La-Mulana 1 & 2
Developed By : NIGORO
Published By : NIS America
Category : Metroidvania/ Action Adventure
Release Date : Mar 17, 2020
There are many games that claim to be difficult, but not many of them actually manage to be fun as well. Poor level design, cheap deaths and clunky controls are often why a game can be hard to beat, rather than deliberately designed challenging gameplay. The original freeware version of La-Mulana manged to avoid the mistakes that many other titles make, being a tough — but fair — retro-style metroidvania experience. La-Mulana 1 & 2 brings together the updated version of the original game, alongside its crowdfunded sequel, and this collection shows exactly how games like this should be done.
The first game takes place in the titular La-Mulana, mysterious ruins that are said to house the “Secret Treasure of Life”. Receiving a letter from his father about the treasure, protagonist Lemeza Kosugi sets off on a grand adventure. Meanwhile, La-Mulana 2 follows the events of his successful expedition into the ruins. La-Mulana has now been turned into a tourist attraction that sees visitors from around the world, but the reappearance of monsters coming from the ruins marks the start of a new journey. Lumisa Kosugi, Lemeza’s daughter, must venture into Eg-Lana, the “other side” of La-Mulana.
There are many metroidvanias with decent stories, but the La-Mulana games have a much more engaging way of telling their stories. Much of the story is still told through dialogue, however a lot of the backstory and extra information must be pieced together by examining tablets scattered throughout the ruins. It not only incentivises exploration, but also makes you care more about the story in general. Add in all the emails you receive, and there’s a surprising amount of worldbuilding across both games.
But an interesting setting can only carry a metroidvania so far, and La-Mulana 1 and 2 each manage to deliver in the gameplay department. Both La-Mulana and Eg-Lana are fairly open-ended, allowing you to explore in a variety of ways. Unlike many other games in the genre, where you’re usually following a set route and only leave it to find bonus items, La-Mulana will see you moving from area to area, always looking for the next hint or item that will allow you to progress. While you will eventually have to traverse most of the map by the end of each game, the way you reach the end is up to you.
We mentioned at the start that these games were difficult, and this is apparent right from the start of La-Mulana 1. Lemeza isn’t quite as athletic as other metroidvania and platforming protagonists, and it can take some time to get used to. The most noticeable aspect of his movement is jumping, as you have very little control over your movement in the air. Correcting a failed jump is difficult, especially early on in the first game, and falling down pits will sometimes cause you to lose a decent amount of progress. Lumisa is slightly more graceful, though she still retains some of her father’s movement quirks. Neither character is annoying to control, there’s just a learning curve that some players may not be used to.
After wrapping your head around the controls, there are still the actual ruins to contend with. Each one is a sprawling labyrinth of enemies, traps and puzzles. Basic enemy types aren’t too tough to deal with, though there are plenty of foes that can cause some trouble to deal with. Flying enemies can be a nuisance to start with, when you only have the basic whip and no way to attack upwards. Combat isn’t very complicated, though you are given a good selection of weapon types throughout each game, and the large roster of bosses is enjoyable to fight.
It wouldn’t be a review of La-Mulana without going into more detail about the puzzles. For many, these will likely be what causes the most frustration. This is because there are many, many puzzles across each game, and they can often be incredibly cryptic. Trying to work out the solution to a tough puzzle is sometimes a challenge in other games, but here you’re often required to travel back and forth between areas just to get small hints. La-Mulana 1 is easily the most obtuse of the pair, even with the few changes that seem to have been brought over from La-Mulana EX on the Vita. Without a guide, some puzzles — or even just figuring out where to go to progress — will test the limits of your patience. If you’re not confident in your puzzle solving skills, a guide of some sort is highly recommended.
Even at each game’s most annoying moments, their presentation goes a long way in making you want to continue onwards. Character and enemy sprites are well animated, and each environment is lovingly detailed. La-Mulana 2 only improves on the already impressive visuals in the first game, giving Lumisa more fluid animations, and some of the environments are spectacular. The games manage to make even the relatively plain ruins of the early sections stand out, which helps to make exploration even more rewarding. Tying this all together is a memorable soundtrack that stays consistent throughout each game. Sometimes energetic, other times mysterious, it’s hard not to have these songs stuck in your head even after you finish playing.
If you’re ready for a challenge, or don’t mind looking for guidance if you hit a dead-end, both La-Mulana 1 and 2 are must haves for the Switch. Nothing has been lost in the ports to Nintendo’s console, bringing the excellent sprite work and tough adventuring to a new audience.
*The Switch Effect was provided a code for these games*