La-Mulana (WiiWare) Review

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La-Mulana is a 2D Action Archaeological Ruins Exploration game that was originally released on the PC many years ago. It was developed as a tribute to the MSX with graphics, music and an interface created to emulate the 80’s Japanese computer.  La-Mulana has built a cult following since its early release, so you can imagine the excitement when a remake for the WiiWare service was announced. Years passed without mention of a release date and Nintendo fans became somewhat worried about the project.

La-Mulana development would continue in the background with a WiiWare version landing in Japan in 2011. Western gamers waited for an announcement, but the one we received was of its cancellation. Its original publisher, Nicalis, decided to call it a day and part ways with the game. Little did we know that another announcement was in the pipeline. In late August, it was announced that EnjoyUp Games would publish the game with a release date set for September 20, 2012 in North America, Europe, and Australia. It’s been a WiiWare game for a few days now and I’ve spent a lot of time with the game. Was La-Mulana worth the wait? Yes, without question.

La-Mulana follows the story of an archaeologist by the name of Lemeza Kosugi that is well versed in infiltration techniques used to explore ancient ruins.  Lemeza’s father is also a skilled ruins explorer and has dedicated his life to researching La-Mulana and the origins of civilization.  Lemeza has always carried ill will towards his father for leaving him when he was young, but his father hasn’t been heard from for days, so Lemeza goes to La-Mulana to investigate.

At first glance, the story is somewhat shallow, but after exploring the ruins for hours, plenty of depth is added. This depth comes in the form of scanning and reading stones, and murals scattered about ruins. You learn a lot about the mythology and history of La-Mulana which is not only interesting, but usually helpful when solving puzzles. While La-Mulana’s story is a strong point for the title, the gameplay is where the experience really comes alive.

La-Mulana is a huge game with a lot of areas to explore; one that you will become most familiar with is the Surface. On the Surface you can buy items, talk to the elder, do some exploring, and heal in the spring. When you begin, the elder will give a brief explanation of the recent events, as well as your very own laptop, known as the Mobile Super X.

With this laptop in hand, the elder can send you e-mails, most of which have useful information, though some are a little strange.  Receiving e-mails is done with software called xmailer.exe. Other software can be obtained and perform a variety of different functions. One piece will let you view maps, while another will let you save text. You have a limited amount of RAM, so you will have to choose software to keep active. Activating certain pieces of software together will create effects like upgrading your attack power! Software is a neat feature, but you will really need to practice controlling Lemeza to survive the ruins.

You can control Lemeza with the Wii Remote, Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Gamecube and Classic Controllers, and even a USB keyboard! I prefer the Classic Controller, but you can customize the controls to your liking, so use whatever you find comfortable. Lemeza moves and attacks with great precision, however, it will take some time to adjust to the jumping. Unlike a certain plumber, Lemeza can’t easily change directions in the air, so you need to be extra careful when timing jumps. I’d actually compare his movement to that of Simon Belmont from Castlevania. After playing for over 10 hours, I have definitely mastered jumping, but it can lead to some silly mistakes early in the game.

Progressing through La-Mulana can be tough, mainly because the game doesn’t hold your hand. While you will encounter the Gate of Guidance first, the game quickly becomes a non-linear experience. In each area, you must solve a set of puzzles and fight the area’s boss, but it isn’t always that simple. Certain areas and puzzles will only open after completing events in another place, or when holding certain items. Each area also has a back-end which nearly doubles the ruins in size and is actually reminiscent of a light world/dark world mechanic. You do get a little guidance from some of the game’s NPCs and the stone tablets scattered throughout the ruins, but some of these hints aren’t exactly useful. It can be extremely frustrating to navigate the ruins like this, but as a tribute to the 80s, La-Mulana fits in well with the retro era.

Almost every puzzle will have a different solution with some being as simple as throwing a shuriken at a target, though it’s usually not always that easy. One of the most repeated puzzle elements is the use of weights, of which you should always have plenty. Weights can be used to set on dais and can open treasure chests, break walls, or even activate another Dai in a different room. You need to be extremely careful when placing weights though, because sometimes you will accidentally activate a trap and receive a game over. This kind of trial and error plays a big part in La-Mulana, so making sure you save a lot will lower frustration. Saving is done at Holy Grail Tablets, which can even be used as a form of transportation after getting the Holy Grail item.

