Mulaka Review: Salvation
Kalvin Martinez / Mar 23rd, 2018 No Comments
Some games are important for what they do to highlight cultures and represent people not often seen in games. Games like Guacamelee! and Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) are certainly important for what they did to bring their respective cultures to light.
Mulaka is similarly important because it centers around the Sierra Tarahumara people and the northern Mexico region, and features the native tongue of the Tarahumara people. Developer Lienzo spent a lot of time creating a world born of myth and real lore from the Tarahumara. It is impressive in its scope, and for the interesting, compelling things it does in terms of story and gameplay.
A great corruption has swept across Chihuahua, causing conflict and strife among the Tarahumara. The root of the corruption is the malign influence of Terégori, Lord of the Underworld. In order to stop Terégori and save the Tarahumara people, a hero needs to arise. Someone needs to be the salvation of the children of the stars.
Fortunately, there is a soul brave enough to stand up against evil, Mulaka, an adept Sukurúame in his own right, but even his powerful sorcery won’t be enough to stop Terégori. As Mulaka ventures across Chihuahua, Cho’mari, wise counsel to the children of the stars, implores him to seek out his fellow demigods. By receiving their blessings, he may gain enough power to ask Rehpa Muchúwame to stop Terégori.
Mulaka’s narrative follows what one would expect in a hero’s journey. As a Sukurúame, Mulaka has great power and skill, which puts the potential salvation of the Tarahumara on his back.
While he begins quite capable, Mulaka becomes more formidable as the story goes along, and he will need to continue to do so until he can go toe to toe with the Lord of the Underworld.
It is standard fare for the type of arc, which is always a pleasing journey to watch, but can be a little rote.
What helps give Mulaka’s story depth is the way myth and lore features so heavily into his journey. From the jump, players can feel the weight of the Tarahumara people’s culture. The opening narration bleeds into Mulaka’s arrival in Samalayuca.
The short conversation with the passing traveler at the beginning of the game sets up the player’s expectations for the hero’s journey, but also draws the player into the setting. It also explains how the Tarahumara view the Sukurúame. At every opportunity, the story continues to deepen our understanding of Mulaka and the Tarahumara’s culture, mythology and lore through its monsters, demigods and, most importantly, its people.
Part of Mulaka’s journey is forming bonds with demigods. These bonds help augment Mulaka’s impressive melee skills to make his fighting prowess legendary. As a Sukurúame, Mulaka has the know-how to craft useful potions to aid him against the powerful monsters plaguing the Sierra Tarahumara.
Since it is a hero’s journey, Mulaka starts off with a basic moveset, mostly focusing on melee skills. He can utilize a string of light and heavy attack combos and dodge attacks to avoid damage. While the moveset is a limited at first, Mulaka gains more powerful and varied skills as he ventures across the Sierra.
At its core, Mulaka’s combat is solid. The hack-n-slash aspect of it feels good. There is a satisfying hit factor to whacking monsters with Mulaka’s spear.
If the base melee combat doesn’t illicit a visceral reaction, then it wouldn’t matter what else the gameplay tried to build upon it, but Mulaka’s easy to grasp combat has that right feel and response.
What helps elevate the experience is the potions and transformations and how they factor into combat and puzzle solving.
The puzzles aren’t too difficult to overcome, but they sometimes throw you for a loop, especially when the solution involves a newly learned skill. However, when you fully grasp the breadth of Mulaka’s skillset, solving puzzles becomes a delightful challenge instead of a crucible.
The snake water puzzles are the most exciting puzzles as they force you to move around the environment and think about the tiles in a geometric way. These snake puzzles are the highlight in terms of puzzle solving in Mulaka.
Transformations in Mulaka aren’t just to add another layer of mechanics to the game. They also serve a story purpose where Mulaka needs to form a bond with the demigods. In order to defeat Terégori, you must borrow the power of demigods and learn to use it in your journey. These little touches make the mechanics much deeper because they serve to further both story and gameplay elements.
As Mulaka ventures forth to fight Terégori, he gains the power to transform into a woodpecker, serpent, bear and a puma. Each of these transformations allow Mulaka specific traversal skills, such as flight, slithering on water, jumping across plants and destroying great barriers.
More than that, they serve specific functions in combat. The puma transformation can act as an accent to a sprint attack, while the serpent transformation can freeze vines to ensnare powerful enemies. The bear’s fierce ground slam can help when you’re overwhelmed.
None of this borrowed power comes for free though. Every time you use the demigods’ power, it costs your Sukurúame meter. Borrowing their power is a tradeoff. If you’re not careful, using these boosts can put you at a disadvantage.
As a Sukurúame, Mulaka can craft handy, powerful potions that aid him both in and out of battle. By gathering plants growing across the Sierra, you can make potions that heal, increase your attack power, form an impregnable barrier, or be thrown as a bomb.
Each of these potions help augment your deftness in battle, but the bomb and defense potions have specific exploration benefits. Obviously, bombs help you get through brittle barriers, but the defensive potion helps you get past laser-spouting serpent statues and can be combined with the woodpecker transformation so you can fly through areas unscathed.
On top of all of these neat additional mechanics, there is Mulaka’s Sukurúame, which acts as a radar to check out objectives, but also a way to see hidden enemies and their health.
Most importantly, boss fights in Mulaka are appropriately grand in scale even before you fight Terégori. Bosses change up tactics as they take damage, call for reinforcements and often require you taking advantage of a weakpoint. They provide a good bit of challenge to test your skills.
Mulaka is impressive for how it honors the people and the culture it depicts. Luckily, it happens to be a good game as well. It’s gameplay is a lot of fun and the story feels like an unearthed folk tale.
Mulaka was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer
tags: Lienzo , Mulaka , Mulaka Game , Mulaka Review , review