‘La-Mulana EX’ Review
Platforms PlayStation Vita
Developer Pygmy Studio Games Publisher Rising Star Games
Genre Action-Adventure Platformer
You may not have heard of La-Mulana before, but La-Mulana has a strong cult following; and for good reason. Originally releasing in Japan in 2005, before an English Translation was released in 2012 for both PC and WiiWare. The latest iteration – La-Mulana EX – is now available on the PlayStation Vita.
La-Mulana EX is a brutally challenging experience, not only due to the array of old-school boss battles throughout the adventure or even the dozens of cryptic puzzles. La-Mulana EX wants to destroy you and make you regret ever starting your journey. In one case after defeating a challenging boss on my twelfth attempt, I simply turned to have a drink of water, only to turn back to the “Game Over” screen. Why you might ask? Well once the boss was defeated, the roof where the battle took place collapsed. There was no warning that this would happen, La-Mulana EX simply wanted to punish any player who wasn’t concentrating after the boss fell. When the credits finally rolled I refused to remove my eyes from the screen in case something within the credits killed me. Yes, La-Mulana EX is a game that you shouldn’t trust, and that is the beauty of it.
La-Mulana Ex follows the story of Lemeza, a 31 year old archaeologist and third generation Japanese American. Lemeza is seeking a hidden treasure, one that is held by a creature known as Mother. This creature has filled the ancient ruins with 8 of its children, known as Guardians. Each of these Guardians must be defeated in order to reach Mother and take the treasure in its possession.
The lore and details of this story are showcased on stone tablets. These tablets will either showcase cryptic hints towards the narrative, or hint to a solution to one of the dozens of puzzles throughout the ruins. Aside from that the story doesn’t go much deeper, there are less than a handful of side characters with any relevancy. These tablets are not blunt and will merely hint towards the story of Mother. The problem with delivering a story in this manner is that I was so focused on staying alive and making sure the world around me didn’t deliver a fatal blow, that I never found the story grabbed my attention to dedicate my time to it. La-Mulana EX leaves the story for you to find, but I never found myself eager to seek meaning to these cryptic pieces of story La-Mulana tried to deliver.
Though most of these tablets must be read in order to proceed, since as I mentioned most relate to random puzzles throughout the ruins. These puzzles will rack your brain as you try to figure out what exactly you’re meant to do. These solutions may include hidden pieces of the wall and floor that can be destroyed, hidden walls that can simply be walked through as normal, and many other out there solutions. This is where the challenging aspects of La-Mulana turn into frustration, making the entire experience feel more like an investment than any game I have played before.
La-Mulana is a game that expects a lot from the player. When you begin your adventure you’re given a laptop that will receive tips throughout your adventure and told to explore. There is no explanation of the buttons, how the game world works, and no hints towards the save or fast travel systems. If you happen to die before working out how the save system works, your progress will be wiped – welcome to La-Mulana. It pushes you to figure out how the world works, and won’t allow you to go any further if you haven’t figured out the basics. The opening area is known as the Gate of Guidance, which is as close to a tutorial as you will get throughout your adventure. This area showcases the art of puzzle solving at its most basic form, enemy encounters and realising that La-Mulana won’t hold back from demolishing your attempts if you’re not good enough. It’s certainly a different approach to many current experiences and one that may overwhelm new players, but those who are patient enough to strive through the pain and punishment La-Mulana offers, will experience one of the most rewarding adventures in gaming.
La-Mulana EX takes place on panels within a 2D plane, veterans of the Mega Man series will feel right at home with this style. When re-entering previous panels enemies will typically respawn. Gameplay within La-Mulana is fairly basic with attacks and jumps your main means of transferring the environment. Lemeza is able to wield a series of unlockable main weapons as well as equip sub weapons and items to extend his arsenal. There is a huge selection of weapons allowing players a great freedom of choice when it comes to slaying enemies, ranging from different styles of whips, a damaging pistol, shuriken and even a katana. La-Mulana’s jump technique is actually where most of the gameplay depth comes into play. Falling from a platform will see Lemeza performing a straight drop, while jumping off platforms allows maneuverability as he falls. It takes some getting used to but once the jump mechanic is mastered and new abilities like the Feather are unlocked, the jump technique can become a vital tool for survival.