Puzzles play a big role in the game (and some are designed brilliantly for a 2D game), but combat is also important. Lemeza starts with a whip (Indiana Jones anyone?), which can be used to defeat enemies. As you advance, you can get whip upgrades which do more damage, or even find different weapons such as the axe. Every weapon has its pros and cons, so choosing the correct one for the situation is also important. The whip is fast and attacks straight, while the axe is slow and powerful. There is a large roster of enemies in this game, so figuring out their individual patterns and weaknesses will be part of your success.

Lemeza can also use sub-weapons like the shurikens, spears, and even a flare gun. Much like Lemeza’s main weapons, each sub-weapon has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. You will find that you use the shuriken the most, but the flare gun comes in handy when you need to light up a dark area.

Some items require ammo, but you can gather gold to spend on refills at shops found on the Surface, or inside the ruins.

Aside from the weapons, there are a large number of other items to find. Some items are activated automatically, like the Scaleosphere for breathing effortlessly underwater, but some have to be equipped, like the hand scanner for reading ancient script. Some items will improve Lemeza’s movements such as the grapple claws which allow you to cling to walls, or the Roc’s Feature which gives the double jump ability. You can also find Sacred Orbs which will increase your maximum health.

Healing in La-Mulana is, well, strange. There are no particular items inside the ruins that will restore your health; instead you have to collect experience points. Experience points are green orbs that slain enemies leave behind and once you fill your experience meter, your health will be fully replenished. Luckily, you can visit the hot spring on the Surface to heal, but you will need to warp to the Surface (and warp back) to make it efficient. It’s a unique element that forces you to be even more careful as you explore the ruins.

Before moving on to other aspects of La-Mulana, I want to mention the boss fights. Each area has a guardian to overcome, but you will need to solve a few puzzles to activate the battle. First, you must find the Ankh Jewel. Once you have the Ankh Jewel, you can place it in the Ankh pedestal to activate the boss. There are some really cool boss battles in La-Mulana, including once that emulates Mode 7. Most of these battles are difficult and requires both patience, and flawless execution to bring the guardian down.

La-Mulana sports a gorgeous 16-bit update in the visuals department. Every character and sprite has been improved by adding more detail, and colors not possible on the MSX. While the characters look great, I am most fond of everything else, including the backgrounds and ruins design. It is easy to get lost (figuratively) in the wonderfully sculpted ruins, especially when there are tons of cool murals and other elements to admire. Each and every area also has its own unique look which is quite impressive when a 2D game is this gigantic.

There are also some nice little animation touches that make La-Mulana stand out against the competition. One in particular that I like is when Lemeza stretches out his arms when he tries to keep his balance on ice. It’s a small detail, but it’s absolutely brilliant.

As this is a remake, La-Mulana has also seen a major upgrade in its soundtrack. I’ve listened to the original soundtrack, and it’s brilliant, but the remake sounds more adventurous. There is a large soundtrack with every area having its own glorious theme song. You can expect a wall of melodies pounding against your ears when you play La-Mulana. Everything is near flawless, and kind of sounds like a long lost Super Nintendo game. No matter the version you prefer, the soundtrack is amazing. Words just don’t do it justice, but luckily you can buy it over at Nigoro’s Bandcamp page.

Final Thoughts:

La-Mulana is a must buy for any Wii owner looking to get some last minute action in before the Wii U. It’s undoubtedly the best WiiWare game, and for 1000 Points, you get one of the service’s largest games (should take between 15-20 hours to complete) making it a valued purchase. It’s a tough game that will challenge your reflexes, puzzle solving ability and memory, but remains fun even though it borders on being almost too cryptic. It’s an experience that I long to have when playing video games and has also refreshed my passion for the industry. I’m glad that EnjoyUp Games stepped in and helped deliver us this gem.

9.5/10

Obtainment: Review Copy

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