Saturday, March 3

Review: Mulaka [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Video games have an unusual power in storytelling, immersing and engaging the player fully in their worlds provides a unique opportunity. Traditionally that space has been filled with unique characters and environments created by the developer, but that isn’t to say it couldn’t instead be a product of existing lore from various cultures. That’s the path that the people at Lienzo have taken, and it provides Mulaka with a very different look, feel, and soul that are worth experiencing.

Taking its inspiration from the cultural lore of the Tarahumara tribe of Northern Mexico, you play a sort of warrior shaman who is trying to fight back an encroaching evil. To do this he’ll need to journey through several lands, slaying a surprisingly wide variety of enemies along the way, defeating formidable beasts, and then gaining the favor and aid of demigods who will grant him transformations and powers. Along the way another key to your success will be learning new potions that you’ll be able to use for both offensive and defensive purposes. To keep these topped up you’ll need to keep an eye out for clusters of the plants you need to craft them but fortunately the game does a great job of making sure they’re generally plentiful if you’re willing to leg it out a little every once in a while.

In general you’ll find that you’ll need them as there are periodic stone circles you’ll enter that challenge you with a battle arena of sorts against a variety of enemy types. As you progress and encounter more varieties of foes the combinations of what you’ll face will continue to evolve and you’ll need to get good at prioritizing your most dangerous adversaries first, especially ones that are able to stun you. With both quick and strong attacks, a spear throw, and an effective dash attack, while your repertoire isn’t terribly extensive when you use it well you can be quite formidable. In order to throw you a curveball, and reinforce the spiritual roots of the game’s lore, you also have the power to see things on the mystical plane. Certain enemies and elements either only exist here or can slip out of your normal sight so you’ll need to keep shifting over to be sure you’re not missing anything. As an added benefit this view will also highlight the direction and distance to anything of importance so when you feel lost it can be very helpful.

Where the game stumbles quite a bit is when it begins to incorporate precision too much into the mix, particularly when it comes to platforming. I’m not sure if it is related to the art style or something to do with the hitboxes on elements being just a bit off but there are times where you’ll fail on a particular task and visually you can’t quite tell what you’re doing wrong. Most of the time I found this to be an issue when trying to fly from platform to platform in your bird form. Some of the spots you’ll need to land on are pretty small and trying to see where you’re going and then understand precisely where you’ll land as you fight with the camera a bit can be a bit maddening. I had some issues in a few fights with more formidable bosses as well where I’d need to dodge or engage them in a certain way and until I worked out the trick of it I’d continually get hit or be unable to do what needed to be done, though in terms of what I could see it felt as if what I was doing should have worked. Again, with some experimentation and persistence these issues can be worked out but they can throw you for a loop when you hit them.

Taking it all in Mulaka is an attempt to do something fascinating, to use a video game as a vehicle for helping to preserve cultural history, and then manages to turn it into a compelling gaming experience. Rather than ending up being held back by using this as its base the folks at Lienzo have blended it together in a balanced way to be sure it serves all interests effectively. The result is an exploration of culture through a very competently made game. I look forward to seeing how they proceed from here after this promising start.

Score: 8

  • Diverse and creative enemy design
  • Combat is generally engaging and satisfying
  • Plenty of opportunities for exploration
  • Some challenging boss fights
  • Platforming segments can be awkward and frustrating in places
  • Some collision detection in big fights can seem off

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