Difficulty varies wildly in video games nowadays from the dramatically easy to the punishingly difficult. Still, you can beat most games of the current generation… except La-Mulana. Well, I couldn’t beat it, try as I might. There are games nowadays that hold your hand when you seem to have been lost for hours or have died a set number of times; La-Mulana is not one of those games. This game grabs your hand instead and breaks your thumb for fun, just like the old days. In its core gameplay and presentation, this 2-D platformer from the sinister minds at NIGORO plays and looks like a tough-as-nails games from back in the day, when developers weren’t afraid of making you cry. I tried to beat game, really, I did, but I decided I had seen quite enough at some point. By now you know this game can be extremely difficult, but is it any good?
I actually jumped into La-Mulana with zero knowledge of this game, judging from a few screenshots that this would be a pleasant little ride. Little did I know, it had quite a reputation. Apparently, it was released in 2005 in Japan with MSX-inspired graphics, making for a game you could convince anyone totally came out in 1985, in both its visage and its cruelty. The version I played however, was rebuilt from the ground up with new graphics, several new puzzles, and different bosses. In its huge makeover, La-Mulana remains just as lethal and endearing as always.
La-Mulana plays like most 2-D side-scrolling platformers, like Castlevania, Metroid, or Spelunky. One of the biggest differences however, is in the controls. Every jump must be made with some bit of momentum and extreme discretion as you may jump a little too far and land a room below where you need to and lose a fair amount of progress, especially before you get the ability to warp. Navigation becomes even trickier when there are surprises hidden around nearly every corner. For example, various times I kept falling for the same invisible floor trap that just sent me plummeting to my starting point over and over again. They can be exciting, such as one in which a set piece begins to crash down and, hopefully, you’ve gotten out of the way in time.
There is only one little surprise in the game that I think is downright evil: throughout the game there are many tablets to read obscure hints off of, but there is one single one in the game that if you read the game, without warning, the remainder of the game will be made more difficult. It’s these sorts of cruel little presents that you don’t want sometimes.
Other than that though, the game is still pretty fair. Resources are very scarce, so players would have to approach every new location in the ruins with extreme precaution. Still, don’t let me scare you away from playing the game. It can be done. Just don’t expect it to be easy, by any means.
You are, of course, not entirely defenseless on your adventure. Lemeza, the protagonist, is armed with a whip from the start. Along the way you’ll find swords, shields, guns, and other projectiles to help you face the eight Ankhs (bosses) that must be defeated in no particular order to reach the final boss. The trick is finding many of them in the first place. Tons of puzzles and traps await you in La-Mulana and I pray for the soul that takes on this game without any help from the internet.
One of the best aspects of La-Mulana is how in spite of its intimidating gameplay, it still has plenty of personality, namely from an old man who frequently sends you humorous emails along your journey. He brings a sort of brevity that makes things seem less horrible when you’ve been trudging through the ruins for hours now. The revamped graphics also help as well as the game is always pretty with its location all varying in style. Because you might be spending hours at a time in any given area, the music may start to get on your nerves a bit, but for the most part, it’s not bad.
Newly included in this Steam version is a reworked Time Attack mode which essentially works as a Boss Rush mode, giving you every weapon right off the bat when you feel like taking a load off from exploring. With a variety of difficulties here, the easy mode is actually surprisingly generous, letting me get a lot further than I expected. Other than that, I can’t say the game has much replay value, unless you really like going through games as quickly as possible. While by the time I hit 10 hours of gameplay I was still not even halfway through the game, I saw a speedrun of some guy going through the entire game in 13 minutes. How? He is probably a wizard, that’s how.
Overall, La-Mulana is a great game that very well might kick your ass, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out. If and when you get past sections of these cruelly difficult ruins, it feels immensely satisfying. Because every action you take must be carefully thought out and executed, you feel like a T-1000 once you’ve figured out that puzzle that has been figuratively laughing at you for the past few hours, making the loss of hair fairly worth it. For those that don’t mind a bit of stress and for those who have had a hard time finding a game that has really given them a challenge over the past decade, look no further than La-Mulana. Fans of 2-D platformers will find a lot to like as a whole, so long as you don’t underestimate it. It can be beat, it has been done (in 13 minutes no less), but I sure as hell couldn’t do it. Still, I had a fun, but painful time.
[+Controls and level design make every action count in a big way] [+Pretty, varied environments] [+Plenty of personality to make you hurt less] [+Tricky, challenging, and satisfying puzzles] [-Can be painfully difficult] [-A couple of secrets are just downright unfair] [-Single song for every location plays on a loop]
You can purchase La-Mulana on Steam for $7.49 until July 22nd!