There’s been a lot of anticipation, an aggrandizing lure that has followed Mulaka since it was first seen last year. Lienzo, relatively new on the scene, have certainly made a formidable entrance, a gallant attempt to assert and define themselves, and they’ve succeeded in what they have set out to achieve in quite a remarkable way.
Mulaka will be a first for many, a slice of Mexico’s rich history that gamers haven’t often savored, a taste of the past that will inspire our own curiosity. Based on the ancient Tarahumara tribe in Northern Mexico, players embark on a journey as a Tarahumara Shaman — known as a Sukurúame — while seeking the power of the demigods to conquer the environment and defeat the soul-eating creatures from Tarahumara lore.
At first glance, Mulaka looks like it belongs on the Nintendo 64 with those angular graphics and the simple locomotive style of the characters. This adds to its charm, dropping you in a Mexican Ocarina of Time; inspired, not imitated, Mulaka is confident in its own personality while borrowing the flair from the Legend of Zelda series. The art-style is clean and simple, not too much detail, but enough to illustrate the story that unfolds — a sort of fairytale presentation of a much sinister anecdote. For this, its artistic charm matches the personality of the gameplay perfectly, a brave approach that delivers.
The gameplay itself might become a little tedious in parts, but remains weirdly addictive in others. As a puzzle-solving game at its heart, you use the Sukurúame’s unique abilities to find clues and solve mysteries. The puzzles themselves are basic, and each region has the same basic puzzle to solve, only with much more difficulty each time. Sometimes you’re using a demigod’s ability to reach a seemingly unreachable place, and others you’re switching water pipes around so the water flows to its needed destination.
The puzzles aren’t where the game really comes to life though — it’s the unique array of creatures that must be defeated, particularly the bosses, which are cleverly designed. The boss battles were reminiscent of Ocarina of Time, with a unique way to defeat each one, sometimes taking longer than usual just to figure out how to defeat them. That makes for a perfect boss battle, where the player has to engage with subtle clues rather than simply slash away at an over-powered, monstrous nuisance.
Even the standard foe on the battleground require some thought and planning, particularly in the arenas where a variety of them come at you at once. This requires a decision as to which ones to attack first and which ones to avoid initially (it would usually be advised to remove the weakest enemies first). In these instances, the speed of the Sukurúami becomes his greatest asset, helping to avoid enemy attacks while players figure out the best strategy to deal with the situation.
The demigod aspect is particularly charming, giving the player reasons to go back to old areas to discover more secrets. The woodpecker is a personal favorite, gliding from rock to rock and experiencing the map from another angle. The bear doesn’t seem to work properly, however, and often frustratingly takes several moments to activate. It seems there is a certain point or angle where the bear should activate, but there’s no prompt on the screen to tell you when. It’s a minor annoyance that doesn’t affect the gameplay too much, however, and other than that temperamental beast, there has been no issue with the controls.
The music is incredibly endearing throughout. Authentic to the indigenous people of the region, it really helps to create the cultural spirit of Mulaka, producing a fresh experience that would be hard to find in another game. Indigenous instruments were used to orchestrate much of the soundtrack, as well as sound effects recorded from different locations in Northern Mexico. Yet even with the incredible music, the grunts of the NPCs throughout the regions still carried me back to the Gorons of Ocarina of Time!
There are some notable bugs in the game that Lienzo is working to fix, particularly the occasional lag (and it once crashed completely on me). This typically happens when entering a new area, when the game is trying to decide whether it can cope with all the new surroundings. It doesn’t happen too often, but certainly has the opportunity to impact on the enjoyability, especially when it freezes mid-battle. Hopefully these issues will be solved soon so the experience of Mulaka can be much more fluid, without the needless interruptions.
Fortunately, the brilliance of Mulaka overshadows the few technical problems, becoming a delightfully beautiful experience. The culture, the history, the gameplay, and the natural charm really shine through, delivering on everything it sets out to achieve. The puzzles might be tedious, but everything else seems to fall together nicely, creating one of the most iconic games so far this year.