Mulaka is a third-person action-adventure game from Mexican developer Lienzo that tells the story of the titular character who is the Sukuruame, or shaman, of the Tarahumara people of Mexico. It tells an interesting story, incorporating true-to-life fables and stories of the Native American people of Chihuahua.
On a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, you wander the land, helping out the local populace with their requests and seeking the aid of the gods to prevent the destruction of the world. This is a fairly simplistic overview, and the narrative itself is rather straightforward. But the game’s setting, lore, and cultural import make the game far more interesting than a brief blurb can exhibit.
There’s much to commend with Mulaka, but there’s also plenty that holds it back. While we were arrested by the admittedly simplistic yet strikingly stylish visual aesthetic and cultural angle, we were left disappointed by the way in which it plays. Action-adventure games require a solid foundation in two primary aspects: combat and exploration – but these are the two areas where the game falters most.
Combat is easily the biggest disappointment, but it’s not for a lack of effort. You can mix light and heavy attacks, dodge, throw your spear, and occasionally use a finishing move, in addition to a quartet of alchemical creations automatically brewed upon collecting enough of the requisite plant.
Enemies require different tact: some have hard shells that only open up at certain points, in which case you’ll want to dodge out of the way and time your attacks; others have wings and need to be brought down from afar before dashing in for the kill. Amid arenas of differing enemies, adroit players win out and you’re kept on your toes.
The developer has clearly put thought into making a system that requires a certain amount of proficiency, but the way it feels to play is deficient. There’s no punch to your attacks; the visual or tactile feedback is inadequate, and the same can be said for when the enemy hits you. It feels floaty, soft, and you’ll get hit constantly, even when you dodge.
There’s little precision in your attacks or your movement, and you’re often unsure whether you’ve even managed to hit your target. The same works in reverse: it feels more like you’re being slowly sapped by mosquitoes than it does being hit by an armour-clad beast. We’re glad this isn’t a brainless button-mashing venture, but the flawed implementation makes for an ultimately unsatisfying experience.
Unfortunately, these flaws also carry over to general gameplay and exploration. There’s a lack of precision in the platforming elements and your character often shifts and floats aboard moving platforms. To rectify this, a limit is seemingly placed on how much platforming is required, but we think this does the game a disservice.
It’s clear to us that the game’s controls let the game down in a myriad of ways that extend beyond unsatisfying combat; other aspects of the game seem like they might have been watered down to accommodate for this. Tighter controls, more interesting environments, and greater variety with how you interact with them would take this game to the next level.
By acquiring skills and new creations you can backtrack to previous hubs to unlock new areas to explore. Again, the developer has made an effort to incorporate puzzles to keep things interesting, but they’re far too basic and require very little thought. Couple this with some rather basic level design and it makes backtracking feel more like a chore than a completionist’s pleasure.
Ultimately, Mulaka succeeds in the story it wishes to tell, but it falls short in two of its primary gameplay tenets: action and adventure. Controls are fiddly, environments a little sparse, and combat inadequate. It excels in using the video game format to widen knowledge of a culture that admittedly many around the world will know very little about, but as a game to interact with, its deficiencies outshine its ideas and make it somewhat forgettable.