LA-MULANA Review (Nintendo Switch)

Published on April 23rd, 2020 by Alex D.

LA-MULANA Review (Nintendo Switch)

Don’t let its simplistic style and innocuous-looking protagonist fool you: the puzzle platformer LA-MULANA plays you just as much as you play it.

Plot

Lemeza Kosugi is an archaeologist on a mission to explore the ancient ruins of La-Mulana. Buried deep below the ground since time immemorial, the mystery of La-Mulana has long fascinated adventurers the world over. Enthusiastic explorers travel from far and wide in the hopes of revealing its carefully-preserved secrets, but none who’ve entered have ever returned. La-Mulana is said to be littered with cleverly-designed traps — and the many corpses of those who dared to challenge it.

For some reason, our protagonist thinks his fate will be different. Equipped only with his whip, his wit, and an empty laptop, Lemeza throws himself into the ruins and begins his odyssey. Prepare for elaborate labyrinths, difficult puzzles, and lots of frustration.

Beginning your adventure in LA-MULANA.
No thanks, I traveled all this way just to check out the hot springs.

Gameplay

Difficulty

Of course this was going to be the first subheading. You may have heard rumors circulating about how tough this game is; that it makes fans of the Dark Souls series ragequit and Ninja Gaiden veterans cry. While this may or may not be true, one thing is for sure: the intensity that this game brings can definitely be overwhelming. La-Mulana isn’t there to hold your hand, and there’s no Super Guide like in New Super Mario Bros. Wii; Luigi isn’t going to pop up and endure the difficult parts in your stead.

If you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re too proud to consult a walkthrough guide for answers, you’re going to get stuck a lot.

Battling an enemy in LA-MULANA.
Don’t even get me started on this one.

In fact, part of the reason this game works so well is because it’s meant to test you — and it does a spectacular job at that. Every puzzle is a trial, and while you’ll have to invest a lot of time into getting even a quarter of the way through, the satisfaction that comes with outwitting LA-MULANA is well worth the struggle — and somehow, the loss of sanity.

Gameplay in LA-MULANA.
Oh.

Levels

The levels in this game work a bit differently. In terms of your surroundings, progression isn’t linear; you’ll be revisiting the same locations quite a bit, both at the beginning and farther along in the game. Each time you visit, however, you’ll have a different goal.

Playing LA-MULANA
I have no idea what’s going on here, but I’m not falling for it!

For example, maybe the first time you visit the Mausoleum of the Giants you can’t get a treasure chest to open, or a certain area is sectioned off. That’s alright; there are many reasons to panic in this game, but this isn’t one of them. You’re going to see this place plenty of other times, and opening that treasure chest may only be possible after you’ve met certain conditions. It might take you leaving to another part of the ruins and completing a puzzle there to move forward. Even then, keep in mind that you can’t solve two problems with one puzzle, so while you may have opened the treasure chest, you’ll have to finish another one to open the closed-off area.

Hanging out in LA-MULANA.
This looks like a great place to hang out.

So just remember: if you’re stuck because it seems like there’s no more you can do in one location, that may well be the case… or not. Maybe the answers are somehow cleverly concealed right in front of your face. With this game, you really never know.

Guardians

While this may not be a conventional game, you’ll still encounter big bad bosses at the end of every segment. To reach a Guardian, you’ll need to find ankh jewels. While ankh jewels can be used as weapons, their primary purpose is to unseal an ankh. Once you’ve reached the ankh and have enough ankh jewels to open it, you’ll summon a Guardian. Make sure you go into these battles with lots of health, and work on your strategy as you go.

Battling a Guardian in LA-MULANA.
Going head-to-head(s) with a Guardian.

Softwares and Treasures

These are your saving graces. Your laptop may begin empty, but you’ll acquire software throughout the game, and it’ll make things a lot easier. Not easy mind you, just easier.

The first software you’ll want to obtain is the Glyph Reader. If you go in without it, you won’t be able to read any inscriptions in the ruins, which often contain information on crucial plot elements and provide (semi-)helpful hints. If you have two complimentary software downloaded onto your computer, you’ll receive enhanced perks from their combined effects.

Software in LA-MULANA.
You’ll never guess what that third one does.

Treasures are also the great harbingers of easier times ahead. The ones you’ll be using the most at the beginning are the Holy Grail and the Shell Horn. The Holy Grail can teleport you to previous save locations, and the Shell Horn plays a little sound every time you successfully solve a puzzle. While it may not seem important, you’ll be glad for it when you hear the noise and see absolutely nothing happening; it’ll narrow down where the results of the completed puzzle can be found, since you know it’s not currently in your view.

Settings Screen in LA-MULANA.
Imagine being in a life-or-death situation every two minutes and having to haul all this around.

Time Attack Mode

If you thought the regular game wasn’t stressful enough, try your hand at Time Attack Mode. Thankfully, the timer counts up rather than down, so you’re not being forced to complete the puzzles in two minutes or face the game over screen. Not even this game is that merciless. Instead, it ticks upward as you make your way through the challenge of your choice. Each trial is ranked according to its difficulty, and you’ll be competing against yourself for best personal completion time.

Time Attack Mode, LA-MULANA.
Yeah, as if I’m selecting “Endless Battle” on Expert Mode after barely clawing my way out of those ruins alive the first time.

Controls

The controls take some getting used to, and it’s pretty obvious that the game wasn’t initially designed to run on the Nintendo Switch. Attacking and moving are pretty intuitive, but other things will take some getting used to. While you can always change which buttons perform what function, seeing the game tell you to press the “item button” to access the Holy Grail instead of the button it’s currently assigned to can be a bit confusing.

Pause Screen in LA-MULANA.
See what I mean?

You’ll want to get a good feel for the motion sensitivity, too. Your movement in this game will be a bit different than what you’re used to. The physics are a bit different, from the way you fall to the way you jump. It bolsters the game’s difficulty and takes time to master, but it also adds a certain charm to it.

Music and Graphics

Nothing sets the mood of a game quite like its music, and LA-MULANA knows it. Even when the game’s busy laughing at you for falling into a trap, the music helps keep you motivated. It brings high energy and amusement, which is a must for a game where you’ll constantly be failing.

This image is completely unrelated, but I sacrificed some of my health to take it so you bet I’m posting it.

The graphics are wonderfully simplistic, and will definitely give older gamers a sense of nostalgia. This game wasn’t remade for the Nintendo Switch to show off its graphic capabilities, it’s there because that’s where the fans want it. As a result, there’s no overproduction or graphics thrown in just for the sake of having them. The depths of La-Mulana may be filled with traps, but there are absolutely no gimmicks here.

Verdict

There’s a reason this game is hailed as a cult classic — and with this remake, that reason has never been clearer. A frustratingly clever puzzle platformer chock-full of ingenuity, LA-MULANA is guaranteed to have you hooked within the first few minutes of play.

Spring in the Sky, a stage from LA-MULANA.
Going rogue.

Will you fail? Without a doubt, but every failure urges you forward. The closer you get to the truth, the harder it is to turn away. If you want a real challenge, there’s no better way to go than LA-MULANA.

LA-MULANA gets an 8 out of 10.

Alex D.

About Alex D.

Alex lives near Toronto, Ontario. She works at a library and is not-so-secretly a giant dork. She played Super Mario World at six and has been in love with gaming ever since.