There are some games that we expect a lot from but end up not amounting to much once released, while there are others that barely anyone pays attention to, but end up taking us into a captivating universe with polished gameplay. Mulaka belongs to this second category . The game takes us to the north of Mexico, at the time where an indigenous culture called Tarahumara lived there. Players control a Sukurúame, a Tarahumara shaman , with the main particularity of being able to run long and far, and being able to see things that normal people cannot. The game starts as your character is on a journey to attack the evil that corrupts the earth. During the epic, you will appeal to the powers of certain demi-gods, symbolized by animals.
A rather tedious beginning
When you start playing in Mulaka, the benchmarks are quite difficult to take. We advance in the first level, not in a very serene mindset, trying to understand what can happen here. We meet enemies that we kill as best we can, objects and NPCs to interact with, all while learning how to use our current set of abilities, until we, half by chance, fall upon some elements that allow us to move forward. Then the character encounters a kind of mini boss, a fight that can be quite complicated when we do not have the combat gameplay learned yet. Once the mini boss defeated, surprise: we get a stone…one of three that will serve to open a kind of stone door, allowing us to advance to the next zone.
So initially, the gameplay is quite empty, as the scenery (which is not helped by the presence of invisible walls). The first zone of Mulaka does not give a very good impression, a desert that doesn’t bring much.
Some will probably end up judging the title from this, but they couldn’t be more wrong as the beauty of the title comes later. We could almost think that the entire desert area is a “tutorial” created so as to not distract the player from the primary goal: to learn to master the game. Moreover, even this desert isn’t limited to what you can see as you start the game. Mulaka offers a system of exploration, with objects to be found in each level, some requiring skill that are only unlocked later on.
The situation is much better afterwards
Indeed, as you advance in the 8 maps of the game, a number of new techniques are learned. Some are actually potions, which you can “craft” with plants scattered throughout the worlds. There is the first one, a healing potion, followed buy some sort of grenade that is thrown to remove certain obstacles. The other two are more combat oriented (although the 4 of them can be used used while fighting), one creating a shield around that that absorbs damage, and the other boosting your own damage. But that’s not all, besides these potions that you have to craft, your character has a magic gauge, which is used either to use the special vision, or to use the various transformations available. The first one you will unlock is the bird transformation, which allows you to fly over a distance (no vertical movements) until you decide to transform back or run out of magic (which auto-recovers in seconds).
This transformation brings a certain amount of challenge at times, forcing you to be precise on your flight: if you do not manage your magic gauge well, you will surely not fall where you wanted. After the bird, another transformation is unlocked: the bear . This one allows you to destroy some special walls, which can not be destroyed with the “grenade” potion. Then comes the snake, which allows to ” crawl ” on the water. From this transformation, the game also proposes to combine. It is possible with the snake to “freeze” some obstacles, which must then be destroyed with the bear. This system of transformation is undoubtedly the main basis of the game.
The enemies of the game are rather recurrent, but new ” species ” appear on each entry into a new zone. Praying mantises, poisonous mushrooms, frogs or toads, you will often have a hard time until you figure out how to deal with them and can easily dispatch them. However, beware of the arena system. Indeed, certain areas of the game turn into an arena as soon as you step into them, and you will have to get rid of some waves of more or less resistant enemies. Generally, these waves start with weaker monsters (scorpions usually), gradually adding in stronger enemies, sometimes with 6 or 7 enemies around you, and you will not be able to get out of here until you’re done with them.
Strong point of the combat system: at no time will the game seem too difficult. You will die and start again, but there are two important things to consider: your life bar, and your special bar. Your life is shown as 3 diamond looking icons that represent the strength of your soul, each one being reduced as you take damage. When one of these parts is emptied, a kind of soul comes out of your body. It does not change the game, but it’s a nice little animation (albeit somewhat troubling while you’re in combat). Luckily, health potions allow you to recover the lost soul, which, however, takes a few seconds. Regarding special the bar, it is possible for you to release a powerful enough attack after you’ve damaged and defeated a number of enemies. Creates a vortex that damages enemies around you (best used while you’re surrounded).
This special attack is also essential during the clashes against the various bosses of the game, to inflict heavy damage while they are vulnerable. These bosses are also relatively well-made in Mulaka, often trying to make you use whatever skill you’ve learned recently. The only downside during the combat (and that’s just nitpicking really) is the camera orientation and the management of the character whether you are facing classic enemies, a boss/mini boss, or fighting in an arena. While it is in no way catastrophic, you will sometimes find yourself missing attacks or objectives (the mechanics to be used against the boss in the third zone for example). It should also be noted that when you try to heal yourself (among other things, depending on the potion used), your character begins to perform a ritual dance stopping him for a few seconds. It is not uncommon to be attacked at this time, even more so if the camera doesn’t show enemies sneaking up from your side or behind you.
One last point regarding the gameplay, Mulaka occasionally offers small riddles, usually in the same style, albeit progressively more complicated. Only problem: they are amazingly simple. You will obviously be spending more time on the bigger ones, but should have no issue solving them.
A sublime artistic side
Just like the gameplay, the maps become much more complete as you progress. You go from a flat desert to a fairly dense forest, usually with a classic but terribly effective artistic direction. Everything is modeled in Low-Poly. To encourage immersion, the characters of the game speak in a native Tarahumara language and the music fit in the environments in a rather spectacular way. Unfortunately, the repetitive sound effects of our character can spoil that a bit.
Mulaka is not a perfect game, or the longest. But this is an independent game that has been given a lot of care, well-thought out on both technical and artistic terms. After playing for four hours, I was amazed by each new zone that, despite some repetitiveness, have managed to make me want to continue playing. The arenas, the puzzles, the gameplay construction, everything was a little similar from one environment to another. But the strength of the game is to diversify the level design, and that makes a big difference.