Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, Tomb Raider, Drake; please step aside for a moment. Here comes 8-bit whip-wielding adventurer Lemeza Kosugi. Next to being a first-class adventurer, he’s a 1980’s vintage MSX home-computers enthusiast, a quite skillful computer engineer and typically loves curry. That’s hard to beat.
First released in 2005 in Japan by GR3 project and later on Nintendo’s Wii-Ware service by Nigoro, La-Mulana is a traditional 2D action adventure platformer that has the particularity of featuring graphics and an interface inspired by MSX games, in the same style as cult games such as Castlevania and Metroid. You follow the adventure of Lemeza, who is destined to find the hidden treasure of ‘Anima’ and to seek out the origin of civilizations (the “Anthropo-origin”) in the extremely dangerous ruins of ‘La-Mulana’. Nothing is known of these ruins, as it is said that nobody has ever made it back out alive. The journey awaiting is long, extremely dangerous and far from evident; is it the absolute adventure game you’ll want to spend your time on this fall?
“La-Mulana is a game of mass proportions. There are tons of puzzles to solve, items to collect and enemies to defeat.”
You’ll notice quite fast that La-Mulana is a rather challenging game. From the moment you leave the village there is no-one to tell you where to go, what you have to do, or which things you must keep in mind. You dispose of a whip, a bit of health, and a laptop to receive hints from the elder of the village here and there, but for the biggest part you’re on your own. Since I’m used to games where everything is explained to the utmost, this has proven to be quite demanding, but arguably this is equally the most satisfying part of the entire game. Solving puzzles, opening treasure chests or uncovering secret rooms becomes all of a sudden very rewarding, a sentiment I sadly haven’t had often since The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.
Gameplay in La-Mulana primarily resides in three things: solving puzzles, killing enemies and discovering new items. Similarly to Metroid, items act like power-ups: new items will grant Lemeza more strength and more health which will allow him to access new areas in the ruins. These can either be found in treasure chests or are simply bought from shops scattered around the game. Note: you must first defeat enemies to pick up coins though.
In addition, there are plenty of weapons Lemeza can pick up along the way. By the end, players will possess a total of 5 primary weapons, from a good old whip to a katana, and 8 sub-weapons, although these have limited ammo and require you to buy more or find more.
Whatever your business is in La-Mulana, nothing feels repetitive, pointless or boring for that matter. Whether it’s playing a mini game on your old-school laptop, deciphering dusty tombstones or listening to another great retro tune every time you enter another area, La-Mulana always feels like an adventure.
But that adventure isn’t quite the same when you’re still in your first few hours of the game. On top of the fact that at first, you’ll be lost 100% of the time, it is extremely difficult to stay alive in the ruins amongst so many monsters. The only way of progressing is through the process of trial-and-error; this is something you’ll seriously have to grit your teeth over to get used to. La-Mulana is in fact one giant maze in which you’ll die more than anything else as you move from one room to the next. Especially in the beginning, players must not enter the ruins too deeply, or they’ll face the consequence of not being able to turn back. Indeed, the only place Lemeza can regain his health is at the surface, which makes things extra annoying.
To give you an example of the difficulty, there was one point in the game where I seriously had to die at least 9 times before reaching the next safe point. 2 times I missed my jump and drowned in lava, 5 lives were lost to extremely frustrating enemies and me losing my temper while 2 times I stepped over a loose panel and fell into a death-trap, with no way of escape. Yes, let this be a warning: one you’ve slipped into one of the many hundreds of death-traps its GAME-OVER. La-Mulana has no mercy for amateur adventurers. Don’t expect to be experiencing easy boss-battles either. It is not strange if this game proves to be quite difficult for you, many players will face the same difficulties. Once you’re through though, it’ll be just like a sunny day.
La-Mulana is a game of mass proportions. There are tons of puzzles to solve, items to collect and enemies to defeat. The areas you’ll happen to cross don’t lack in numbers either; they are varied and each offer a range of unique puzzles and gameplay elements. Dependent on your puzzle and action skills the game will take you anywhere from 5 to 30 hours to complete, and this is quite a feature for a 2D side-scrolling platform game.