On the surface, Mulaka draws the player in with its colorful environment and quirky visuals to tell a tale straight from Tarahumara mythology, but its uninspired gameplay mechanics and failure to invest the player in its world destroys any potential for a good game.
Mulaka is an action-adventure game that feels like a sloppy hack-and-slash deprived of any combos. As soon as the first cutscene fades in, you’re greeted to an authentic Native American speaker—adding a lovely touch to the storytelling. The narrator explains that Mulaka must stop the end of the world and save it from corruption by acquiring help from the demigods. The task is a bit cliche, but any throwaway premise can be enhanced by where the journey goes. Unfortunately, Mulaka doesn’t really go anywhere, besides to the next demigod.
Don’t Forget About “Insert Demigod Name Here”
To elaborate, the only purpose of the demigods in Mulaka is to assist the player. Every demigod has the same motive and dialogue. They are impressed by Mulaka’s achievements and agree to help. Meanwhile, they close off with the consistent reminder that the player not forget about the demigod in the next level, adding no distinguishable or memorable dialogue from any the gods.
Mulaka fails to invest the player in its Native American mythology. This isn’t a result of the player’s lack of prior knowledge of the myths; instead it’s a byproduct of poor writing. For example, fans of God of War are captivated by its story and lore without any prior knowledge of Greek mythology. This is mainly due to how the gods are written and introduced.
The gods in God of War have a deep impact on the main character, and each one serves a purpose in making Kratos’ life hell. These characters are identifiable because of their unique relationships with the main character and the player. Instead of creating and developing relationships, Mulaka reads like an instruction manual on how to defeat evil. It fails to draw any investment between the player and its demigods, further downgrading the quality and potential of the story.
Mulaka May Cry of War
Mulaka’s gameplay lacks the enjoyment that comes from playing games like Devil May Cry or God of War. There's no level of mastery that you can achieve with the combat system because the mechanics are too simple to begin with.
This game should be compared to other hack-and-slash games because it aspires to be one. Every combat scenario traps you in a bubble that you cannot escape until you’ve eliminated all threats. You have a light, strong, and air attack, along with a ranged spear and ability to smash enemies as a bear. Additionally, there are a significant number of enemies in each fight; the final touch would’ve been a combo system that allowed for more engaging gameplay and something to master.
The lack of developed mechanics causes some enemies to be too easy, as you can spam attacks. Meanwhile, other enemies can track you relentlessly, which is frustrating because you don’t get a chance to properly take control of the dodge mechanic.
Furthermore, the enemies themselves are dull and cliche. They have the exact weaknesses and move-sets you’d expect them to because you’ve played any other action game in existence.
For example, there’s an enemy that charges at you and you’re forced to dodge and attack his back when he’s out of stamina. Another enemy has a shield, which you can only counter with a heavy attack. And of course, there are enemies that you can’t see unless you use your vision ability. All these character-types can be found in several action games, namely the Arkham series. The difference in this game being that the mechanics are too clumsy to add a real challenge and variety.
It’s especially disheartening since some of the bosses are recycled multiple times as well. The scorpion boss shows up three separate times; even the last stage is a one-by-one battle against all of the bosses again. This would be an effective and fun tactic, similar to Devil May Cry 3’s method, but fails because the original bosses weren’t memorable to begin with due to repetitive mechanics. Mulaka fails to create diversity, thus resulting in no satisfaction from combat.
Limbo of Healing and Falling
Mulaka’s action-animations and platforming mechanics are plagued by sloppy and aggravating game design.
All of the animations, whether it’s depicting getting staggered or drinking a health potion, take up a ridiculous amount of time. There is so much time wasted on the healing and losing health animation, that it further takes away from the combat by literally killing you. You can heal faster in Monster Hunter than you can in Mulaka, not to mention that you can actually move in the former.
The animations and mechanics for the demigod forms don’t do Mulaka any favors. For example, the bird form doesn’t have any up and down movement. It’s frustrating because some puzzles have orbs—mana to refill your spirit form—that are set up in a path slightly ascending and descending, which makes no sense given the restricted parameters. Similarly, but not to the same extent, this can be felt with the puma form. You have absolutely no control over the puma jumping, you’re forced to sit back and let the game do the work for you.
This seems like a missed opportunity since it could’ve added something to be challenged and engaged by, as the four forms fail to provide any progressive platforming experience.
Quality of Life
There are quite a few details in Mulaka that could benefit from slight changes, making the player’s experience more bearable.
For example, the only place you can purchase upgrades is in the second area of the game. I had completely forgotten that NPC even existed, and played the game with little to no upgrades. If the NPC showed up at the beginning of each new area it would be more convenient.
The water dial puzzles require accuracy to turn, but when Mulaka swings his spear, he occasionally hits and turns three dials at once. While this problem could be fixed with the previous suggestion of adding more combat variety, it’s still an issue.
Throwing your spear feels pointless. It’s difficult to aim and it takes forever to recharge without an upgrade. It’s faster and more accurate to jump and attack a flying enemy. This issue could be easily fixed with a harder lock-on feature.
There were a few moments where the game wouldn’t let me use my bird form even though I needed it to solve a puzzle. I was forced to finagle my way onto the rocks where my objective was. I later realized that this can be caused by nearby enemies. However, this shouldn’t be a restriction on the player as it serves no purpose but to hinder and confuse.
The color palette for the underworld section is in poor contrast to everything else, as it’s considerably darker. You literally can’t even see the weak spot for one of the bosses, which is his head.
Finally, the absolute bane of my existence: the bullfrog boss. This battle relies on the cliché mechanic of a boss swallowing an object and taking damage, but it doesn’t even work as the cliché intends. You are forced to ragdoll fish carcasses—without a proper mechanic—toward him until it practically touches his lips. It's the most nonsensical thing I’ve seen in this game, considering that even in the first animation it shows the fish being sucked in from quite a distance.
Unfortunately, Mulaka has one too many problems that could’ve been avoided through more rigorous testing.
Potential for Wonder
While Mulaka was built in Unity, the developers still make the limitations work for them. The art style remains colorful and captivates the player in its own way. Even though the soundtrack may lack some variety, it feels authentic to its Native American roots.
One moment I thoroughly laughed at while I was playing was when I attacked a pheasant and received an achievement aptly titled “PETA's been informed of your behaviour.” It’s clever and funny, something Mulaka could have benefited from in-game.
What truly surprised me was the twisted ending of Mulaka. It’s written phenomenally well and the character’s words carried weight to them that wasn’t seen throughout the entirety of the game. Yet, even then, there was a missed opportunity for great character development if Mulaka rejected the offer that was given to him. It would have provided a different and stronger message if he stood his ground. Ultimately, what the ending reveals is that there was more to be had, and more to be developed through the meaning of the main character’s actions.
Mulaka is rough and hard to get through because of its tiresome gameplay, dull characters, and lifeless story. However, deep in its soul is a glimmering light filled with potential that only seeks to be refined.
|Captivating Visuals||Tedious Combat|
|Authentic Soundtrack||Dull Story and Characters|