Review: Mulaka (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): March 1, 2018
- Release Date (EU): March 1, 2018
- Publisher: Lienzo
- Developer: Lienzo
- Genres: Action-Adventure
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Run, Mulaka, run!
An inspired indie
As said above, you take on the role of Mulaka, a Sukurúame. The Sukurúame are the shaman of the Tarahumara tribe, known for their great speed and running abilities, of North Mexico. The game opens with a telling of the creation of the world and, how over time, it has become a land full of corruption and hatred. On the verge of destruction, all hope is placed in Mulaka to travel the Sierra and enlist the aid of demigods to cleanse the world. A simple enough story but borrowing from myth and folklore really beefs it up. And really that's all Mulaka needs, nothing overly complicated or complex. Just a simple, well-thought plot that delivers.
In most of the locations you visit in Mulaka, you must find 3 stones hidden throughout the area. Sometimes you find one after defeating a gauntlet of enemies, solve a puzzle or just in a hard to reach location. After all three are gathered, you unlock a stone gate and then a boss battle. It sounds like it would get dull after a while but with clever twists to how you find them, it manages to stay pretty fun as you go from area to area. Since it's an action-adventure game, armed with your spear and Sukurúame abilities, you must fight both creatures that exist in both the physical and spiritual realms. You have a quick attack, heavy, dodge and spear throwing. Combined with your dashing and jumping, you can execute lunging and aerial strikes. Controls are pretty tight and spot on, although it's not perfect. At times, it can feel a bit clunky and the dodge really did very little when you could just sprint all over. The aiming when you are trying to throw the spear is incredibly slow and difficult to line up when you're fighting a group of enemies, which was pretty disappointing and frustrating when it came to fighting enemies that were too high to reach. Even with all that, it was still a pretty good experience all around.
A Sukurume has many different skills and talents. They possess the All Seeing Eye, which allows for viewing the spiritual plane and things that are hidden. When used, enemy health is displayed and you can see spectral or camouflaged enemies, and a myriad of icons for points of interest, items and stones appear. Under each icon is a number that measures the distance between you and it. The meaning of each icon is never explained in-game, so it was pretty confusing trying to decipher what each one meant. Using the All Seeing Eye depletes your magic gauge, but it regenerates over time. Given the size of some of the locales, the All Seeing Eye is one of the best and most useful of skills to find your bearings. However, this is not the only skill you have at your disposal. As you enlist the aid of the demigods you visit, you gain a blessing of their power. Turning into a snake in order to cross raging waters and freeze obstacles in your path or puma to leap from the tree tops to reach a previously inaccessible spot. This keeps exploration fresh and provides incentive to go back and investigate areas that might have been blocked off or out of reach. The transformations can be used in combat as well, after unlocking the puma transformation, your quick lunging attack causes you to briefly attack as a puma, unlocking other strategies to use when fighting. As with the All Seeing Eye, these transformations decrease your magic gauge.
Kórima, a blessing of luck from good deeds, is received from defeating enemies or found in containers hidden about and used as currency for a very small skill tree. These skills improve things like magic regeneration and depletion to the strength of the your spear or the range of your attacks. Again, its not particularly large but offers a bit of character progression. The local flora can be gathered to create magic potions, such as a protective barrier and increased damage. After gathering the required amount, the potion is crafted automatically and are assigned to the left joy-con face buttons. Each take a moment to use as you dance about when you do, making timing of use important. Quickly, I want to touch on the puzzle I mentioned above. There is only one real puzzle, which involves lining up canals to channel water to the end. Pretty simple and straight forward but become increasingly complex later in the game. The same puzzle over and over again, even with more canals and paths, wasn't terrible but became a bit tedious later on. Even just one more type of puzzle would have been a welcome addition.
Off to a running start
When you start Mulaka, you are greeted with the main menu overlooking a waterfall and hills. There is the first glimpse of the world; polygonal but vibrant with color, very reminiscent of Wind Waker. From the arid, open desert to lush jungles, everything looks amazing. It's not the most realistic looking game, but it doesn't need to be. The character designs fit perfectly and are quite well done, matching the rest of the visuals of Mulaka. I got a very cave art vibe from it, which was fantastic considering the inspiration for the game. Enemy design is fantastic, ranging from scorpions and spirits to mantis men and stone giants. Same applies to bosses and their battles. Each requires a different strategy and approach, keeping things fresh and fun. I really enjoyed the soundtrack to the game as well, matching the scene or action on screen. Faster pace in combat and the boss themes were well made and really gave the bosses an epic, larger than life feel. Sometimes it was grand and others it was very minimalist, but it always helped to capture and add to the mood or scenery set before me.
There is a variety of environments you explore within the Sierra; rolling dunes, vast gorges and valleys, flatlands and villages bustling with people. Each map is open completely to exploration, some areas closed off or unreachable until learning the skills needed to proceed. There are plenty of hidden things to find; deities in the form of plant life, spirits of fallen warriors or extra Kórima. The former two don't do much other than providing a bit of information or story of Tahamaura culture, but it's pretty interesting all the same and are fun to seek out, usually hidden in an obscure location. There is the occasional cutscene, hand drawn and as vivid as the rest of the game. Far and few between, they do well to advance along the story, and are really beautifully done.
There was a few minor visual hiccups here and there; once when I was in the gullet of a toad, instead of showing the toad as it usually did, it showed Mulaka surrounded by blue, limbs elongated and glitched out. This only lasted a moment, but it was jarring to say the least. Apart from that and occasional camera jitteriness, visually it provides a beautiful and polished experience. Since this is the Switch version, had to play both docked and undocked. And both ways were quite pleasing. There wasn't really a drop in framerate or quality between the two, offering crisp and clear visuals, on the television or laying in bed playing directly on the Switch itself. There are no motion controls and, although might have added a bit more in terms of gameplay, it wasn't really needed.
Mulaka is a beautifully well done game, both in terms of appearance and gameplay. It doesn't really do or add anything new to the genre and despite a few flaws and issues, it offers a enjoyable 6-8 hours of exploration and action. With a rich yet simple story, great soundtrack and unique open environments, every part of Mulaka lends to great experience and just goes to show that big things can come from small places. I highly recommend picking this up and going for a run with Mulaka.
+ Fun action
+ Good story
+ Everything works well together
+ Plenty to explore and find
- Slightly clunky
- Some things lack an explanation
It's not the most visually impressive game but it doesn't need to be. It's colorful environments, has an unique soundtrack and an inspired folklore based story that does just what it set out to do.
Controls are pretty tight and the few issues are hardly a thought once you get used to it. It can be clunky but all-in-all Mulaka offers a polished experience from combat to exploration.
After the first play through, there is a plenty to explore and find hidden about. Beyond that, Mulaka should have you coming back for the occasional run down the road.
out of 10
(not an average)
Mulaka is an excellent example of what smaller indie studios have to offer. A rich game, in both terms of story and gameplay, Mulaka is most certainly worth considering.