La-Mulana is a retro-tinged side-scrolling platformer that’s part Spelunky and part Dark Souls. How can it be a combination of those two disparate things?
I say it’s part Spelunky, but it would be more accurate to say that La-Mulana inspired that indie, Roguelike darling. Being originally released in Japan in 2005, La-Mulana has since been remade and rereleased on PC and Wii, and there are plans for a sequel.
The similarities with Spelunky are readily apparent from simply comparing screenshots. Both games are 2D platformers where you play as a be-hatted, whip-wielding adventurer delving into ancient and dangerous ruins in search of treasure. Where they differ is in the Roguelike elements of Spelunky – the procedurally generated environments and permadeath… Which is where the similarities to Dark Souls start to creep in.
One of the strongest elements of Dark Souls was the level design. From the outset players have access to various areas that they simply aren’t equipped to handle – both in terms of skill level and, uhhh, equipment – and as you delve further into the world you discover connections between areas that demonstrate an uncanny level of craftsmanship in the construction of the game.
Similarly, in La-Mulana you can come face-to-face with a giant cyclops within moments of starting a new game. You may have found out that you need a sceptre to defeat him, but not where this sceptre is, or how you get to it.
Further down into the ruins you’ll come across traps – like trapdoors that drop you onto spikes, falling debris, or even rooms that will simply detain you until you figure out how to get free – and you will find various enemies whose strengths, weaknesses and attacks you will only learn through painful trial and error.
It can be punishing and unforgiving – especially when you delve into an area you probably aren’t prepared for – but with every death you’ll have learned something new about the ruins and your enemies and with luck you’ll make it further with your next life.
La-Mulana opens in a small village, and after poking your head into a few tents you’ll meet Xelpud – the wise elder, though he’s anything but stereotypical – first admiring your Japanese-made laptop and then installing a program on it so he can stay in contact with you whilst you’re adventuring. He stands in for the soapstone markings of Dark Souls, giving you only vague hints as to what you can expect to encounter and how you might need to proceed.
You’ll need to return to this village periodically to buy supplies and visit the hot springs on the outskirts to replenish your health, meaning you can’t simply power into the ruins looking for loot. Without paying attention to your surroundings and without having a path back to town you can quickly find yourself in a lot of trouble.
The sprites in La-Mulana are more functional than attractive, but many of the background and environmental elements make up for it. The music is retro sounding and a little too upbeat for the measured pace that the game really requires. You might find yourself turning it down or off, though you’ll need to keep the sound effects audible if you want any chance of surviving.
La-Mulana is a game of exploration, discovery and also of patience. It’s not going to reveal all its tricks and all its secrets easily, it’s going to make you work for every bit of progress you make through the ruins. It’s brilliant, it’s deep and it’s quite unlike any other platformer you’ve played.
- Gamepad – Controller support is flawless in the game, and being a platformer it feels better on a pad.