Game Review # 468: Mulaka (Nintendo Switch)
Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Reviewer: Akio Kahoshi
Category: Action, Adventure
Release Date: 3.1.2018
Buy Mulaka from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
The Man, The Myth, The Sukurúame
In Mulaka, the player plays as Mulaka, who is a Sukurúame—or shaman—of the Tarahumara people. The game explores the mythology of the Tarahumara, the native people of northern Mexico, and does so excellently. Every aspect of the game, from the people, to the enemies, to the number of health bars—three, to represent the three souls that men were believed to have—feels as if it was pulled from real stories. The game is also beautiful, with a lower-poly style more fitting to the setting than a hyper-realistic art style would have been.
Within the game world, the world is coming to an end, and Mulaka must travel the Sierra to recruit the demigods and save his people. Throughout his adventure, he gains new powers that allow him to take the form of the demigods he’s recruited, as well as crafting magical potions to assist in and out of battle. Combined with his spear, all of these tools are used to solve puzzles and combat monsters.
My Trusty Spear
Like many action/adventure games, combat plays a huge role within Mulaka. However, I found the combat to be less interesting than I first expected. The only weapon in the game is the spear, which is used both in melee attacks and thrown for ranged attacks. The combat revolves primarily around light attacks, with heavy attacks to break through defenses, and dodging playing a critical role in survival. Similar games will link light and heavy attacks for interesting combos, but Mulaka does not. I would not have minded as much if the game did not constantly throw me into combat. The game’s wide variety of enemies with different weaknesses did help make fighting more engaging though.
There are also the magical potions I mentioned previously. While all of them can be used in combat, the healing (soul) potion and two buff potions all require a lengthy dance to use. This fits perfectly within the game’s theme, but in a hectic fight, makes them frustrating. I was more successful buffing before battles and healing after, which did not help in boss fights.
Each of the various demigod forms are also useable in combat, but I found their addition to be minimal. Instead of using the bear’s slow, but powerful strike, it was still more effective to just use light attack combos. The only time I used the different forms in battle was during boss fights, which made interesting use of the form’s abilities to combat the bosses.
The Bigger They Are
While the standard combat might not have drawn me in as much, each boss in the game is unique and interesting. Figuring out their weak spot is the key to each battle, and then it is just a matter of exploiting those weaknesses. Usually this worked out well, but a couple of bosses required waiting on a specific random attack, which caused the fights to drag on longer than I would have liked.
My biggest complaint about the combat, though, would have to be the controls themselves. There is no lock-on function and no center camera button. Neither proved to be too detrimental once I learned to manually turn my camera to follow the flow of combat, but it was sorely missed when fighting ranged enemies. Throwing the spear requires stopping and aiming, and the faster enemies are quick to dodge. This was probably the only time I would actively get frustrated during combat.
Explore Mexico... Sort Of
Outside of combat, the game’s bread and butter is its exploration. All but the last two levels require finding three magical stones that unlock the path to the boss. The stones can be hidden on a hard-to-get-to platform, require solving one of the game’s water puzzles, or involve fighting through a hoard of enemies.
Each area of the game has a unique feel to it, taking place in different parts of Northern Mexico. Each place has a significance to the game’s story of the Tarahumara people, ranging from their largest city to dense jungles. Each level also has hidden collectibles to discover, many of which require abilities acquired later in the game. This gives the player reason to return to previous levels. These collectibles expand on the game’s lore, detailing parts of the mythology that do not fit into the narrative.
Mulaka must use his ability to “see” to spot invisible platforms and enemies, as well as the direction the magical stones are located. However, as using the “sight” eats up magic, the player cannot simply keep using it. While occasionally annoying, it is an important decision, as it forces the player to explore and enjoy each level of the game.
If I had one complaint about the different areas, it is that the puzzles remained the same in each of them. While the platforming always felt fresh and required ever more complex uses of the demigod forms, the puzzles were water flow puzzles. They did get more complex and interesting as the game progressed, but beyond that, there was no variety in their challenge. I would have liked to see more of the personality of each area brought into these puzzles.
End of The Journey
Mulaka brings us mythology rarely experienced outside of Mexico, and that is definitely the game’s biggest draw. Interesting boss fights make up for less interesting combat elsewhere, and the game has many interesting platforming levels. The game stumbles at times, but for those interested in learning more of the Tarahumara culture, there is still plenty to enjoy.
Buy Mulaka from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.