La Mulana EX Review

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Title: La Mulana EX
Developer: Rising Star Games
Game Type: PlayStation Vita
Download: 213 MB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download

EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

Difficult games that don’t show you where to go aren’t the normal release in gaming nowadays.  Games that just let you go at it with little direction of where to go have been populated in gaming history, though.  Back in the 16-bit era, these games were seen very often.  If you look back to the libraries of, say, the Nintendo Entertainment System, you’ll see a lot of hard games from back then that didn’t give you any sort of direction.  Just threw you into the game and you had to figure things out as you went along.

There are some games like this in today’s gaming world, though.  Back in 2005, a nostalgic indie game was developed for PC called La Mulana in this vein.  It was a throwback to an Indiana Jones take on the gameplay of the old Castlevania and Metroid games.  Many gamers would call this game, much like the recent Aeterno Blade, a Metroidvania game.  Unlike Aeterno Blade, though, La Mulana was a very hard game to finish.

Since then, La Mulana has graced a few different platforms.  For the first time, though, it has graced the handheld gaming world.  Being a remake of the original game with some new content, it has come to the PlayStation Vita for on-the-go gamers to enjoy as well as console gamers, being compatible with the PlayStation TV.  Here is my official review of La Mulana EX!

Story

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The story of La Mulana takes place in a set of ruins that are called the same.  It is said that the ruins of La Mulana are home to the birth of all civilization on Earth.  The ruins also are rumored to hold an artifact known as “The Secret Treasure of Life”.  After your father had entered the ruins, only to not return, you set foot inside to ruins to find him, the treasure, and the secrets that the ruins hold.

The story of La Mulana isn’t anything overly spectacular at first.  However, this is a game in the vein of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, so you get more background information about the ruins and the beings within the further you explore the game.  What starts out very vague and cryptic slowly becomes more clear as you go through the game.  If you’re a fan of archaeology adventure stories like Indiana Jones, it’s an interesting to story to unfold.

The story isn’t the main point of the game, though, which is the gameplay.  You won’t be caught up in a huge amount of scenes as you play through the game, but more reading stone tablets as you progress through.

Gameplay

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While the unofficial term for this game is “Metroidvania”, La Mulana EX is a 2D Platformer with puzzle and combat elements thrown into the mix.  As you play through the game you will be traversing traps as well as fighting off enemies and using items to solve puzzles and create new paths to get to the later areas of the game.

The first thing to know is that this game is not linear.  There is only one ending to the game, but there are several different paths you can take to get to that ending.  You could play through the game 3 or 4 times and never take the same path order each time you replay it.  This is both nice that it’s not linear but also throws you for a loop with the challenge.

The challenge is the biggest thing you want to know.  La Mulana is one of the most difficult games I’ve played on the PS Vita.  This is mostly due to the nostalgic aspect of the game that doesn’t tell you what to do.  There are small hints as you play through the game, or through an email system on your laptop you get from the first hut you come across.  But there is no clear direction give to you.  Nor does the game say where interact-able objects are.  That is something you need to figure out on your own.

The other aspect of the difficulty is how stages and areas are set up.  There are certain ways to tackle certain areas, be it jumps or timing for a lot of things.  Some enemies will need to be attacked at precise moments.  You may also need to attack at certain times in a jump to keep from getting knocked out of the way and falling down a pit to your death.  This definitely gives it a nostalgic feel to it where you’ll need to look at some areas and think about your movements before you actually do them.

The combat also feels like a nostalgic game, more on the Castlevania side.  Your main weapon is a whip and attacking with it feels very reminiscent of Castlevania.  The way you attack and the speed in which you attack makes you feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones version of Castlevania.  You can also find other weapons to use, like an Axe among other things.  All in all, though, it’ll feel like you’re playing a cross between Indiana Jones and Castlevania from start to finish.

From start to finish, you will be spending a decent amount of time with La Mulana EX.  The main story your first time through will likely take you about 12 – 15 hours to finish, depending on how quickly you catch onto its systems.  Apart from this are the exclusive features to the EX version, which includes a bestiary to look through, along with trophies and leaderboards.  Not a plethora of new content, but something extra for those who’ve already played the game.

Controls

As far as the interface is concerned, you won’t be using the touch screen for this game.  Just like the other versions of La Maluna, the EX version will only be controlled with physical buttons.  The controls are also the same, whether you’re playing the game on the Vita or the PlayStation TV.  You won’t have any different controls with a controller, be it a Dual Shock 3 or Dual Shock 4.

The one thing that makes the controls for this game nice is that it is 100% customizable.  You can set any button for any action.  If you want to attack with the L button, you can set it to that.  The only controls you cannot change are movements, which are handled with the D-Pad and Left Analog Stick.

The default control scheme has the following setup.  The L and R buttons can cycle through your weapons that you can use and the rest of the game is reliant upon the face buttons.  You can use the X button to jump and the Triangle button to use an equipped item.  For attacking, you can use the Square button for your main weapon and the Square button for your Sub Weapon.  All in all, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of, but you do need to go through the menu to see this without experimenting around.

The only problems you may have with the controls are the nostalgic bits of jumping.  Jumping while moving goes fine, but there’s a certain amount of waiting if you’re standing still and want to jump and move at the same time.

Presentation

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As far as the presentation is concerned, it’s a little hard to judge and rate it.  The game has an old-school look and there are definitely some pixel-like jagged edges around a lot of the character models.  However, the game is supposed to look like that, so it’s hard to judge whether you can really dock points based on what the game is supposed to look like, in the first place.

One thing I will note is that the game is cropped.  The game is still in its original aspect ratio, which is more like a 4:3 game than a wide-screen game.  So, instead of converting the game into the PS Vita’s aspect ratio, they just added borders around the edges.  It is very similar to what is done in the PS Vita versions of Arcana Hearts 3: Love Max and Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R.  The thing about this is that the borders cannot be moved away.  You can change the backgrounds for them, but you cannot play the game full-screen like you can on other systems.

Outside of this, the game’s presentation is done well.  There aren’t any noticeable lag or slowdown issues.  While the controls feel like there is clunky input lag, it’s how the controls are.  As far as the presentation is concerned, everything runs pretty seamlessly without any slowdown, lag, or long load times.

Summary

La Mulana EX is what some people may consider the “definitive” version of the 2005 indie game La Maluna.  On the downside, the controls are a little bit clunky and the game is rendered with borders, making full-screen gameplay impossible.  Outside of this is a nostalgic metroidvania title that will not only test your patience, but also your skill through a plethora of traps and environments. 

8/10

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