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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Review: Mulaka

Review: Mulaka

Team up with gods to fight off evil in this action/adventure title on Nintendo Switch.

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Lienzo | Nintendo Switch | Digital Only
1 Player
Reviewed by: Curtis Chapman | 1st March 2018

Developers Commentary by: Adolfo Aguirre - Lienzo

* Review Code Provided by: Lienzo *

Nintendo Play is joined by Adolfo Aguirre, Publishing Manager at Lienzo, for the included Developers Commentary.

Harness the power of the Gods in Lienzo’s new action adventure title Mulaka. With historical accuracy being paramount during development on this title, do you fancy some cultural enlightenment during your next evil spirit banishing session?

Since the beginning of time, grandiose stories have been passed down from the cultural elders to their descendents, attempting to add clarity and explain away past events, while throwing in some creative flair for good measure. Over time, extravagant stories of legendary heroes past and creational myths of gods and deities are so embedded in a culture that they become a way of life, the become the bedrock that holds a culture and its ethos are grounded on. Game developer Lienzo has worked with historians to accurately depict the cultural heritage of northern Mexico’s Tarahumara tribe, for their newest title Mulaka.

Mulaka Screenshot 1

Mulaka follows the journey of Sukurúame, a shaman of the Tarahumara tribe, as he journeys on a quest to rid the land of evil spirits. Capable of being able to see through the eyes and interact with the gods themselves, Sukurúame must seek out and call on the raw power of various Demigods to help him complete his task.

Akin to early 3D Legend of Zelda titles, Mulaka is an action adventure title not bogged down by the often overly complicated trappings that are found in a lot of modern-day titles. Gameplay mainly revolves around the player solving puzzles, defeating enemies and collecting crystals. At the end of each area, Sukurúame encounters a boss which, once defeated, allows our protagonist to obtain a new gameplay mechanic, in the form of animal transformations. Each new transformation is used to solve the puzzles, defeat the enemies and collect the crystals in the next area. A rinse and repeat method that’s simple and effective.

Developers Commentary
Adolfo: Everyone in the team is a passionate gamer, so we’re all obviously inspired by many titles across different genres. It’s impossible to work on a 3D action-adventure title without thinking about Zelda, so that was a big inspiration throughout development. We wanted to capture the feeling of adventure that The Legend of Zelda communicates so well while keeping true to the lore we’re working with and providing aspects that make the game feel unique. With that in mind, we looked at many other games to analyze how they handled combat mechanics akin to what we wanted to do and game design. These games include (but aren’t limited to) Darksiders, Devil May Cry, Dark Souls, The Witcher Series, Banjo Kazooie, Okami, etc.

The game world itself is divided into several small chunks that the player is able to select at will. With no open world, requiring copious amounts of filler content and side quests, the game is free to focus on providing a complete and concise experience from beginning to end, though while still containing enough extra Metroidvania style backtracking through previous levels to entertain those who occasionally like to wander off the beaten path.

Developers Commentary
Adolfo: It is absolutely important for us to give players enough content so that they feel that their investment was worth it. Since all of the levels in Mulaka are based on real-life locations, we set out to create rich settings that players would want to explore and get lost in, so we filled them with secrets to uncover. We know that some players like to just go through the story and beat the game, while others prefer to look in every nook & cranny and find everything, so we designed a lot of that content as optional extras for people who wanted that from the game.

All good heroes receive a “Vision” nowadays and Sukurúame is no different. With his aptly and creatively named Sukurúame Vision, a stamina constrained to look at the world through the eyes of a god, areas of interest in the world become highlighted, pointing your protagonist in the right direction to progress through the game's narrative. The game plays heavy on this mechanic with puzzles, boss fights and many other elements of the game requiring its use to progress. It’s a well-implemented mechanic and ensures that the player is never left guessing where the next switch, door or required collectible is hidden. During a battle, the vision also displays the health bar of each enemy and a few other graphical flourishes.

