Review-in-Progress: La Mulana
by Alex Balderas
It’s good. La Mulana is really good. What else can I say?
I’m really surprised by it, actually. I’ve known about the freeware version of La Mulana for a long time, but it never occurred to me to try it. In some way, I had always been caught up with how good Cave Story was, and in my mind I figured it was the only freeware game that could be so great, when in fact I should have thought in the complete opposite direction. Now that I’ve played the PC version of La Mulana’s remake for over 10 hours, I’m blown away by how much I’m enjoying it.
So what’s it about? Exploration, Action, and Puzzles. It’s actually awfully similar to a Metroidvania game — a real Metroidvania game, I mean. I’m talking about Aria of Sorrow or Harmony of Dissonance; La Mulana is a lot like those games, if they had been made for the SNES or the PC Engine. In genreal, the flow of the game is like this: you enter the ruins, explore a bit, learn some clues, solve some puzzles, kill some enemies, and find entrances to other areas deeper into the ruins. You then choose whether you want to go exploring those other areas, or whether you stay in your area to solve more puzzles and eventually beat the guardian of that area. With the items you have acquired, you go and explore other areas of the game, use the clues you’ve read earlier to solve more puzzles, acquire better weapons, fight more difficult bosses, and discover even more areas. There are a lot of areas, and you’re going to have to explore them all.
In more general terms, I can say the pacing is spot on. You seem to always be getting new clues, using previous clues to solve new puzzles, and finding new items. Encounters with bosses are fairly rare and very difficult to get to, but it only makes it more cathartic to find them. Furthermore, these bosses are so freaking hard you’re going to really feel accomplished for beating them — especially if you don’t abuse secondary weapons like shurikens and instead opt for the good old whip…or even the knife (look at you, mr. badass).
If there is one thing I can complain about the game at this point, it’s this: it’s freaking hard! I’m not talking so much about the combat as I am talking about the puzzles. There have been many times where I’ve found myself at a dead end, and had to backtrack (later in the game, fortunately, warp) to previous locations to look for missing clues or maybe a semi-hidden area that is now accessible with some recently acquired item (thankfully, backtracking is not very time-consuming itself, as the areas become much easier to traverse with items you acquire later in the game, as well as shortcuts you open). Right now, as a matter of fact, I have absolutely no idea where to go next. Just for some context about my own abilities (which I am now questioning), I am the kind of guy that has played every Metroid and Metroidvania out there, and has been more than fairly proficient at all of them. I thought that was something to brag about, but now this game is humbling me more than I imagined it ever would. Like I said earlier, though, the combat itself is not so difficult. It is fairly easy to die from getting caught into a merciless trap, or perhaps from wandering into the wrong area before being prepared (or into the wrong boss, like I learned form my 10+ deaths at the hands-fins of Bahamut), but in general it’s very manageable thanks to the warp mechanic and the hot spring to the left of the base camp.
At any rate, I’m ready to jump straight back into the game, so stay tuned for the upcoming full-review sometime tomorrow – or the day after, depending on how more difficult the game gets.