La Mulana by Nigoro was recently greenlit and slated for release on Steam Greenlight and I grabbed my dapper hat and got cracking on a review. In La Mulana you play a whip toting archaeologist by the name of Professor Lemeza who is chasing after his father in the name of exploration and adventure. Set in a 2D platformer style, this puzzler will challenge your timing and problem solving as you scour the ruins and try to solve the mysteries of La Mulana.

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Wise or wise cracking?

Reaching the ruins of La Mulana my adventure begins with a quick discussion with an old man and a gift of software, a custom mailing application to add to my fancy laptop, so the old man can generously share details with me as I travel the ruins. From there I scanned my 2D horizons and headed left through the village. After whipping some snakes I came across a hot bubbling spring that proved to serve as a healing point, something that will come in handy down the road as I would find out soon enough. Climbing up the side of the cliff to the top I stumbled across a lone hut and a sign. The sign warned me of a great threat and so logically I ran right into it, lumbering before me was giant closing in for the kill. I barely made it out alive and ran back to the hot spring I discovered earlier, clearly this game had a grudge I was unaware of. I discovered later that La Mulana is very focused on the exploration aspect of the game and is built as an open world concept. So instead of a door with a key, they put an impossible to beat enemy or tricky to solve puzzle for areas as a means of preventing you from getting too far in over your head.

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So I’ll just head back the other way then?

Heading right I climb the cliffs in search of my warm up artifact. At the top of the cliffs I duke it out with several dive bombing birds for the privilege of placing a weight upon a small pedestal. As I do the nearby chest pops open and I jump over to collect the first prize. A shell horn, by having the horn I will get a happy little tune to tell me when I did something that solved a puzzle. This little device may seem gimmicky, but the ruins of La Mulana are vast and each section contains many rooms. It will be often the case that a puzzle you solve trips something rooms away, luckily that little horn lets you know you did good, like a warm reassuring pat on the head. Jumping down I return to an entrance I passed and find myself heading into the ruins front door. Here I make use of the scanner I was advised to purchase in town, after equipping it in the inventory I can tap a key to scan objects in background for flavor and tablets for the many hints. That is until you discover you lack the La Mulanese translator, so after a hearty warning you are left to stumble your early way through the ruins. As you do you come across some key useful items needed for successful exploration, a map of the first section of the ruins and a golden chalice known to many as the Holy Grail. Besides making it harder and harder to not break into Indiana Jones puns the Holy Grail allows you to port back to certain markers you scan as you explore the ruins. Each area has a combo save and teleport point you discover so you can fast travel around between the areas you explore. This will come in handy as the occasional puzzle can only be solved using items you obtain further in the ruins.

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The Holy Grail of Travel. The lesser known grail.

As you continue to explore the many areas and solve puzzles you will collect more software, items and weapons to aide you and increase your power. Early on I found a handy throwing star as a secondary weapon to the scanner as well as a nifty pair of boots that increased my running speed. Later on you gain an upgraded whips, knives, rolling stars, guns and a host of other interesting weapons and gear to boost your power and give you more ways to fight the many enemies that insist on getting in your way. Not that they will prove your only downfall as the ruins are filled with dastardly traps set in your way. Not every switch is in your favor and not every floor is as solid as it seems in La Mulana and you will find yourself literally falling victim to many a nasty trap. In very short order I discovered the first false switch and fell for it like a sucker, only after I reloaded and found the spot again did I scan the skeleton by the switch. He was very kind to let me know that he should never have fallen for such an obvious trap, all I could say is I know that feel. From that point forward I paid more attention to cues and clues before I rushed into triggering switches.

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Talk about a crushing disappointment!

Armed with a couple items and a few successes I marched forward into the first Boss. After finding a jewel I could hold aloft to destroy an ankh, I am ported into an alternate version of the room and faced with the first fight of my life. The screen darkens slightly and down drops a slithering torso as a snake with two heads, one on either side, comes into being to curb stomp my optimistic self back to the last save point. Luckily I saved going in as the fight got nasty, the heads took turns trying to torch me with a spray of fire. At first the interval was rather fair and I could hop between them readily. However, as I did more damage to the heads they fired quicker and with less pacing until a near constant torrent of flame chased me across the screen. Inevitably a slip up left me trapped between them on the ground and they had me for BBQ. After several such deaths in varying degrees of burning I managed to luck out and catch one with the back of my whip finishing off the snakes, my own health barely holding on. If this was the first Boss, I could see I had my work cut out for me in the ruins ahead.

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Why did it have to be snakes?

I had not heard of La Mulana until Nigoro’s remake and so the game was a new experience for me. I cannot say whether or not they have nailed the original but the game I experienced was definitely well polished and plenty challenging. Some of the puzzles can be real tricky as the hints are often given in riddles so bring your thinking cap as well as your reflexes to this platformer. La Mulana delivers on a fun, challenging and rewarding exploration experience that is presented with polish. The different areas I was able to explore are interesting and provide each their own diverse challenges; from the sandy slopes of the sun ruins you need boots to run up to the hurtful water you need special gear to swim in. All the while the witty skeletal warnings of failed adventurers past combined with the interesting stories and riddles give plenty of flavor to the ruins as you delve deeper in search of your Father and the treasures hidden within.

Summary

+ Challenging puzzles to solve and unlock

+ Diverse ruins to explore with their own host of enemies and nefarious traps

+ Riddles and clues delivered through interesting back story

- Menu system is a little clunky to navigate

Final Verdict

While not for the faintest of hearts, La Mulana will provide hours of challenging fun to any intrepid explorers that believe themselves capable of solving the mysteries and finding the treasures hidden deep within the dangerous rooms of La Mulana.

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