Mulaka by Lienzo
Not many games explore the folklore of indigenous cultures, so when I hear when a game is inspired by one, I’m automatically interested. In 2016, Never Alone, a game inspired by the folklore of Iñupiat people, was a great immersive experience. Mulaka by Lienzo is an action adventure game that aims to take us on a folklore-inspired mystical journey to stop a god from destroying earth.
Shamans and Demigods
The game is inspired by the lore of an indigenous Mexican group of people called the Tarahumara. You play as a Tarahumara shaman chosen to stop an evil lord believed to be the cause of the increasing conflicts and hatred in the world. If he is not stopped, evil will eventually consume the world and cause its destruction.
Your journey has you finding demigods, who not only help you reach the evil lord, but also grant you helpful abilities. The narrative isn’t the main focus, though, as cut scenes don’t necessarily develop characters or flesh out the world as much as I felt it could have.
The abilities you acquire from demigods ties directly into what the game has you doing throughout your journey. A demigod gave me an ability to turn into a bird to glide across gaps during platforming sections. Another ability allowed me to turn into a bear for a brief moment to destroy large boulders blocking paths. I gained the ability to turn into a snake to run across the surfaces of large bodies of water. These abilities help you traverse and explore the landscape not only for progression but also for exploration.
The game offers a solid amount of exploration thanks to its structure, which is largely inspired by the 3D Legend of Zelda games. There are a number of hub areas in the game, each with hidden collectibles and secrets to uncover. The main gameplay loop here is that you enter an environment and complete objectives to acquire three stones, which unlock a magical doorway to the next hub area.
Hub areas will contain simple water puzzles, moderately challenging platforming sequences, and arena-style wave-based combat sequences. For the most part, these hub areas offer a nice variety of areas to explore, but what the game has you do in these areas is not as diversified as it could have been. I felt like I was doing the same things in each area, which is a shame, because there could have been more interesting things to do or side stories to experience in this mystical world. Overall, I did have a fun enough time exploring the game’s many environments, trying to find each collectible within an area.
The Shaman Becomes the Warrior
There’s a lot of combat in Mulaka. For the most part, it works well; it’s not too difficult, and it’s responsive enough to make you at times feel like a bad-ass. The problem is that it feels too button-mashy. There are combos you can pull off, but that doesn’t reward you with cool-looking moves or unique ways to kill enemies. Combos have the same effect as just mashing the main attack button, making for a more ho-hum combat system. There is also a lack of a targeting lock-on system, which would have made it so that I could dodge attacks more effectively.
I encountered a number of unique enemies, ranging from humanoid preying mantis creatures to tougher rock monsters. One creature would fly around, throwing projectiles that locked me into place for a moment. Some creatures can only be harmed from behind, while others grabbed and pulled me toward them. Some enemies require some strategy, like using the strong attack to break their guard, but nothing more complex than that.
But since there are so many types of enemies, the developers did a nice job of mixing up different combinations. This made combat sequences feel fresh enough to ward off feelings of overt repetition across the game’s six-hour journey.
These Fights are Boss, Man
I felt like the game had a lot of bright moments peppered throughout that made the journey really fun. Each area ends with a boss fight, and most of these were a blast to play. They were challenging and required you to be on your toes at every moment. They were all unique from one another and definitely the best parts of the game. My favorite boss had me going up against a colossal tree creature; I had to find a way to jump onto its back to destroy certain weak points while it tried desperately to throw me off. A later area of the game had a platforming sequence that challenged my effective use of abilities up to that point. There are undoubtedly a number of bright spots that I think manage to make up for the game’s mediocre combat.
Into the Other World
Mulaka manages to pull off its mystical, almost otherworldly look thanks to a simplistic art style. Creatures are all unique from one another, and the game favors solid colors over detailed environmental textures, adding an aura of general vagueness. It works with the game’s focus on Tarahumara folklore; in a way, it feels like a story is being told where we don’t necessarily have all the details, but rather a general sense. Maybe I’m reading too much into its art style, but I felt it worked perfectly.
Traditional musical instruments of the Tarahumara people were used for the game’s soundtrack, resulting in something that sounds unique. Tracks evoke a nice array of feelings from haunting to triumphant. Stringed instruments and drums are more prevalent throughout, but there is this haunting, more chaotic sounding tuba-like instrument in many tracks that makes moments in the game more intense. The score is different from the norm and fits well with the fantastical setting.
Mulaka is a game hindered by a mediocre combat system and a bare-bones narrative, but it’s elevated by well-designed boss fights and an interesting world to explore. It’s like a light version of a Legend of Zelda game, lacking depth a number of places.
Overall, though, I enjoyed my time with it and recommend it to fans of exploration-driven action adventure.
Mulaka is available via the Nintendo Game Store, Sony PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store and Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Mulaka below: