Lienzo, a Mexian based games studio, have built a game around the Tarahumara indigenous culture in Mulaka.
The game has come about due to the development teams’ fascination with the cultures’ myths and legends, and been structured into a beautiful looking, uniquely built 3D platformer. Mulaka shows plenty of respect, visiting recognisable locations from the North of Mexico, such as Samalayuca and Reso Rekubi and using authentic language in the game’s dialogue and cut scenes.
The development studio have even pledged to donate up to 10% of the game’s earnings to the restoration of the Sierra Tarahumara.
And this is such an important time for a title like this to crop up, especially when a certain President is considering regulating the content of video games, suggesting they negatively influence young people to perform despicable acts. Mulaka comes from a beautiful, constructive, and ultimately positive place because it respects tradition and even seeks to preserve it. A wonderful gesture and message which directly challenges the notion entirely.
But all of this hasn’t been designed as a gimmick as the aesthetic carries across to the mechanics, with your character Sukurúame able to transform into the depiction of a demigod to soar around the maps as a bird, as well as take on other forms. Life bars are also represented by a spirit leaving his body and you have to perform a dance ritual in order to return it.
Sukurúame is a Tarahumara Shaman who seeks to restore his lands from a corruption that has started to stir. Suddenly, he finds himself fighting against familiar looking foes that have great cultural significance to the tribe, such as the Ta Machire, which could be likened to scorpions, but are said to prefer roaming in a pack and see their identity evolve with age. There’s also Trilobites, which are like spiders with a human skull for a head, though this is described as their shell which is practically impenetrable with Sukurúame’s spear.
The Shaman’s reward for quelling the corruption is Korima, the game’s currency which is offered as tribute for performing a good deed. Those who recognise the name may have come across it in Breath of the Wild last year, likewise the Trilobites are familiar enemies in the franchise, seen in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Now you know where Nintendo have got most of their influences over the years.
The Korima essence is used to purchased upgrades for Sukurúame, like improving the quality of his spear and his sprinting. What’s infectious about Mulaka is that it takes all the existing staples of the genre, but moulds them in a way that makes sense in this culture and their traditions. That’s not just paying respect, it’s also providing plenty of heart, soul, and substance absent in its competitors.
But oftentimes, Mulaka feels like an average N64 3D platformer full of the flimsy structures and clunky camera movement to regularly obstruct your view. It lacks the polish of A Hat in Time and the finnesse of a Yooka-Laylee, and is often a victim to its glitches and roughness.
Unfortunately, the same applies to its combat which is at its best when you can jump and dodge around the open plains without constraint. However, it often confines you to small arena conditions where you’re pressed against the borders within a few steps. This gets claustrophobic as enemies are fairly aggressive, large in number, and their balancing is unfortunately off.
You’ll get waves of different types of creatures which don’t give you much room to breathe. One set of enemies will be charging you down to the ground, others will be firing at you from above and can tie you down, meanwhile there’s a third set trying to pounce on top of you, and a fourth group who constantly put up these unbreakable shields when you go in to strike.
Suddenly, you’re against a whole army of these beings with all their diverse attacks and not only are you spending more time on the run, but the frame rate starts to chug when you do. If you get hit by any of them, you can almost guarantee you’re losing one health bar. And as previously mentioned, you need to perform a dance ritual every time you want to heal. Try finding space to pull that off in that tight little arena without being hassled for more than a few seconds. The rhythm can be interrupted very easily and for no reward. Suffice it to say, combat can get damned frustrating quite a lot of the time.
The aim of each district is to collect three powerful stones and these are gathered in a multitude of ways, like filling up a well or beating a certain amount of enemies. These stones then unlock the final door where you will confront the big bad in order to progress to the next stage.
And the boss battles are actually a lot of fun and when the game is at its most creative as beating these creatures will reward you with new abilities which can be used in later stages. One boss will require you to ‘kite’ the creature towards pillars which drop on its head, making him easier to hit with your weapons. Another will task you with remembering the patterns so you can conserve energy and strength ready for when they’re vulnerable. The good news is each brings something different as well as a fairly respectable challenge. There’s even a cute little photo mode included after the game gives you some background on each creature you face. Unfortunately, the angles are a bit unflattering in general and up close the creatures don’t look the best.
The game also gives you the ability to harvest flora and fauna in order to craft potions, including the ability to create bombs and healing remedies. This ties into the puzzle-solving element, which tasks you with reaching different parts of the map and figuring out some of the game’s hidden secrets.
Unfortunately, there were quite a few bugs in our review build – though we’ve been assured most of them will be ironed out for launch. However, we do need to point out that there were more than a few freezes, crashes, and random events which did force lockups, restarts, jumps to the main menu, and in one instance a hard reset. These are issues you hopefully won’t have to worry about, but in the interests of reviewing the game in the state we received it in, it’s important that this is acknowledged.
So, look, Mulaka isn’t perfect. Far from it. It’s a hard sell in a competitive climate, but it comes from a good place with earnest intentions. It tries something different with established formulas and its lore is intricate and involved. It’s most definitely not the best 3D platformer you’ll have played, and can be badly glitchy, but it has a nice art style, entertaining battles, interesting mechanics, and a bigger heart than most. On those merits alone, it deserves a second glance.
+ Interesting lore and mythology
+ Good boss battles
+ Unique perspective on mechanics
– Plenty of glitches and bugs
– Clunky camera
– Combat can be frustrating and a slog
7 out of 10
Tested on PC