13th Mar2018

‘Mulaka’ Review (PC/Steam)

by Rupert Harvey

mulaka-screen

Chihuahua-based indie outfit Lienzo, makers of the mediocre metroidvania Hunter’s Legacy, take the leap to polygons with 3D action-adventure Mulaka. It’s a very mixed bag, but overall its uniqueness and charm just about win out.

The game is steeped in Mexican mythology. You are Sukurúame of the Tarahumara tribe, whose task is to gain the trust of a series of demigods and defeat Teregori, who seeks to destroy the world. If this sounds a bit like the plot of Breath of the Wild, you’re not wrong – it’s just one of numerous Legend of Zelda allusions (just try breaking a clay pot).

Wind Waker is a clear visual reference point, right down to the pencil-sketched faces of the characters. Sadly, the comparison is apt only at a glance. Mulaka’s graphics are distinctive but bland; like looking at Rime or Fe on Low settings. But then, the world is built for speed of movement rather than gawking at beauty. The Tarahumara are renowned for their long-distance running, so this makes thematic sense.

Still, the aesthetic can obstruct the gameplay. Sometimes it’s unclear what’s an insta-death hazard and what’s solid ground due to the minimalism. Added to that, core character movement and combat is frustratingly janky. It never quite feels like Sukurúame is connecting with the environment, or that his swipes are connecting with enemies. Due to poor collision detection and clunky pre-rendered animations, during the more chaotic battles there’s a sense of randomness which pushes you toward exploits and repetition to achieve victory.

The game is broken into semi-open zones. Each zone is distinctive – a patch of desert; a quaint little town; an autumnal forest; an abstract spirit world etc – and each contains a gateway to a boss. Usually, to open the gateway you must find three keys, obtainable by solving puzzles or completing battle challenges. The puzzles are basic: climb ‘n’ grab and smash ‘n’ grab, mostly. There are also Pipemania moments where you hit angled water channels to refill fountains. These don’t become more taxing, just more time-consuming.

The platforming is particularly weak, owing to the floaty physics. Typical for the genre, you will obtain a double-jump. But, typical for Mulaka, it’s fluffed: Sukurúame turns into an eagle for a few seconds and enters an unnatural glide, making it very difficult to judge traversals. Other demigod talents include bear strength and feline agility, although these are more limited in their deployment.

At least Mulaka is a pleasingly fast-paced and direct game. Quests are clear and travel is swift. For all of its fantastical mythology, there’s nothing esoteric about the UI. Tap the R1 button to enter a kind of Arkham-vision and all nearby objective markers are highlighted. It also highlights flora (for building health potions, bombs etc) and fauna.

The enemies are a varied bunch: scorpions which leap like facehuggers; giant skulls with scuttling legs; mantis-like warrior bipeds; charging boulder-bulls; ghostly apparitions that tease and prod… The enemy design is strong, even if the act of fighting them never quite has the impact you wish for. The bosses are impressive, too, each demanding a different approach to overcome (and yes, you get to climb a titan later on).

All of these travails are accompanied by a truly unique, percussion-based musical score, the richness of which is rare in a videogame.

Mulaka is far from perfect – far from great, even – but its dense, animistic mythology is intriguing enough to hold the attention while the core gameplay falters. It’s a step up from Lienzo’s first title, and likeable enough to make you wonder what the team might produce with more experience and resources. Just don’t expect the level of solidity or polish you’d find in those aforementioned action-adventures.

Mulaka is out now on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One.

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