Succeeding in La-Mulana without some sort of guide, walkthrough or internet solutions will require pages of pages of notes as you try to keep track of everything going on in the vast ruins. I personally had to visit guides repeatedly in order to figure out what exactly La-Mulana was asking me to do, where exactly I needed to go and what my current goal were. If you’re not willing to invest the time and effort needed, La-Mulana EX isn’t a game for you. Pure and simple.
Despite La-Mulana providing small hints towards these solutions, there is never a clear indication on which hint will correlate with which puzzle and even when you successfully achieve something within a certain room, you never know what your success has changed throughout the entire ruins. This is where the problems lie, there is never an indication as to where the solved puzzle may have affected the ruins and a large search needs to be conducted in order to find out what has been altered. The same problem occurs when it comes to reading hints on stone tablets. Some tablets do reference the current room, but most reference puzzles in completely different rooms within completely different areas. This is why I consider La-Mulana EX to be an investment, because it is so easy to become mentally overwhelmed by the countless requirements La-Mulana expects you to complete; especially if you are trying to avoid any outside help.
La-Mulana EX’s prized jewel is the plethora of boss encounters. These are built with an old school mentality focusing on skill, memorisation of patterns, and dealing with a lot of damaging pixels all while trying to destroy a towering foe. Each boss is unique and you will rarely see the same strategy working twice. These encounters can range from up close and personal battles, an on rails battle with a towering amphibian as you ride a mine cart, or even a bullet hell-esque encounter while flying a model plane. The range of boss encounters is incredible, not only because of the expansive variety and overwhelming challenge, but the visual design of each monster. I found myself constantly impressed by the out of this world monster design, which helped to emphasise the brutality of each encounter. Learning from each death is necessary to find the best strategy to overthrow these vicious beasts and come out alive.
These encounters can also be tackled in a separate Time Attack mode, which pits Lemeza against an army of boss monsters one by one in an effort to produce a fast time that can be posted on the online leaderboards. Various difficulties offer less health and items, pushing players to rely on skill rather than a large pool of HP or certain overpowering weapons and abilities.
La-Mulana EX’s visual display may throw many people off as the new incarnation sticks to a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is incredibly hard to see on the already small Vita screen. Despite this problem La-Mulana has some fantastic old school pixel visuals and due to the extensive selection of different areas there is huge variety. Lemeza will explore icy caverns, volcanic ruins, pitch black dungeons and much more keeping the entire journey fresh. Each new area also includes its own unique old school music track. The soundtrack is fantastic and I found myself humming many of these tracks when I was away from my Vita. The old school musical selection is impressive; showcasing how much variety can be produced with such a small selection of beeps and boops.
La-Mulana EX isn’t a game everyone will enjoy, it may not even be a game everyone will be able to complete. Unlike most recent gaming experiences La-Mulana EX asks for your undivided attention and if you don’t provide it – you won’t succeed.
La-Mulana EX is an overwhelming game, one that can certainly be more stress than it’s worth. But if you do power through the difficult moments, plan out your adventure and keep track of notable areas, La-Mulana EX can be an extremely rewarding experience.
Completing La-Mulana EX isn’t merely rewarding, it is an accomplishment in itself. If you’re able to reach the final credits, just know that you have my utmost respect. As La-Mulana EX is the most challenging game I have ever completed.
One of the most rewarding gaming experiences.
Large selection of unique weapons.
Variety of impressive boss encounters.
Old school visuals and music.
Poor indication of which hints relate to which puzzles.
Aspect ratio reduces visibility on Vita screen.