Mulaka (Switch eShop) Review
There are few experiences in my gaming history that have caused as much internal conflict as Mulaka. When the game was first announced back in August of last year, it seemed like a sure thing; it had a beautiful art style, a fascinating premise, and gameplay that looked both refined and engaging. When I first got my hands on the game, however, it seemed a little… rough around the edges. That roughness has consisted throughout the entirety of my playthrough, and on the surface, that might sound like a bad thing. But I can honestly say that my time with Mulaka has been nothing short of gleeful and breathtaking — though I can’t say the experience will be the same for everyone.
Let’s start with the basics. Mulaka is an action-adventure in which you play as a Sukuruame, a mystical shaman of the indigenous Tarahumara people of northern Mexico, as he wanders the lands, searching for a way to put an end to an evil blight that threatens to poison the world. It’s a game that wears its Tarahumaran influences on its sleeve, with each and every moment in the game inspired by the myths and legends of an immensely fascinating culture. Mexican developers Lienzo have put in every effort to make Mulaka as educational and respectful as it is engaging, and the sheer amount of passion on show is astonishing and inspiring.
Mulaka is split up into several maps, or stages, with each stage featuring a new and different landscape, from a desert to a forest, and even the spirit world. The progression through each stage is somewhat open, with exploration encouraged and even necessary to progress, but you’ll find the game hitting a lot of the same beats no matter which stage you’re in. In short, you have to find three idols, bring them to a gate, and then face off against the boss, before talking to a deity to gain new powers and moving onto the next stage. It’s a fairly straightforward process, but the game manages to keep things feeling fresh by changing up the ways in which you earn idols. Sometimes you’ll simply have to reach a far-off area, while others will see you solving moderately complex puzzles. It’s a solid system, and while simple, it offers enough to keep you engaged throughout the story.
The powers you gain from defeating bosses also offer a small amount of extra playtime, as most unlock previously unreachable areas in prior stages. For example, the first power you gain gives you the ability to transform into a bird, which lets you fly across chasms and reap the rewards on the other side. Unfortunately, the only rewards on offer are a type of currency used for upgrading your health and ability points, and the currency can be easily obtained in other ways like defeating enemies, which makes returning to previous areas less important.
Combat itself is where the game starts to show its rough side. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the combat system is clunky enough to get frustrating in some of the bigger fights. It’s fine if you’re only facing off against one or two enemies, but when you throw a few more baddies into the mix, you end up facing more than a few cheap deaths, as enemies quickly overwhelm you. There is a fair amount of diversity in enemies though, with some requiring just a few light swipes, others requiring heavy hits or a thrown spear, and some even needing a combination of all three. Thankfully, there is a system in place to teach you how to deal with each enemy type, with the first encounter of a new enemy giving the option to scan it for a few tips and tricks.
It’s unfortunate, then, that so much of the game requires combat to progress. There are other little annoyances too, like the gyro aiming for spear throwing getting in the way of finer movements with the analogue sticks, and health recovery being both interruptible and taking a very long time. They’re all minor issues on their own, but when combined they quite often resulted in me having to just put the game down for a while and come back later when I wasn’t so frustrated. The exception to this is the boss fights, which stand out from other fights by being a mixture of puzzle-solving and straightforward combat, with just the right difficulty curve to provide a memorable and enjoyable bookend to each chapter.
For everything Mulaka gets wrong though, it gets a lot right too. As mentioned earlier, the art direction is nothing short of gorgeous, with its simple, low-poly models bursting with colour and personality, and cutscenes are made up of a series of beautifully painted greyscale scenes. The soundtrack, too, is an excellent backing track for the explorative focus of the game, with simple yet powerful rhythms punctuated superbly by an incredible range of unique instrumentation. It’s hard not to fall in love with just how much style and depth Mulaka exudes in its presentation.
Despite its flaws in some aspects, Lienzo’s passion shines through in every aspect of Mulaka. It’s far from perfect, and not everybody will be able to look past those flaws, but those who can will find a diamond in the rough.
+ Rich with Tarahumara culture
+ Gorgeous art and music direction
+ Amazing boss fights
- Combat can be frustrating
- Not much reason to revisit past areas
- Generally rough around the edges