by Joshua Russo
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Steam, Nintendo Switch
Released: February 27, 2018
A copy of Mulaka was provided by the developers for the purpose of this review.
Discover the Tarahumara through Mulaka
Before Mulaka I had never heard of the Tarahumara – the indigenous tribe that once occupied a large part of Northern Mexico. This action-adventure opens a window to their culture and folklore by allowing players to become a Sukurúame, a Tarahumara Shaman, named Mulaka. The Tarahumara are known for their endurance, which is represented in the game by Mulaka‘s unlimited stamina. Armed with your athletic abilities and a spear, Mulaka must seek the power of the demigods in order to stop a dark power that is spreading across the land.
For many reasons, Mulaka has an old school vibe to it that harkens back to the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 days. There are eight levels to explore, all of which are not too large but jam packed with secrets to find, enemies to engage and puzzles to solve. In most of the levels you will need to collect three stones in order to open the gate to the boss area. Arriving at each new area reminded me of reaching a new level in Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie. The level design in Mulaka is really well done. The forests, caverns, mountains and even the bustling marketplace all hold their own layers of beauty that I stepped back and soaked in each time I entered.
Developer Lienzo’s choice to use low-poly graphics in Mulaka was a great one. The characters, landscapes and enemies are represented clearly with a refreshing but comfortable style that breaks away from traditional games in the genre. The enemies in Mulaka are fairly complex, in that each one takes a different approach to defeat in combat. Some enemies such as the small ghosts you’ll encounter early on, are easy to defeat with just a few pokes of your spear. But soon enough you’ll run into armored Mantis Men that will require stronger and quicker attacks to take down. You’ll be able to use some of you demigod powers both in and out of combat. The bear’s power allows you to quickly transform into a bear and attack with a power swipe of its claws. When exploring, you may find some areas are blocked off by a barrier that can only be destroyed by transforming into the bear. There are several areas in each level that require a special power to reach, so it’s good to make a mental note so you can backtrack when you find a new power.
Some combat scenarios can be a little frustrating for a few reasons. As you progress through Mulaka, you will learn how to make potions that will aid you in your journey. The most important potion is obviously a health recovery one. Some battles get a little overwhelming with quite a few number of enemies in a small space and using a potion won’t also work. This is because Mulaka performs a traditional dance as he ingests a potion, during which time enemies are still out for your blood. So unless you’re able to get enough space it’s too risky to try to heal in some situations. Towards the later half of the game I also found myself in a combat situation where the last remaining enemy was stuck inside of a wall and the only way to damage it was to use my powerful finisher move. Thankfully this was the only technical bump I ran into.
One thing I would have liked to have seen was more variety when it come’s to Mulaka‘s puzzles. There are several puzzles spread throughout the levels of the game and they are all the same. Mulaka’s puzzles consist of spinning a series of grooved stones in order to get water flowing from one end to the other. While I certainly enjoyed solving each and every one of these, I couldn’t help but wonder why each level didn’t have its own style of puzzle.
During my time with Mulaka I could feel the passion from the developers to tell the story of the Tarahumara and to do it right. Each line of dialogue, each description of their legends and each note of their traditional music is a respectful tribute to the tribe and comes together to tell the story of Mulaka in a powerful way.