La Mulana has been around for a long time. The Wii was the first console to get a port but now we can pull our hair out wherever we are with this portable version on the Vita. It may seem a strange choice but La Mulana is a perfect candidate for on the go gaming – even if it is still incredibly difficult.
For those unfamiliar with the game it follows an intrepid archaeologist as he drops into the legendary ruins of La Mulana. It’s a puzzle platform game in the purest sense with block pushing and weight placing high on the agenda. There’s lots of whipping, pinpoint platforming and traps galore. There are also massive great boss monsters and lots of death.
There’s no getting away from just how difficult the game is. Especially when you first start it can seem overwhelming and any hints at what to do are obscure to say the least. Once you break through the initial barriers things do get much better for players though. It took us about an hour and two wasted save files to really get going. The third time we started it all began to click and we would recommend any player to use a guide for the first couple of areas if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere.
Once we had gathered the warping Holy Grail, bought a symbol decoder from the shop and got past the first boss it became a much better adventure. It’s all about getting your head around what you need to do and once that happens it reveals itself to be an excellent platform adventure. By the time we reached the second proper area everything was fine and it felt we were really getting into it.
Level design is strong throughout with areas different enough from each other in terms of enemy type and design. There are fiendish puzzles and riddles to solve but the core dynamic is based around placing weights on pads to make things happen in the environment. Weights can be picked up on your adventure but it’s normally best to buy a hefty amount at the village shop before diving back into the depths.
Once you have the Holy Grail you can warp to any discovered Grail points which makes life a bit easier. We did have an issue with certain points disappearing from our warp list though – if this is a bug or something we haven’t worked out mechanics wise remains to be seen. There’s a host of different equipment and weapons to buy and you need to make sure you are well prepared to have any chance at all. What makes life even more difficult is that you don’t really know what order you should be attempting the areas (and you really do need to get through them in the right order to stand a chance).
Indeed, There is very little signposting at all. The first time we played we didn’t even work out that each area needed to be completed and subsequently dived down as deep into the ruins as far as we could go and had to restart our save file as we just couldn’t get back to where we wanted to be. It's also slightly annoying that the game comes with borders either side of it. Making a Vita game and then not adjusting the port to the systems native aspect ratio is somewhat bizarre to say the least.
Overall, there’s no denying that La Mulana is both an excellent platform game and a great addition to the Vita’s catalogue. However, it is very tough and obscure at times. It’ll certainly appeal to the Spelunky and Super Meat Boy crowd but requires a more patience and thought-out approach. If you stick with it you’ll find a great adventure game. Many though may well be put off by all the barriers it throws up for players and that’s a real shame.