This game is hard. Very hard. I have less hair now than when I first saw that retro Nigoro splash screen. La-Mulana makes you realise how games have changed, and how you’re often given hints on every little mechanic as if the development teams expect players to hate the game if they don’t explain where on screen your life bar is. Instead, La-Mulana gives you a little story intro and then throws you straight into a ‘village’ consisting of more enemies than npc’s. Given very little in the way of guidance you begin your journey towards what could possibly be the right way. However, if you’re in fact heading in the wrong direction, you’ll soon stumble upon a boss – in the world of La-Mulana, you don’t want to simply stumble upon these extremely difficult giants, especially before you’ve fully worked out how to control the Indiana Jones look-a-like.
You soon find that there are many different items to find or purchase, including a laptop, the only form of technology throughout the entire game if I’m not mistaken (an MSX, a little reference to what the original Japanese version of the game was developed to look like it was made for). But it doesn’t need to make sense when you’re busy jumping 15ft in the air whilst whipping lizard men armed with spears. Your laptop is used for multiple tasks such as reading glyphs and hints; however, these hints are more like riddles that often make little to no sense at all, one of which when read will activate ‘Hard Mode’ with little warning (I think ‘curiosity killed the cat’ would be the appropriate saying). By collecting different applications for your laptop, you can use different skills such as storing a conversation for future reference. Each of these applications uses ‘RAM’ when active, so you must pick and choose to suit your needs. As well as cash, there is another item that can be collected and is used very often called a ‘Weight’. Every lever is actually a pedestal that is activated once a weight is placed on top. Hundreds of these pedestals are scattered throughout La-Mulana, some of which will activate traps and others that will change something in an entirely different area.
Weights are central to figuring out some of the hardest and annoyingly obvious puzzles I have ever attempted to solve. Let me give an example of an ‘annoyingly obvious’ puzzle. There are blocks that must be pushed onto buttons that will then activate something; however, to get behind a certain block to push it, you must walk through an illusionary wall on the complete opposite side of the section (and you know how all of the walls in these old school games look exactly the same). This is the kind of trickery you will come to expect with La-Mulana – simple when you know how, but may take a week to figure out. This alone is reason enough to call this a difficult game, but I have yet to mention the enemies you must fight along your travels.
All enemies have their own attacking method, movement type and speed, not to mention their awesome design that may just be nice enough to get you killed. They vary from your typical walking mummies and rats to rolling pink slug types that love to jump right as you’re about to attack them. Every area contains different and interesting characters that give a completely different feel to each section. However, after failing to make it past a specific section multiple times you may start to hate these random creatures and become frustrated, but the more impatient and stressed you become, the harder the game becomes. You may even quit the game out of rage, but I guarantee within 20 minutes you’ll want to come back to La-Mulana. Just when you think you’ve conquered the dungeon of doom, you come across a boss. Now bosses aren’t just an enemy with more health that guard something special – these bosses are classic video game bosses, as big as half of the screen and have attacks that will fill the rest. So grab a cup of tea because you’re about to die another 15 times.
The few developers behind La-Mulana must have had fun designing some of the amazing bosses. They’re just stunningly beautiful…in a scary way. One of my favourites was an enormous bull with 6 arms, complete with body armour, a large shield and of course a sword at least twice as big as the explorer. They’re nicely spaced apart and certainly keep the game exhilarating amongst all of the puzzle solving.
The music is great. Each area has its own theme that could easily become annoyingly repetitive if it weren’t so good. They get stuck in your head when you’re away from the game, and when you come back to it you find yourself humming along and occasionally attacking to the beat! There’s even an item that’s only purpose is to play a satisfying melody on completion of a puzzle.
This game definitely resembles the games we all played 15 -20 years ago, its difficulty and simplicity work very well and truly feel like a retro game. It’s not a game you should aim to complete in an evening, or even over a weekend. It’s one of those games that you would probably complete over the space of a year, and certainly one of those games that you remember for years to come. The story is simple, yet intriguing, and has a very satisfying ending worth all those hours spent running back and forth. In total, I racked up around 30 hours, although reaching the end in 3-4 hours is probably possible. You can even try the ‘Time Attack’ mode to play your favourite bosses again with a wide choice of difficulties. If you fancy a challenging game to keep you puzzled, I recommend this one.