Mulaka takes players on a fascinating and often exhilarating journey through the mountainsides, deserts, and forests of Mexico. It’s a game that takes place in a location that usually doesn’t get any exposure in the entertainment industry. The development studio Lienzo, which is based in Mexico, wonderfully and expertly represents a culture that we all can benefit from learning more about.
Players take control of the titular character, a Sukurúame that has the ability to interact with the various gods in the lands he travels to (each god represents a different type of animal.) His main goal is to stop the evil Teregori from spreading darkness all across the land which the Tarahumara people inhabit. It’s a fascinating set-up that instantly hooked me into the vibrant-looking world. I found myself unimpressed with the secondary cast of characters, but the overall journey was intriguing enough to consistently want to continue to the next area.
Mulaka is a straightforward hack and slash game with a few platforming elements. Players fight enemies that consist both animals, and mythical creatures. The titular hero can use a light attack, heavy attack, block, and dodge. While you can obtain new items and power-ups throughout the adventure, Mulaka doesn’t learn any new physical attacks. Players must rely on muscle reflexes and enemy attack pattern memorization to survive. In addition to the protagonist’s staff, he can unlock other items that are crafted by collecting herbs and plants scattered throughout the environment. These items include a health potion, bombs to destroy walls, a shield potion, and a rage potion that amplifies Mulaka‘s strength for a short time.
These items aren’t the only things in our hero’s arsenal. As a Sukurúame, Mulaka has the ability to see the world in a different perspective. With the push of the right bumper, he can use a vision ability to look for collectibles, the next objective, hidden enemies while in combat, and enemy health bars. Lastly, Mulaka can gain the ability of the four gods he comes across. The Bear demolishes stone walls, the Woodpecker takes Mulaka to new heights, the Puma can jump across platforms that are impossible to pass otherwise, and the Snake not only helps cross water, it also freezes vines so the Bear can destroy. Being able to transform into different gods is a cool mechanic that not only helps with exploring, but can also prove beneficial for combat purposes as well.
Mulaka is a game that focuses on combat. Unfortunately, the combat was my least favorite aspect. While it starts off strong, realizing that you don’t really learn new combat techniques is a huge disappointment. Each battle felt repetitive, and most of the enemies remained the same throughout the entire game. Sure, you face new enemies, but the majority of them are just enhanced versions of previous baddies. The more challenging fights come in the form of more enemies on the battlefield, and not stronger enemies, which is a shame.
Visually, Mulaka is hit or miss, but it’s usually an appealing game to look at. The cel-shaded aesthetic is awe-inspiring and wonderfully fits with the tone of the game. The environments, particularly the forest area, looks lush, with cascading waterfalls and vibrant greens. Unfortunately, apart from our hero and the enemy types, the secondary characters, and some of the structures don’t have that visual gusto that the rest of the game has. From a technical standpoint, Mulaka has plenty of glitches that often hindered my experience. In one of the later levels, you have to fly with the wind current. As you’re flying, your ability meter starts to deplete. If you run out of meter, you transform back to Mulaka and should technically die. Fortunately for me, pressing the A button immediately let me walk on air, essentially escaping death.
Another instance found me killing a late-game boss. During one section of that fight, I glitched through the floor and entered a never-ending freefall that caused me to reload the game, and redo the previous area just to get to the boss battle. It was a hassle that I endured multiple times. While the technical issues were few and far between, when they happened, these issues were rage inducing.
Mulaka is one of the most unique games I’ve played in a long time. While the gameplay is generic and occasionally underwhelming, the world within Mulaka is breathtaking, fascinating, and full of a culture that video games haven’t recognized before. The game makes up for its shortcomings by keeping players engaged in the traditions and stories that the Tarahumara people have passed down for generations. As a reviewer of color, Mulaka is an important game, not only because of its subject matter but because its representation and diversity is something that is desperately needed in the gaming industry. While by no means perfect, Mulaka is something that gamers should definitely experience.