Mulaka harks back to the hayday of the PS2 action platformer while bringing an original native Mexican folk tale to life. The FingerGuns Review;
The 3D action platformer has been having a bit of a resurgence in the past few years with collect-a-thons featuring anthropomorphic animal protagonists once again finding favour with gamers. The majority of these have been inspired by the N64 classics but Mulaka, a new title from Mexican studio Lienzo, seems to take its inspiration from a whole host of places. This includes the 3D action platforming games from the PlayStation 2 like Legend of Kay or Kya: Dark Lineage as well as Zelda and, most importantly, the myths and legends of the Tarahumara tribe, native to northwestern Mexico.
In Mulaka, you play as Mulaka (obviously), a young Sukurúame (a kind of Shamen leader and warrior) to the Tarahumara people who has noticed a rise in the corruption of the lands. He sets out to push back this darkness, to find the Demigods that roam the lands and convince them to lend him their powers to defeat an evil force that threatens them all. His journey takes him from arid deserts to lush jungles, from a bustling town to a gigantic waterfall and many other stops along the way, all the while defeating the lethal wildlife and monstrous bosses waiting for him. The broad strokes of the story in Mulaka are nothing you won’t have heard before but the way it’s told and the authentic Tarahumara beliefs, myths and legends that are involved make this quite an engrossing tale. The plot itself is pretty light with minimal dialogue and cutscenes meaning it serving as little more than a garnish to the burger which is the game play itself.
Mulaka plays like an old school, third-person action platformer and I mean that in the nicest possible way. There’s lots of platforming and exploring, some mild puzzle solving and plenty of combat. All but one of the games 8 levels involves collecting 3 artifacts to open a door which blocks the way to a boss battle. Most of the levels have a very open feeling to them and while you will have to do some things in a certain order, you can explore these moderately sized environments freely. To make sure you’re never too lost, Lienzo included something called “Sukurúame vision” which highlights points of interest in your view, adds directions to nearby collectables, gives you sight of semi-invisible enemies and much more. This is just one of the many clever ways that Lienzo have integrated the characteristics and identity of the Tarahumara people.
Combat in Mulaka is one of its most wavering qualities. Mulaka has 2 attacks – a faster normal attack and a slower strong attack – which can be combined into a number of combos. The titular protagonist can also dodge attacks and can throw his spear to take out enemies. There’s a myriad of different enemy types that require a different technique to defeat too. For example, a particular Mantis enemy will repel normal attacks but can have their defence broken with the strong attack. For the most part, the fighting in Mulaka is enjoyable but there are times when the game throws a number of fights at you, one after another, with no let up and they really begin to feel like a grind. There’s also so hit detection issues when an attack hits 2 enemies and one of them is blocking – instead of hitting any enemy, Mulaka just bounces off both.
Similar to the Zelda series, Mulaka can obtain new abilities which enable progression in the game as well as making the combat easier. These powers are granted by the Demigods that Mulaka assists who give him the power to transform into various animals. The bird transformation, for example, allows Mulaka to glide after jumping and travel on air currents. As well as these powers, Mulaka can craft 4 different types of potion from vegetation that can be picked up in the environments. These potions can heal, protect, buff and blow up your foes.
One of the most memorable aspects of Mulaka is the art style. Not quite low-poly, this game has an old school aesthetic which doesn’t come with any of the old school hang ups. The game runs smoothly and screenshots don’t look really do it justice. While Mulaka isn’t traditionally beautiful, there are moments when it still looks breathtaking.
Unfortunately, there’s a general lack of polish to the game which spoils some of the otherwise delightful action. The second to last level stands out like a sore thumb and felt incredibly frustrating at times with poorly placed collectables to guide you through a confusing maze of non-descript blobs that float in the air. There are invisible walls penning you in in some of the early levels which feel like a game design relic from the past. There are a few known glitches (none of which I fell foul of thankfully) which Lienzo are working on fixing for release.
Mulaka is unlike anything I’ve ever played before and oh so very familiar at the same time. It’s a game that has obviously had a lot of thought put into making it feel authentic to the Tarahumara beliefs and ideals and you can see the incredible effort that has been made to bring the North Mexican folk tales, myths and legends to life. Before starting Mulaka, I knew nothing of the Tarahumara people but by the time the credits rolled, I was already hitting Google to find out more about these fascinating people and their past. Similarly, the game feels ancient in the way it’s designed and comes with some tropes synonymous with the classic action platformers of the PlayStation 2 – and honestly, I appreciated it all the more for having that gritty, low-poly, old school look and feel. Mulaka might not have the glossy visuals and modern day sensibilities of many of its recently released peers but it’s still an enjoyable romp through a genuinely intriguing mythology.
Mulaka is releasing on the Nintendo Switch, PS4 (Review version), Xbox One and PC on the 26th of February, 2018.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review copy of the game by the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.