Publisher: EnjoyUp Games
Release Date: September 20th, 2012
Genre: Platformer / Action-Adventure
Price: 1,000 Wii Points
The most effective way to measure how “weaksauce” gamers have become as a result of modern luxuries is to create something that perfectly emulates the tough-as-nails games of the past. I cannot imagine someone who is used to playing Action-Adventure games like Uncharted 3 being able to cope in the world of the late eighties, where there were no GameFAQs or conveniently cataloged Youtube “Let’s Play!” videos. I grew up in an era where drawing maps and jotting down passwords and clues were commonplace, where “trial & error” was more commonly referred to as “dying a thousand times [this is no exaggeration] until you learn”.
La-Mulana, a game centered around ancient ruins, the secret of life, and a rich history—is in and of itself a slice of history. Playing through this game is the same as effectively stepping into a time machine and transporting yourself back to a world where little to no conventions were followed, and a player found purpose in exploring a seemingly boundless place while seeing that game over screen…over and over again.
Lemeza Kosugi was so inspired by Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade that he decided to explore some ancient ruins in search of his father and…you know…the secret to all life. The game’s plot, characterization, and ambiance borrow from Lucas and Spielberg, to be honest, but it is certainly a much more refreshing take than anything those two could come up with for Indiana Jones 5.
Far more interesting than the focus and themes of the story, in my opinion, are the ways in which a handful of characters interact with Lemeza. When playing through La-Mulana, you must keep in mind that it is meant to parody the MSX computer games of the 1980s, so…the dialogue is meant to be absolutely ridiculous at times. For example, if you walk out of a shop without buying something, its owner will scream: YOU’RE NOT BUYING?! OH HELL NAW, IMMA TEAR YOU APART!!!! Each character, whether major or minor, is absolutely full of classic one-lines to keep you laughing as you make your way through the game.
Rather than finding a cut-and-dry approach to describing the gameplay of La-Mulana, I’ll just offer a list of the things that happened to me as I explored the game’s first major area (from what I gathered, there are eight of them, but there could be even more from places I left unexplored!):
I took down a snake that was about my size with a single swing of my whip.
I was absolutely clobbered by a beast six times my size with that same whip in toe.
I pressed down switches with weights to solve complex puzzles.
I read an epitaph that said, “If you read this again, you will die”…then I died.
And while haphazardly exploring the ruins and whipping walls just because I could, I was struck by lightning from the heavens for doing so.
Do I have your attention? I thought so. Allow me to go a little more into detail before moving on: La-Mulana does nothing to offer the player a tutorial when the game begins. You’re responsible for figuring things out on your own. I’ll do a little bit of explaining for you by telling you you’ll need to purchase a hand-scanner, glyph reader, and some weights in order to begin exploring the ruins properly. The game’s approach to solving puzzles usually involves reading a tombstone or scanning a pile of dead bones in order to find clues to the puzzle in a particular room, then use weights and wit to solve said puzzle. And if you try to solve the puzzle without first addressing the tombstone or bones, the game will strike you with lightning until you LEARN YOUR PLACE. This game doesn’t care about you or your skill-level. If you don’t follow what little rules it sets, you will be barbequed. A lot.
That said, it is important to keep in mind that there is no established “way” to beat La-Mulana. Even though the game only has one ending, there’s a zillion ways to get there, because the entire game is open to you. Collecting the game’s various weapons (whips, knives, ninja-stars, a pistol, a helmet so you can traverse waterfalls easier, etc) and power-ups will allow you to explore more areas (similar to Metroid or Zelda, in that respect), but really—don’t run to GameFAQs expecting everyone to tell you the same thing. As soon as I realized what kind of game this was, I made a point to pretend the Internet didn’t exist—and I’ve never felt more accomplished as a gamer for doing so. Even though there’s not much story or philosophical payoff in La-Mulana, this is definitely one of those cases where the journey is the reward.
Visuals are quite impressive. Its graphics are hardly a work of art, but they have their charm, and some of the environments are genuinely fun to explore for the look they give off. Enemies and characters are tiny, while boss characters are insanely huge and intimidating. I believe the game’s developer said it best: La-Mulana tends to use giant, menacing monsters to tell you where you can and cannot go…instead of those harmless walls. Who needs walls when you can have a giant?
The soundtrack is simply amazing, especially for someone like me who digs the chiptunes of the 80s and 90s just as much as the fully orchestrated soundtracks of today’s masterpieces. For those of you familiar with the PC version and its music—the music from the WiiWare version is definitely improved, not ruined (in my opinion). That being said, the WiiWare version of the game is my first La-Mulana experience; I don’t have any fond memories associated with the PC version to be ruined by this (only slightly) more advanced soundtrack. In terms of appearance and sound, the WiiWare version of La-Mulana is like a 16bit era / SNES version of the PC game that seems best suited to the NES / 8bit era.
La-Mulana is the perfect emulation of a game that “old” gamers like me remember fondly. It has enough challenge and charm to be considered a brand new take on an outdated play-style. Gamers who yearned for the way things were (like me) will honestly feel right at home.
I CAN ONLY OFFER CAUTION TO THE REST OF YOU: This game is not “difficult” in the sense that the enemies and basic gameplay elements will prove too much of a challenge for you. But this game’s dungeons are gigantic, and there are no boundaries and no fairy sidekick to tell you what to do or where to go. When I made my way through the first dungeon of the game and beat its boss, I couldn’t help thinking I should review this game harshly because almost everyone who plays something like this is immediately going to panic, then scurry to go look up FAQs or Youtube videos to hold their hand.
I’ve explored everything I can. I realize there is a clearly defined beginning and end to La-Mulana, but everything in between is largely up to you. This game is history in its own right, and it’s proven I’m a much more “hardcore” gamer than I ever possibly imagined.