Mulaka Review: Magic, Mystery, and Culture
At its core, Mulaka is mechanically very similar to previous games like Prototype, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed. It’s an action-adventure game that pits players against mythical creatures in stunning 3D areas with a full range of light and heavy attacks. The fast-paced action requires astute observation of your surroundings in addition to keeping tabs on hidden secrets and areas in each level.
The complex nature of Mulaka is easy to swallow due to the rich historical nature that was created in collaboration with anthropologists and Tarahumara leaders in order to capture the true heart of the culture in the game. You are the Sukurúame -- a Tarahumara shaman -- as you fight in a corrupted land while drawing upon the abilities of demigods to aid you.
One standout component of this game is the folklore and background that the developer Lienzo wanted to show the player: controlling a Rarámuri warrior, narration in authentic Rarámuri, and exploring the actual landscape of the Sierra Tarahumara. The story mode tells of the birth of the world and how the Sun, Moon, and Twilight want to destroy the earth. You, the Sukurúame, with the powers bestowed upon you by the demigods, protect the region. Advancing through the story gives you an enjoyable opportunity to soak in the culture and the Rarámuri language. The soundtrack is a spectacular use of preserving the music unique to the region, which is also available on SoundCloud.
Mulaka does the player a favor with its minimalist approach to the on-screen presentation. The HUD uses the same graphical style used by the actual Tarahumara culture. The level of intricacy within the details of your health and D-Pad is more akin to an MMO than an action-adventure game. Given the game's slow-paced nature, it seems almost too easy to keep track of everything on the screen -- so much so that you will find yourself lost in the vibrant, low-poly visual landscape of northern Mexico, just trying to focus on a single goal.
For some, Mulaka's simplistic nature is not what they are looking for, but within the game controls are hidden moves that inflict more damage to the corrupted enemies. This more complex nature could be what they are looking for. If you put in the hours to play Mulaka, there is a fantastic action-adventure game underneath it all.
Each of your three standard lives is represented as a soul, and as you lose them, each soul gets taken by the enemy that damages you. What is stunning about that is you see the soul being ripped away and drifting towards that enemy. To retrieve your soul, you craft a magic potion and perform a ritual dance. In addition to that, you will craft various items to help you on your journey.
For the average player, Mulaka might be the right game to play for cleansing the palate after playing 50 hours+ games. It’s easy to see that many people will get through this game within a few hours, but that's not the point. Like Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the information of the world is integrated within the story. The game presents critical information to the player through the lore of each enemy and land. For instance, the tutorial eases you into the controls with totems of the spirit animals. An on-screen prompt appears with the appropriate move required.
There are points within the game, however, that feel like an unnatural means to introduce harder enemies for the player. An example of this can be found with the game's “fighting circle.” These circles have the player face about three waves of various enemies while locked within a determined space. The gameplay loop of the “fighting circle” is often used too much here -- around two to three times per level. This forced grind is a poor decision that robs the player of the option to enjoy the game how they see fit. When the same enemies are in the surrounding area, these “fighting circles” seem unnecessary. While the gameplay is fun, given the intensive care to the narrative and wonderful writing, it’s more likely that you will stick with the story and see it to the eventual conclusion than worry about the gameplay.
There’s no denying that Mulaka takes a huge risk in trying to do something unique, from the developer creating a Kickstarter to using the lore of old books and forgotten texts. This game asks the average person to pay attention to the words of the past and to how stories are told and spread, proving how different cultures can touch players through storytelling and gameplay.
Mulaka comes out February 27 for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Note: A review code was provided by the developer.