hard work has gone into designing this title. So much so it does require a lot from its audience.

This is not really a game you can simply bounce off, play something else and come back to later. I personally feared if I did this I would loose my place in the game and forget where I was. You need to be in La – Mulana for the long haul and that’s going to be easily over 20 hours through. You will die a lot, get lost a lot and go through several cups of coffee in the process (or equivalent beverage) but for the dedicated gamer there is something truly special and rewarding here.

It took me back to the micro computer days in just the right way that I didn’t want to completely quit on it. The fact that I preserved through it must mean I had fun, right? Once this game sunk its teeth into me I was utterly hooked. Yes, I got mad, frustrated but I kept getting called back. That won’t be the same for everyone but to me it means I liked it, a lot.

Final Verdict: I liked it a lot


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