Mulaka is an adventure game that draws full inspiration from the Tarahumara people of Mexico, offering a very different cultural palette wrapped up in a much more commonly understood action-adventure package. The game feels like it’s trying to not only teach us about the traditions and mythology of these people, but also act as a preservation tool, enabling you to soak up this hidden world in an interactive setting.
The game begins with the titular character arriving in the Sierra Tarahumara - the land of the Tarahumara people - which has been threatened by an evil being called Teregori. As a Sukurúame (a class of shaman believed to possess magical power), Mulaka sets off on a journey to try and save the world, collecting knowledge and assistance from ancient demigods along the way. These demigods take the form of various animals and, together, they believe that they can stop the Teregori from bringing destruction upon their land.
As you can probably already tell, this game is great from an educational point of view; developer Lienzo has put in an awful lot of work to create something that is truly representative of the Tarahumara culture, and for many players all of this information will be entirely new. We found ourselves intrigued by the clear differences between these people and our own way of living, and the artwork used during the game’s loading screens are so beautiful that we felt immersed within this world that we were experiencing for the first time.
In terms of gameplay, Mulaka revolves around a loop which tasks you with exploring an area to find three crystals, using the crystals to unlock a giant door, and then taking on that area’s boss before moving on to the next place. It’s a repetitive system, but it gets the job done. Exploring can be really enjoyable at times, but it largely depends on the area you’re in; the first area or two feel a little bland, and the low-poly graphics often meant that we couldn’t see the difference between areas that could and couldn’t be walked on. Other areas later in the game were more successful, however, with a wider variety of colour helping to show off the art-style much better.
The game’s basic platforming, adventure, and puzzle solving is a very standard, but decent experience. The demigods you encounter will each provide you with a special power, such as the power of flight, breaking down heavy objects, scaling walls, and so on, and these are used nicely to progress through the mostly obvious, but still relatively pleasing areas. The puzzles don’t put up too much of a challenge – in fact, the bigger challenge is usually finding your way around – but their inclusion is essential for breaking up the game’s persistent combat.
You see, this is the area where the game takes the biggest hit. Some elements of the combat are done nicely, such as your life system representing the three souls that Tarahumara men are said to have, and the need for potions that are assigned to the D-Pad to restore health, use bombs, create a temporary shield, or increase your attack, but there are two main issues which cause more frustration than they are worth.
Firstly, the game suffers from a lack of any ‘locking-on’ type of mechanic that we so often see in the Legend of Zelda series. As you take on opponents you’ll be aimlessly running around the 3D arenas, trying to make contact with enemies without being able to properly keep them where you want them. Thanks to this, throwing your spear can be an absolute nightmare, and the cursor that displays where the spear will land is often hidden behind your character model.
Secondly, the game halts progress far too often with ‘lockdown’ areas, forcing you to defeat waves of enemies to progress. It’s all fun at first, but after being forced into drawn-out fights for the tenth time, everything gets far too frustrating and you’ll just want to be exploring the areas around you. The enemies presented to you in these fights all have different ways to be defeated, which is great in theory, but when you have five to ten different enemy types running around you with no way to lock on to them, you’ll find yourself taking hits thanks to a flaw in the game’s design rather than a lack of player skill.
The boss fights, on the other hand, are great. We don’t want to spoil too much here, but this time Mulaka has followed in the Zelda series’ footsteps with each monster having a weak point that must be reached and then hit. The battle designs vary nicely here, with a particular highlight seeing you use your flying power to navigate one boss’ enormous form, taking out parts of the creature on the way up, before smashing back down to the ground to deal some real damage on the surface.
As you can see, the gameplay itself is somewhat of a mixed bag, and it has to be said that we also ran into the occasional software crash which forced us to reload our save file on a small handful of occasions. The developer is aware of these crashes and is working on a patch to fix them, so this issue should hopefully be resolved soon, but the problems that plague the game’s combat and general flow will always remain intact. Mulaka is by no means a bad adventure game, but there are just a few too many gameplay decisions that seem to work against it.
Mulaka offers a truly intriguing insight into the culture and mythology of the Tarahumara people, but is let down by some frustrating gameplay issues. Exploring and puzzle solving is a simple but enjoyable affair, and there are elements of the combat system that show real promise, but some oversights surrounding the game’s pacing and controls leave quite a lot to be desired. If you’re interested enough in learning about the topic it wouldn’t be unwise to give the game a go despite its flaws, but players looking purely for great gameplay might want to ponder over it a little longer.