Mulaka is a 3D action-adventure platformer about a Tarahumara warrior-sage known as the Sukuruame and his quest to stop the end of the world. You play as Mulaka, who wields a spear as his primary weapon and must make your way through various environments in order to prove your worth and enlist the help of the demigods. The game plays a lot like you might expect from Okami or Darksiders. However, the most notable thing about the game is its mission to teach players about the Tarahumara and their lore.
Of course, in any instance, focusing on one aspect of a game leaves room for flaws and gaps in another. In this case, we feel the story and lore focus of the game caused the gameplay to feel unpolished and somewhat lacking. Overall, Mulaka is a wonderful concept that seems to have just fallen short of its ambitions.
Gameplay and Mechanics
So as we stated, this is an action-adventure game. Mulaka really tries to balance exploration and combat. The combat is relatively simple and in a lot of situations, completely avoidable. You have a light attack and a heavy attack. There’s a dodge button, and of course, you can run and jump. Combining these makes for a few automatic combos and the occasional near miss of an attack. Unfortunately, as there’s no lock on to speak of, you’ll just keep missing some enemies altogether. Thankfully, your attacks usually have a really wide hitbox, so it rarely became a major issue.
Aside from this, there’s exploration to consider. In this regard, there seems to be plenty to keep an eye out for. In service of getting around, you have a few potions and transformations that will let you go places you couldn’t before. Of course, that led to an observation very early in the game that finding everything would absolutely require lots of backtracking, which it seems the game really wants the player to do, as some fights become very tedious later on without upgrades. You also have Sukuruame Vision, which allows you to see invisible enemies, NPCs, and track down points of interest. This usually floods your screen with objective markers, which is actually a bit overwhelming, at times. It can also help you seek out hidden objects that will give you a piece of lore for your troubles.
There’s also a light puzzle element introduced in the form of water puzzles. These puzzles are all fairly easy to figure out, though, and later in the game just become monotonous. It would’ve been nice to see more variety in the puzzles rather than just an increase in the size of the puzzles themselves.
Finally, there’s also a mechanic in the form of Korima, which works a lot like basic experience points. Korima embodies the thankfulness of the Sierra, which in turn translates to upgrades for Mulaka. However, there are only seven things to upgrade and they require a lot of Korima to do so, making it seem like too much trouble.
Mulaka’s lesser flaws
So there are other bothersome things present in this game. For one, the difficulty seem poorly curated, leading to an inconsistent curve. Some bosses later in the game are easier than some of the earlier ones and the final boss is much, much more difficult.
Also, when you lose a soul, Mulaka does a long animation where the soul is ripped from his body, but it seems he’s still vulnerable during this animation, meaning enough enemies can just chip away at your health and you can’t do anything about it. At one point, this led to us getting stun locked to death. Very frustrating.
This game also has some very wonky collision detection, which can be see while climbing just about any mountain wall. However, it was at its worst during a late game boss fight where you have to climb on the boss’s back in order to hit weak points up there. Even outside of that, though, it left an odd feeling like anytime I got somewhere, it felt as if I didn’t do it the intended way, even when it clearly was the intended path.
There’s also a balancing issue in combat where for the most part, the game gives you no reason not to run in and spam light attack until everything stops moving. There’s a few enemies that force you to use heavy attack, Sukuruame Vision, and even dodge in some rare occasions. However, it doesn’t really feel organic, so much as something you’re doing because you have no other choice.
Finally there was some issue with our game that caused frequent crashes. We don’t know if this is only on the Switch version, but it led to a few infuriating resets. Granted this was usually after a death, so we’re not sure how far back it really set us.
The Best Part About Mulaka
Finally, with all our nitpicking and gripes out of the way, we can get to what Mulaka is really about: the lore and the aesthetic. Mulaka uses a simplistic style to mimic the simple geometric drawings of the Tarahumara tribes. The story may follow the Sukuruame, but the lore is truly about a native American civilization in what is now New Mexico. Naturally, this means the main events of the game must also be from native lore, and so they are. The game even gives you a heaping does of legend in the exposition.
Aside from that, the music is actually really good and super interesting. We never entered a new area or a staged fight without noticing the music immediately. It really kept us going in a number of spots where the gameplay would’ve made us quit.
On top of that, there’s a great variety of levels. You travel from the desert into town. From there to the caverns by a river and then on towards the jungle. You even visit mountains the and underworld itself by the time you’re done. Every area feels similarly ancient and sacred. The team at Lienzo have certainly outdone themselves on this front.
Mulaka is a unique and interesting game. It’s difficult to recommend fully because the game is so unpolished and could easily lose many of its players because of it. However, we didn’t have a terrible time, outside of a few frustrating resets, and a few key aspects of the game kept us going. We greatly suggest giving this game a chance, if it sounds like your cup of tea. All judgements aside, we hope to see more from Lienzo, as we feel this game wasn’t too far off the mark for redemption.
Mulaka is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam, and will be available on Nintendo Switch beginning March 1st.
Special thanks to Lienzo for providing us with a review copy of Mulaka. This game has been reviewed using a pre-release download code of Mulaka – Nintendo Switch.