Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
February 28, 2018
Embracing the rich and largely untold story of Tarahumara culture, Mulaka is a journey of discovery and spirituality in a corrupted world. You play as a Sukurúame, a native Shaman who posses great powers including the ability to see into the spirit world. Spear in hand you set out on a journey to mend the corrupted world, one fallen foe at a time.
Mulaka is a third-person, Action / Adventure game with platforming and light puzzle elements. As the game progresses you fight enemies in hand-to-hand combat, encounter native villagers, and harness the powers of the demigods to take on their form.
The game is a real triumph when it comes to the representation of a culture that is very infrequently represented. The world feels rich and deep and the culture permeates almost every aspect of visual and gameplay design. The development team clearly went in to this game with a very strong theme in mind, and no single element of the game feels out of place when examined next to that theme. The game wants to accurately portray and represent the Tarahumara people, a Native American group based out of northwest Mexico. From the people you meet, to the tales and legends being forged, to the tightly interwoven lore, and even to the spiritual elements that impact gameplay – everything is appropriately characteristic of the Tarahumara.
Gameplay consists primarily of exploration and combat. You jump from one world to the next, each consisting of a semi open-world landscape where you’ll be tasked with recovering 3 spirit stones before being able to move on. The worlds vary when it comes to how impressively designed they are, with some being considerably more interesting than others. Every world is unique with a surprising amount of content hidden within. They are also designed in a way that encourages you to head back to a previous area to utilise a new ability and uncover more within the game, although this won’t be necessary for you to progress. Every new area comes with a new array of foes which were actually rather interesting with a surprising variance of enemy types. In fact, the whole game is surprisingly varied with more worlds to explore, more people to talk to, more abilities to unlock, and more enemies to fight than I originally thought would be available. Clearly a lot of love and dedication went in to this project.
Peering into the spirit world will also reveal new details and secrets including ghosts which you can communicate with, hidden pathways, and even hidden enemies. The spirit vision mechanic was actually very well utilised here and I was particularly impressed when I encountered enemies who phased in and out of the spirit world and you had to alter your vision to keep track. Not to mention it just felt very cohesive in regard to the game’s theming.
What is unfortunately going to let Mulaka down slightly is some basic issues that stopped me from being entirely engrossed in the world. The world design could be hit or miss with some areas feeling too “constructed” and not naturally occurring. Combat was entertaining enough but it definitely lacked a certain punch or feeling of grandeur, even when fighting towering enemies. Taking hits was largely no big deal, especially when you had a healthy supply of easily obtainable healing potions. Dealing damage was also fairly arcadey, with swinging your spear as quickly as possible often being the best course of action. Puzzling was all very easy too, with only 1 puzzle right near the end that finally begun to challenge me. And platforming could be quite inaccurate and sometimes even exploitable.
“Harnessing the power of the demigods means being able to transform on a whim into different animal forms… Unfortunately not all transformations are created equal”
For those picking up Mulaka stick with the game because I actually found the earlier levels to be some of the dullest. Once you begin harnessing the power of the demigods the game really does pick up and begins to feel like a complete experience. Harnessing the power of the demigods means being able to transform on a whim into different animal forms. Each one you uncover grants you a new transformation which comes with special properties that you’ll need to progress. The first is the power of the bird, allowing you to soar through the skies and cover much greater distances. This power can be activated at any moment and really adds to the overall experience of the game. Unfortunately not all transformations are created equal because some of the ones further down the line are much less impressive, much more restrictive and much less enjoyable.
The bird feels like it’s a part of you. It’s activation is easy and eventually becomes innate as you use it frequently to your advantage. It’s the kind of upgrade that would leave you feeling incomplete if it was ever stripped away from you. The tiger, on the other hand, is activated only occasionally for certain sections of the game. When activated all control is taken away from you and you essentially perform some awkwardly animated leaping sequence.
- Beautiful representation of an under represented culture
- Spirit vision adding to both gameplay and theme
- A surprising variance to levels and foes
- Transforming into a soaring bird
- Combat lacking a feeling of greandeur
- Platforming can be imprecise
- Some levels less impressive than others
- Not all transformation are created equal
Mulaka is a really impressive project for a small development team. It’s the kind of game that will resonate with audiences as they look back fondly on the unique game that totally managed to throw them into a new culture. It’s a game that is clearly lovingly created with an unexpected amount of content on offer. It also has some really smart mechanics that support the game not only through player enjoyment but through cohesion to a very strong theme. Unfortunately it’s a big project to tackle for a small team which creates imperfections that can be seen throughout the experience. Nevertheless Mulaka will undoubtedly remain a shining example of passion and inspiration.