Developers Commentary
Adolfo: The Sukurúame Vision is yet another element in the game that comes straight from the Tarahumara lore. We wanted to create a world that enticed players to explore and find the next step for themselves, but we also know that many people don’t appreciate the feeling of being lost, especially if that endures for a couple of minutes. That’s why we included waypoints to objects of interest only visible through that ability, so that it doesn’t present any visual clutter for all users and is available for people who want that bit of orientation.

Mulaka Screenshot 2

Featuring low-poly characters, terrain, and objects, all game assets feature a flat, low-quality block colored texture finish. This is an art style that does an effective job of portraying the baron and often wilderness of northern Mexico, while the game’s music perfectly complements and authentically encompasses the setting. The exaggerated proportions of the character models and the cartoon-like animations draw focus away from any of the rougher edges found in the games graphics and animations by preventing the player from making any comparisons to the real life, cementing the understanding that the world is firmly rooted in a universe of mythical fiction.

Utilising a grain filter for that movie like aesthetic, the games dark colour palette of blacks, greys, browns and oranges blur into a into a muddy mess when playing directly on Switch’s the 6.5” screen, making it difficult to differentiate between run of the mill background objects and those items of interest, requiring you to repeatedly load you on screen map every few paces to determine whether or not there are any elusive ammunition or health pickups in the vicinity. This issue isn’t as prevalent while playing in Docked Mode, with the ambient lit visuals appealing and definitely the way the game should be experienced.

Developers Commentary
Adolfo: The low poly visual direction is the closest thing to a 3D representation of the art style that the Tarahumara people followed for their rocky paintings and such. The way they draw is very “simplistic” and even polygonal”, so the low poly visuals were a natural fit. These people are also known for their very colorful dresses, where they wear bright colors and really stand out when walking through the streets of our city. A low poly style really allows us saturate the colors of the environments in the same way these people stand out in real life. Finally, since every level is based on a real life setting and these places are vast and gorgeous landscapes, we needed to portray that feeling into the game, and a low poly direction allowed us to do that.

Combat is well realised, although at times, quite erratic. AI is varied with each enemy type offering unique attack patterns and with specific methods being required to defeat, some of these patterns can become slightly too complicated when faced with fighting many different types of enemies at once. One glaring omission is the lack of a target lock feature when attacking an enemy, strafing and outmanoeuvring an enemy becomes a tough battle, not only with your opponent but also with the cameras unwillingness to focus where it needs to be when being forced to attack an enemy from the rear.

Developers Commentary
Adolfo: Combat was something that constantly evolved throughout the development process. Gameplay features changed, as did camera perspectives. We did have talks about a lock-on feature, but we ultimately felt that it didn’t fit our vision of a more free combat style where the player felt more vulnerable. We know some people are accustomed to that sort of system and we’re evaluating all comments to learn from that and assess how can we improve that for our next game.

Mulaka Screenshot 3

The use of consumables in the game is handled through a foraging system, with plants needing to be harvested from the ground at points dotted around each level. Once enough of each type of plant has been harvest a potion is automatically created and placed in your inventory to be selected by pressing its assigned button. It’s a novel way to handle a potion system but ultimately one that is fairly easy to manipulate as with harvest points regenerating fairly quickly it makes little sense not to wait around for a few minute to ensure you never enter a battle without a fully stocked supply of all currently available potions.

While a little rough around the edges in places, most notably during some of the games overextended animation sequences and the unnecessarily unorganised pace of the games combat, Mulaka is a fantastic title that does a wonderful job at providing an entertaining and compelling action/adventure title, all the while attempting to educate the player on the myths and traditions behind the Mexican Tarahumara tribe.


+ Entertaining action/adventure title.
+ Full of cultural history.
+ Well designed HUD never leaves you lost.

- Animations are a bit rough around the edges.
- Combat can be messy with large groups.

Verdict: Very Good Job - Recommended Buy

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