Mulaka PC Review

Bugs, messy combat and uninteresting platforming hinder the discovery of the Tarahumara mythology that Mulaka sets out to explore.

By Woozie, Posted 26 Feb 2018

Mulaka follows the story of the titular Sukurúame, a shapeshifting shaman who must gain the support of the world’s demigods in order to save it. While its plot isn’t the freshest, it is a title rooted in Tarahumara mythology which does attempt to shine light on a culture that’s not too visible. It’s a pity then that the handling of its action-platformer elements isn’t particularly compelling.  

As Mulaka travels from area to area, he’ll bump into a variety of more or less mythological foes. In order to dispatch them, he makes use of his trusty spear and a rather limited set of moves. In practice, Mulaka’s combat comes down to one of two things: either mindless slashing or downright frustration in certain encounters where enemies can stun the shaman repeatedly. Just like movement, the controls during fights also feels loose, making hitting specific enemies a bit tricky at times, especially considering how there is no way of locking on to them. Mulaka can see into the spirit world using Sukurúame Vision which shows the enemies’ HP and reveals certain foes. Most of the time, Mulaka’s combat isn’t particularly demanding, even if it tends to throw combinations of enemies with different attack patterns into the mix. Amidst these, however, are a handful of annoying encounters where two enemies of the same type (flying mantises + frogs, for example) have the tendency to continuously place the protagonist in stunlock. These moments bring fights down to a halt as you’re forced to watch a frog slowly munching on you, or a flying mantis crashing into your stunned self. On the flipside, whenever there’s a slope nearby, you’re left with a clear advantage as enemies don’t really know what to do in those situations. These moments were, incidentally, one of the few times when I felt in control of Mulaka’s combat.

Mulaka, Screenshot, PC, Review

There is some amount of friendly fire between foes, but it doesn’t seem to apply consistently. I could see mantis people hitting smaller foes with their attacks, but charging enemies seemed to only damage me. This means that, despite the game making one aware of friendly fire, it can’t reliably be used to one’s advantage, since it’s difficult to tell when it will trigger and when it won’t. Fights also welcome a handful of bugs. Giant stone enemies have a tendency to get stuck on terrain, allowing to be hit without hitting back. Foes can get on the other side of the combat arena, the only way to take them down being with spear throws that register inconsistently. Aside from his trusty spear, Mulaka can also harvest plants to craft four potions that can be used in and outside of combat. The healing potion (shockingly) heals, the bomb potion damages foes and destroys certain environmental obstacles, the shield potion provides protection against attacks, while the rage potion makes you stronger, faster but not that much harder. Each potion has a pretty lengthy casting time, which should mean the proper moment to drink them needs to be sought while in combat. In practice, the rhythm of fights is a bit of a mess, meaning at times you’ll have too many windows to take a sip and heal up, while in other fights you’ll be hard pressed to find any. With 19 enemies and 7 bosses, there is some variety to the encounters, but even that fizzles out as the end draws near. Most foes are one-trick ponies that repeat the same attack over and over. The bosses do seem to have more intricate patterns to their attacks, but most boss fights end fairly quickly, being quite forgettable. That wasn’t the case with the last boss, although it’s not because of masterful boss design. The level has you fighting five encounters (which include bosses you’ve previously fought) prior to facing the final baddie. If you happen to die during the last encounter, you’ll have to go through all of them again, which wasn’t exactly thrilling to begin with.

While combat is an integral part of Mulaka, there’s also platforming and puzzles to look out for. In most of Mulaka’s semi-open levels, three rocks must be found to open a gate leading to the final encounter. Using Sukurúame Vision shows icons on the edges of the screen. These can either lead to puzzles, main objectives or collectable essence used for upgrading health, damage and magic (required for shapeshifting) which is done through a light RPG-style system that is very limited. Mulaka’s controls feel fairly loose, its movement feels floaty. The shape shifting capabilities of the Sukurúame mostly come into play in certain platforming sections. The bird transformation is essentially triggered by double jumping, launching the shaman into a glide. There’s little that can be done aside from changing horizontal direction. The issue comes from the fact that it’s also the sole way to double jump. This often leads to waiting a few seconds after double jumping, as the bird clumsily clips through a nearby platform that’s slightly higher, while requiring a third (precise) button press in order to leave the form and land on the desired platform. While this wasn’t the cause of too many deaths, it was fiddly to deal with for most of my time with the game.

Mulaka, Screenshot, PC, Review

The bear transformation breaks certain rocks or slabs of ice marked with a claw symbol, while dealing a good amount of damage in combat and providing invincibility frames. The leopard allows for a lunge attack as well as jumping on orange trees to get to specific spots. While doing the latter, it cannot be controlled, so all you need to look out for is to have a full magic bar. Lastly, the snake allows for swimming and freezing vines which can then be destroyed by using the bear transformation. If it sounds like a PS2 game à la Okami, it’s very clear that Mulaka is inspired by such titles. Areas can freely be travelled in between, having certain (optional) items locked behind obstacles that require powers from later on to unlock. Be that as it may, the platforming is quite basic. In one of the later levels, using both the leopard and bird form is required as part of a few brief sections. This brought about some unneeded frustration as combining the two was very clunky. As for puzzles, they mostly involve rotating rock slabs so that water flows in between several snake mouths. They’re not particularly difficult or engaging.

Visually, Mulaka goes for a similar low-poly style to AER: Memories Of Old and it does have its moments. Patches of color do enliven the prevalent shades of brown, and the one level taking place at night does come with beautiful glows here and there. It’s easy to differentiate between enemies, which include mantis people, rock-posessing spirits, scorpions and even rock giants. Musically, Mulaka’s soundtrack, which has its share of tribal overtones, didn’t really do much for me. There’s nothing that asked for attention or enhanced elements of the gameplay. Some of the tracks also seem to suffer from low quality mixing. In tune with the titles it tries to emulate, mumbling and text are favored over actual voice acting, with the writing varying in quality from dry to actually informative or comedic (looking at you, pheasants).

Mulaka, PC, Screenshot, Review

One of the game’s intentions was to bring awareness towards Tarahumara culture. Mulaka can run indefinitely, without having to manage a stamina meter, which reminds of the legendary Tarahumara runners. The larger focus falls on mythology, presenting various myths and creatures like mantis people and rock-possessing spirits. Each enemy has an entry in the game’s bestiary that can be read at any time. The few loading screens there are contain really beautiful art, offering an extra bit of insight into the world. There’s definitely an interesting world view to discover, and optional objectives do provide some side text that enriches the experience. On the other hand, the humans in Mulaka feel anything but human. Perhaps I’ve become a little too desensitized to a wife asking me to save her husband from one danger or another, but Mulaka’s humans are as shallow as the one or two lines they say when addressed.

Mulaka takes notes from Okami and its peers, stringing together elements in such a manner that going through it doesn’t bother too much. It also fails to do anything interesting with them, never getting anywhere close to its influences. You rarely feel in control of the combat, enemies are forgettable and when the platforming isn’t clumsy, it’s just basic. On the other hand, while it’s not the most thorough exploration of Tarahumara culture (and it never was intended to be), it’s a decent introduction, making known their pantheon of gods, a few myths and giving a brief look at the culture. There’s some soul to be found in certain bits of writing and the beautiful cutscene art in between levels, but getting to them involves going through an experience that’s simply average.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Mulaka

57/100

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Lienzo
Developer(s): Lienzo
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Indie
Release Date: 2018-02-27

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