“A vibrant world exploring a little-known cultural mythology makes for a consistently enticing and enjoyable adventure.”
Created by indie developers Lienzo, Mulaka is a truly intriguing adventure game. Informed by the rich yet little-known mythology of the Tarahumara, an indigenous people native to northern Mexico, the game follows the journey of a Sukuruame, a shaman in their culture, who was believed to possess god-like powers. At a time when people are more willing than ever to explore the lives, cultures and beliefs of such remarkable civilisations, Mulaka offers a taste of something that many gamers, albeit people, may never have seen before. In the wake of the outstanding success of Marvel’s Black Panther, a film with a heavy focus on traditional cultures from the African continent, it may have come at the perfect time to do so.
From the very beginning, the Mulaka oozes both vibrancy and wonder. A bright, low-poly aesthetic carries a game which prides itself of being simple, open and enticing to the exploration-hungry player. You begin your journey in a tutorial level, which quickly and effectively teaches you the basics of what your Sukuruame can do. Armed with just a simple spear, the physical prowess of your warrior-come-shaman is immediately clear, with speed, agility and athleticism proving to be your allies early in the game. To help you find your way around and progress, you can also utilise your character’s heightened senses to locate nearby objectives and points of interest. This feature proves especially useful given that most of the environments in the game are desert-based. The abundance of orange could easily get you lost, if not for your unique abilities.
It is not long after you learn how to wield your specialist skills that you are tasked with battling some of the unique and unusual enemies of Tarahumaran mythology. Some are fairly normal, for example the scorpions. Others, like he giant walking skulls or would-be ninja preying mantises, are more daunting, albeit deadly foes. Like any shaman on a journey to earn his salt, you must begin your crusade with only your trusty spear and bouncy legs as allies, making your wits perhaps your must crucial asset of all. Each of these enemies is intelligently designed, with specific abilities to avoid and weaknesses to exploit. These are not given to you freely; you must observe, adapt and overcome through experience. If you succeed, however, you are fruitfully rewarded.
After defeating the first boss-style enemy in the game, a giant scorpion which a native kindly lets you know has many weak legs, you are visited by some of the demigod spirits of Tarahumaran culture. As you progress through the game, you eventually gain the powers of these beings, turning the Sukuruame into a truly formidable force. This system works in something of an Assassin’s Creed III style, as do some other elements of the game such as crafting. If anything, however, Mulaka simplifies these mechanics, and executes them with a much gentler finesse than the AAA title.
There are one or two gripes that I had with Mulaka, however. One of these is down to the console on which I played the game. The Nintendo Switch is a bit of a mixed basket when it comes to playing this game. If docked and played with the JoyCon Grip or Pro Controller, then controlling the game feels just fine. With the loose JoyCons or in handheld mode, however, it is very hard to move the camera with any real accuracy, making some functions such as aiming and throwing a spear a bit of a pain to get on with. When some puzzles relied on this ability, the game became difficult to enjoy. These was also a noticeable drop in the smoothness of gameplay when the Switch was undocked, with frame rate drops significantly detracting from the overall experience. With that in mind, I would recommend careful consideration of the system on which you intend to play the game.
The only other issue I had with Mulaka was some of the people you came across in the game. Your character does not speak in Mulaka, but there are many native people around who have something to say if you approach them. Whilst the game is not voice acted, leaving subtitles and sound effects to do the work, the textualised dialogue of these characters was disappointing. Many were quippy, or otherwise flippant in nature, and this took away from the cultural aesthetic that the game had promised. An otherwise intriguing and immersive world becomes infrequently but frustrating discredited by its inhabitants.
For the most part, I found Mulaka to be an enjoyable game. I learned a thing or two about a culture I was not previously familiar with and found the gameplay experience in general to be interesting, immersive and enticing. The Sukuruame character who’s story you follow is an impressive protagonist, who’s abilities inspire awe and make him exciting to play. The world, in its own right, is also delightful to drink in and explore. The game’s problems, however, knock it down a few pegs. These were, as noted, largely down to the console on which I played it and are therefore largely avoidable. The key issue, then, is that the conversations you have with other characters in the game do not work to maintain or enhance the story or culture of the world, instead achieving the unfortunate opposite. Despite this fact, I think there are a number of players who will enjoy Mulaka for its positive points and may be able to ignore its flaws. If you think you might be one of them, I recommend giving it a go.
For the latest updates, visit Lienzo’s official website, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch, or visit Mulaka’s store pages on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, Humble Store, and GOG.