By Leah McDonald / April 8th, 2020
You can read a review of the WiiWare version of LA-MULANA here.
As a general rule, I don’t usually play the precision platformer/super difficult adventure style games. I’ve been slowly working my way through Ori and the Blind Forest, but for the most part, I’ve been happy not really tackling this specific sub genre of platformer. Then LA-MULANA got a re-release on Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, along with a sequel, and in my infinite wisdom, I said I’d play through the first game. It was as much an attempt to play something outside my general wheelhouse as it was to help out oprainfall, and for the most part, I’d say it was a choice well-made, despite the copious amount of frustration I’ve experienced over the last week.
Let me, then, regale you with the tale of how I absolutely and utterly suck at this game, but love it nonetheless.
LA-MULANA is, at its heart, a puzzle-platformer adventure (the game labels itself an Archaeological Ruin Exploration Action Game). Summoned by your father to LA-MULANA, the supposed birthplace of all civilization, you play as Professor Lemeza Kosugi, an archaeologist in search of the Secret Treasure of Life. Venturing into the ancient ruins, you find an assortment of culturally-significant architecture, from Egyptian statues to Celtic crosses to Sumerian deities. Scattered among the ruins are both traps and puzzles, as well as an assortment of beasts trying their best to keep you from finding out the secrets hidden within.
The game is notoriously difficult, with precision platforming, floaty jumping, dead ends, tough bosses, and a knock-back that makes Castlevania blush. It is exactly the kind of game I tend to avoid, and it has been kicking my ass.
To be fair to myself, I’ve played for roughly nine hours, and have yet to use a guide. Every puzzle I’ve solved and boss I’ve defeated I’ve done using my own ingenuity and ability (minimal as it is). The puzzle solving itself is great and by far my favorite aspect of the game. Puzzle games, riddles, and similar brain-teasers are my jam, and I get immense satisfaction when I hear that conch shell sound that tells me I solved a room’s secret. Working out the statue puzzle in the Mausoleum of the Giants, specifically, was a super fun achievement, considering it involved old-school writing down the clues to reference later in the dungeon. Everything I needed the game provided; I just had to piece it together.
Difficulty is obviously subjective, but when it comes to the boss fights in LA-MULANA, they are the bane of my existence. I was able to beat Amphisbaena and Sakit relatively easily (mainly because I had ammo for the gun), but the same cannot be said for Bahamut in the Spring in the Sky or Ellmac in the Temple of the Sun. Dodging their attacks and still being able to get close enough to attack are proving harder than I care to admit. I played a free review copy on my Switch, and it is lucky I generally play it docked so I didn’t throw it across the room.
Even maneuvering around the regular enemies can sometimes drive me nuts (bats and fish can seriously go to hell, I hate them so much). The Twin Labyrinths has given me an ulcer trying to navigate, and from the brief visit I had to the Inferno Cavern I can tell they’re gonna infuriate me, too.
What has kept me going despite all the deaths, though, is uncovering the story. I’m a sucker for mythology and ancient cultures, and having them interwoven the way LA-MULANA does to create one epic creation story has me coming back for more every time. Each bit of the story I uncover pulls me deeper into this world. Discovering the Temple of Moonlight was when this game truly captured my heart, and I’m determined to see it through to the end. (Though I have the feeling I will eventually need to turn to a guide, despite my best efforts.)
Another stellar aspect of the game so far is the music. I don’t think there’s a single track I’ve disliked the entire game. Both the original chiptune versions and the updated orchestral tracks are the perfect accompaniment to traversing ancient ruins, or just sitting back and listening to on their own.
Speaking of updates, the game itself, which uses the graphics from the 2011 remake, looks gorgeous. I love the sprite work, and the detail in each room in the ruins makes puzzles easy to work out once you know what you’re doing. There are so many fun details, from murals and carvings to just the color palette. Each dungeon in the ruins has a distinct design, with cues from real architecture. Whether the Switch is docked or in handheld mode, the game is beautiful to look at. It runs perfectly smooth, too, which is great when it comes to dodging those @&%#*#$& bats.
LA-MULANA has been a test of skill, ingenuity, and patience. It’s completely outside my wheelhouse, but I don’t regret picking it up. Despite all the frustration, I am seriously enjoying myself, and I’m glad I decided to challenge myself – and even more appreciative that the folks here at oprainfall gave me the chance to bang my head against it for your entertainment. Tackling this game has given me a new appreciation for the sub genre in general, and I can see myself taking more detours into this gaming corner in the future. I just hope there’s less bats next time.
LA-MULANA 1 and 2 collection is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Each console has a Hidden Treasures edition, which comes with the physical game, The Tomb of LA-MULANA Art Book, LA-MULANA 1 and 2 Archaeological Anthems 2-disc soundtrack, Siesta in the Ruins jigsaw puzzle, and an Expedition Kit collector’s box for $60. Both games are also available as digital downloads for $15 for LA-MULANA 1 and $25 for LA-MULANA 2.
action platformeraction puzzle gameLa-MulanaNIGORONIS America