Mulaka offers fascinating insight into the folklore of a little-known culture through its world, theme, mechanics, and music. The story and themes of the title are influenced by the Tarahumara tribe of northern Mexico, allowing players to see how the tribe lived across varied areas. Interacting with the demigods of the Tarahumara belief system is a nice change from the norm, as it provides a chance to see aspects of a religion not normally heard about. The world of Mulaka is a joy to witness, letting people learn about something intriguing in the real world while having fun.
Inspired by Tarahumara folklore, the story takes the player on a journey to bring peace to the world as a Sukurúame (a tribal shaman with the ability to make contact with spiritual beings). An entity is growing in the underworld and corrupting the Earth, spreading evil and making creatures more hostile.The Sukurúame must undertake a dangerous trek to acquire the help of the demigods to defeat the evil. The plot line may not be all that captivating, but it becomes more engaging through the presence of Tarahumara folklore, which gives the player a chance to see how the tribe believes the world was created and ruled. Mulaka is not an introspective game, even though the ending does make a profound statement, which may change the player’s outlook on their journey. The conclusion of Mulaka eludes expectation and gains meaning by revealing that the story is about more than simply amassing power to defeat evil.
A primary use of the new skills that players acquire from the demigods across the journey is to access to areas otherwise unreachable. Often, reaching new areas is achieved by breaking a wall with the strength of a bear or hovering over a distance in the form of a bird, along with using the unique skills of other transformations. The developers at Lienzo designed levels as hubs, giving players the ability to travel to each locale at will via the start menu. The acquisition of each ability is accompanied by a tutorial, following which the player can revisit previous levels to reach areas once unattainable to gain loot or collectibles. Some of the demigods’ powers also help with combat, such as turning into a bird to gain height on a jump to avoid enemies or transforming into a jaguar during a dashing attack. In particular, these skills are used in boss battles as a way to get the foe into a stunned state where the player can deal damage to them using the basic combat system.
The battle mechanics are lackluster, to say the least. The system consists of a quick combo, a strong combo, jump attacks, a spear throw, and a dodge. Frequently, using quick attacks is more beneficial than relying on the strong attack, as the latter is slow and the player will most likely be interrupted when using it. The combat feels as though it needs more refinement as enemies can easily overrun the player and put them into a stun lock state. Being struck has a chance of dazing the player character, enabling foes to bombard him and take away a significant portion of his health bar. Furthermore, wide attacks seem that they should hit enemies, but will sometimes not make contact with the creatures. Indeed, enemies will phase through the player’s spear and land an attack.. The combo system comprises little more than button mashing, hitboxes could stand to be refined, and the problem of stun locks make the combat frustrating, but some boss battles are a highlight. One such fight consists of the player maneuvering around a giant creature, including walking on its back and making sure not to get thrown off. Another involves timing when to throw an object at the boss to stun it so the player can deal direct damage. However, several of the boss battles can, at times, feel generic and therefore boring. The best and most engaging are those fights that require the player to make use of the demigods’ powers, in addition to the other combat mechanics.
The player has access to four different types of potion with varying effects: restoring health, creating a protective shield, increasing attack damage, and generating an explosion. With the exception of the last (which is simply thrown), the potions require the character to perform a tribal dance. This dance makes using the potions during combat unfeasible. The animation forces the player to hold still, often resulting in enemies getting in free blows. Being hit while using a potion has two possible outcomes; either the character will stagger, losing out on the benefits completely, or he will be damaged. Accordingly, using potions often makes fights more difficult than simply trying to survive without buffs.
The low-poly gameplay graphics are surprisingly detailed. The levels feel true to how the real-world counterparts would look, even with the liberties taken for level design. Each environment is eye-catching, from an open desert to forests and cliffs with a huge waterfall. The hubs are visually distinct with unique themes, but all still fit into the world of Mulaka. The visual style keeps the screen uncluttered, which is particularly helpful when using the third-eye mechanic that makes spirits and invisible platforms viewable. Creatures that would otherwise be seen as a floating dot—or not at all—become visible with the third-eye vision. This visual effect is overlaid on the normal world, helping the player navigate the environment and enemy encounters. The art style makes the enemies distinctive; one creature looks like a tumbleweed normally, but the third-eye mechanic reveals that it is being controlled by a blue spiritual squirrel-esque creature. Another enemy is a skull with hermit crab legs, while stronger versions look as though they are made of molten rock. The animation could use refining. In some areas, the animations are fluid and easy on the eyes, but other animations look choppy, making them stand out as jarring. A few walk cycles need work, as the placement of the legs walking does not feel right. Some of the attacks might also benefit from another pass to work on the overlapping animation to make them appear smoother. Compared to the low-poly gameplay, cinematics use a highly detailed hand-painted look to give the feel of indigenous artwork. The style of the cinematics is a great pay off after completing levels. Seeing the demigods portrayed with the hand-painted look makes them stand out more as powerful beings, separating them from the style of the generic enemies. The visual style of the cinematics also helps to make the interactions with the demigods feel more intimate, putting the player in a new plane of existence to communicate with them.
The developers created authentic-sounding music from northern Mexico using instruments the Tarahumara would perform with. The music helps the atmosphere of the game, pulling the visuals, world, and lore together to make a more cohesive experience. Whether the level is slower or more upbeat, the soundtrack fits into each locale perfectly, In many cases, the audio was recorded in parts of northern Mexico, helping to capture the feel of the space. Finally, the dialogue in Mulaka uses the native tongue of the Tarahumara tribe, creating a more fascinating experience due to being able to hear the native language.
Mulaka feels generic in its gameplay, but the intriguing themes of the Tarahumara folklore help the title to become more than just another action-platformer. The lackluster combat, level design, jarring animations, and basic plot line may not be worth the price of entry, yet Mulaka is a immensely engrossing adventure. Learning about a tribe of people that most have never heard of and playing a game about indigenous people is rare. Playing through Mulaka divulges a lot about the Tarahumara mythology and customs. Mulaka is best played to learn about the culture and origin stories of the Tarahumara people, who go down in legend as being some of the most athletic humans to ever grace the face of the planet.
Reviewed on PC.