Review: LA-MULANA EX (PlayStation Vita)

LA-MULANA EX: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation Vita 2,429 views 2 likes 8 comments
Reviewed by Tom Bond, posted Mar 9, 2015
Mar 9, 2015
  • Release Date (NA): March 3, 2015
  • Release Date (EU): March 4, 2015
  • Publisher: Rising Star Games
  • Developer: Pygmy Studio
  • Genres: 2D Action-Adventure, Puzzle Platformer
  • Also For: Computer, Nintendo Wii
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
LA-MULANA EX is a remake of a 2005 PC game released in Japan. Created as a throwback game to the old MSX days of gaming and featuring an Indiana Jones imitation main character, LA-MULANA EX is what every old school Indiana Jones game could hope to be.
Tom Bond

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 What is this, a time machine? 

Yes. Yes it is. LA MULANA EX is a remake of an old Windows game released in Japan back in 2005. The game got a remake in 2012, was also released as a Wiiware title in 2012, and now it’s reaching portable audiences with this new PS Vita port. LA MULANA EX is a 2d side scroller/action adventure/platformer that is basically a throwback to old MSX/retro games; the entire game is basically based on graphics and gameplay from old MSX games, and as a small tribute the game features an  MSX “laptop” that acts as an in-game item along with various ROM cartridges that are used as various plugins and items in game, including and email app you start with, a music player, translators, and even “miracle” programs that help guide you in your quest for treasure along the way..

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As with many old style 2D adventure games, LA MULANA EX features multiple upgrades, items and weapons, with the main character initially starting with only a whip. And also similar to old style games, LA MULANA is also extremely difficult. Like, “I would rather play Demon’s Souls blind than play this game with a walkthrough” hard. Most enemies throughout the levels are pretty easy to get through, but the traps and “puzzles” get so annoying and so consistent that you will be resetting your game all day every day. Luckily, there are save points available at the beginning of most new "levels" in the temple you explore, and there’s a nice item in the game that warps you to save points from any level (that is, if you can solve the puzzles and find it) Which brings me to my next point... 

No direction = no fun?

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Those who remember sitting in front of their TVs, dying and retrying old NES games or Atari games over and over again until you get it right are going to feel right at home with LA MULANA. True to it’s MSX inspiration, LA MULANA is hard. The game gives you a few nudges in the right direction in the beginning to help you get a good idea of what to expect, but after that you’re all alone when you get into the main Temple. 

Now, to be entirely fair to the game, this difficulty level of “take this thing and yep there you go have fun!” type gameplay doesn’t completely detract from the fun. Solving puzzles and figuring out where to go and what switches to push is great fun, and this is what a majority of the game entails. Figuring out that “oh yeah, in order to hit switches you actually need weights which are actual items” isn't. I know that, in the beginning, this was because I’m stupid and didn’t read any of the “helpful” emails that are occasionally given to you, but it also was never repeated, none of the UI elements were explain even though a majority of it is self-explanatory, and you have to just straight guess (or Google, which I did not do) what does what and how to activate switches etc. Originally, I thought weights were used when traversing water areas, and that the more weights you had the slower you moved/the faster you sunk. Then I realized that I couldn’t push some switches, but others I could...and then, when staring at all the UI elements and hitting a switch, I finally realized the entire reason I was stuck in some places was because weights ended up being an important item. I then proceeded to abandon that 15 minute save and all that progress and just straight up started right over, taking care to purchase a metric ton of weights for my adventure ahead. 

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After that, the game was much more forgiving...to a point. The one thing I can not stress enough is to save AS SOON AS YOU EVEN TOUCH A NEW ITEM. Even if you made all the progress in the world in a particular level, I’ve ended up losing a good 4 hours of progress when I fell into a pit on some spikes and died. Spastic saving = godsend. You should also be ready to commit level layouts to your memory, and you have to be damn sure you pay attention to your health and to constantly warp back home to a spring to recover your health. Once you're comfortable with the traps and the enemies, then you can start really exploring and reading up the various lore and story elements in the game that are inscribed on various stone tablets strewn about each area, and boy is the lore in general a doozy! 

Verdict
Pros
+ Interesting lore and story once you feel comfortable enough to explore.
+ Great throwback title to MSX period games.
+ The game is hard, and inspires a lot of exploration that oldschool games did.
Cons
- Lack of explanation can make a lot of the game un-enjoyable and tedious to get through.
- While staying true to old school MSX games, LA-MULANA EX has an aspect ratio of 4:3 on the Vita's 16:9 screen. A lot of screen space feels wasted.
6 Presentation
The initial presentation of the game is pretty poor. It starts up in 4:3 on the Vita's 16:9 screen, it gives you an old school menu layout that, like the rest of the game, stays true to the MSX era and feels outdated. But then you get into the game, and you can really feel what the devs were trying to do and completely turned my first impressions around.
8 Gameplay
The oldschool retro gameplay was a breath of fresh air from current releases out today. The 2D style adventure gameplay feels right at home on the Vita, and LA MULANA EX makes a great go-to game during trips or just lazing around in bed.
10 Lasting Appeal
LA MULANA EX is LONG. While I did a beeline run through of story-only in my first playthrough that took around 20 hours or so, I know that I barely even touched all the levels that are available in the game. After doing a bit of searching, I found that completionist runs can go anywhere from 40-80 hours of complete gameplay, and even more if you don't follow walkthroughs.
8.4
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed LA MULANA EX. If it weren’t for the Vita port, I probably never would’ve played the game in the first place, and now that I have it’s become my go-to game when I’m looking for some mindless fun. The MSX throwback style is sure to intrigue retro gamers and new gamers alike.
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