Mulaka is a unique looking game, that much is made apparent from the get-go. In fact, the only game that I can describe as a liking, goes to Forgotten Key’s AER Memories of Old. The game is based on an ancient Mexican tribe known as the Tarahumara, a tribe renowned for their endurance and impressive running abilities. Players are thrown into the role of the titular Mulaka, a Tarahumara who embarks on the journey of a sukuruame – a Tarahumara shaman. Mulaka is a young man coming of age, and through your control, will trek on a journey of mind and body as he sets off to rid the land of the foul corruption that continues to spread far and wide.
Despite the rather simplistic story approach, it’s the culture and lore that shines through the most within this 3D action adventure. Mulaka is armed with a spear and is able to utilize a generous pool of attacks, running alongside this, Mulaka can also use potions, and even transformations. The overarching aim of the game is to cleanse your lands of evil spirits and other forms of nasty inhabitants, but there’s a much deeper theme running through the game’s veins. One that relays self preservation, meaning, and realization. On the face of it all, this is a beautiful game that doesn’t at all stray from its concept, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not perfect, and it does have some niggling issues, but for the most part, Mulaka is certainly an adventure that stands out.
The game carefully blends together exploration, puzzle solving, and combat. The structure of the game is much more grounded in comparison to the aforementioned AER Memories of Old, but not quite as well developed. While the commendable and distinct visual aesthetics prove to be one of the most compelling features, the combat can often be hit and miss. Mulaka takes you to some remarkably well detailed and diverse locations, each of which are well designed and inviting. So much so that I was often lost in its beauty, distracted by everything surrounding me. Sadly, I cant quite be as forgiving when it comes to fighting. Sure, Mulaka has a decent array of attacks to dish out, but this means very little when the controls and the combat system, struggles against you.
Furthermore, it’s never truly apparent as to when you have successfully nailed a blow to your opposition. Several times did I dance around my enemies, hitting them at the opportune moment, only to sit there wandering whether I actually connected the strike. I cant quite put my finger on what it is that’s missing, but something just didn’t seem right. Surely, when I’m face to face with a giant foe, I should be ‘feeling’ what I’m dealing, but Mulaka fails to connect those dots. Instead, it lacks the padding that we’re accustomed to in other action adventure games. It doesn’t help matters that the controls can (at times) be delayed in feedback, or not respond correctly at all. It’s an unfortunate downside, really, because it’s clear that developer Lienzo has put some thought into Mulaka’s functionality, it just hasn’t paid off quite as well as it could have.
The game does a good job at feeding you into the experience via large deer statues that offer up short and intuitive tutorials. After this, you’re on your own. There’s no shortage of things to smash, collect, or even talk to, as you make your way through the game. Each level has a lot to soak up, and although you can spend a large portion of your time exploring the lush surroundings, your main objective is to collect three spirit stones that will open a path to one of the many well designed boss battles. Boss encounters can be taxing, but despite the floaty combat, these tend to be equally as rewarding once overcome. As for the enemies and their standard variants, many of these often have unique attack patterns and weaknesses, and also come with their own backstories. Mulaka forces you to focus on each fight, and how each fight should be played out, especially when it comes to unique creatures.
This is where the progression becomes of vital importance. Through natural play, Mulaka will gain new powers and abilities that help to make him a more formidable and resourceful individual. Certain abilities require materials to craft, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Before long, Mulaka will learn new powers that enable him to transform into a set amount of creatures, including the likes of a bird, or even a bear. This implementation gives you some extra incentive to backtrack to previously trekked areas to unlock new (previously blocked off) areas, which adds an extra diverse element to the game. The puzzle elements of the game prove to be well set, not demanding too much of a strain, while at the same time breaking up the pace of play nicely. Much like the visuals, the soundtrack is wonderful and captures the spirit of the adventure magnificently well. It’s unfortunate, however, that all of this care and attention to detail, is let down by the dodgy combat, one of the game’s most important aspects.
Mulaka is stunning in its design and detail, but lacking in its gameplay execution, more specifically its combat mechanics. The problem with delayed control feedback certainly doesn’t help. However, if you can overlook these faults, Mulaka offers up a remarkable journey that boasts distinction, meaning, and ambiguity.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.