La Mulana 1 & 2 Review – Masterclasses of Metroidvania

    Title: La Mulana 1 & 2
    Developer: Nigoro
    Release Date: March 17, 2020
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: NIS America
    Genre: Metroidvania

One of the most popular sub-genres of games in recent years has been the Metroidvania, named for its games being inspired by the Metroid and Castlevania series. Sadly, Metroidvania is a term that gets thrown around a bit too often recently, with any games containing backtracking grouped up within the genre.

Two games that I can say should truly be classified as a Metroidvania is La Mulana and its sequel, La Mulana 2. Initially released in 2005 exclusively in Japan, La Mulana quickly stole the hearts of fans. A fan translation followed, but the game wasn’t officially available in the west until a 2012 remake was released on the Nintendo Wii.

In 2014, a Kickstarter was launched to help fund the sequel, La Mulana 2, which was eventually released on the PlayStation Vita in 2015. Though the two games have been lauded as some of the best in the Metroidvania genre for years, it was challenging to get your hands on them unless you still owned a Wii or a Vita.

That was until now, with the release of the La Mulana 1 & 2 collection on Switch and PS4. The collection brings both games to modern consoles in one package. While I had always heard rumblings about the series, I had never actually tried out a La Mulana game until now. Let me tell you; I had no idea what I was getting into.

Although La Mulana is a pixelated side-scrolling Metroidvania with a surprisingly in-depth plot. The Indiana Jones inspired game sees archaeologist Lemeza Kosugi dive into the ruins of La-Mulana, the supposed birthplace of life itself. Through his adventures in the ruins, he discovers that there might be more to La-Mulana than meets the eye.

The sequel takes place five years after the events of the first game. When monsters begin to pour out of the La-Mulana ruins once more, a plea for help is sent to Lemeza. It turns out that Lemeza has gone missing, however, so his daughter, Lumisa, heads the call for help. Upon her arrival, she discovers Eg-Mulana, a twisted version of La-Mulana, and must delve into the ruins to stop the monsters.

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These light plot summaries are only scratching the surface of what the two games have to offer. Most of the lore hidden throughout the game is entirely missable, however, so players can experience the entire game without ever really having to know what’s going on.

If players do decide to check out the profound lore that the main designer Takumi Naramura has crafted, they won’t be let down. The world of La Mulana is fleshed out and interesting. Characters, monsters, and bosses are incredibly well designed with interesting backstories. I could see a film or television series based on the games doing quite well.

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Most players won’t be picking up the La Mulana games for their story, however. Luckily, just about everything else here is fantastic. I should add that the second game is obviously better than the first, this is only due to quality-of-life updates and some slightly better graphics. Though, no matter which game you decide to delve into, you’ll be having a good time.

That is if you can figure out what the heck the game wants you to do. The La Mulana games are divided into multiple different areas that require particular and precise actions in order to move forward. Some of these are pretty obvious, while others are hidden and could take hours upon hours to find. This is one game that no one should take shame in consulting a guide for.

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Even if you do decide to play with a guide (as I had to from time to time), this won’t really dampen your experience. Of course, if you do decide to go in completely blind, your discoveries will feel more rewarding. Sometimes, however, spending hours staring at one screen and thinking, “What the hell am I supposed to do?” can be just a little too much.

La Mulana 1 & 2’ puzzles will be solved in a variety of ways that range from taking down enemies in a specific order to saving up coins to buy an item from a shop. You’ll find yourself going back and forth from the main dungeons to the hub town quite frequently, and thankfully both games include a fast travel system just for this.

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La Mulana 1 & 2 don’t autosave, so make sure to save before you think you might be doing anything too treacherous. I admittedly forgot to do this a time or two in my time and lost hours of progress due to my own stupidity.

The games’ sprites and environments are some of the most beautiful that I have seen in a pixelated game. La Mulana features some fantastic looking designs, and La Mulana 2 is even more appealing. Both games are a treat for the eyes, no matter which you decide to play.

The same is true for both of the soundtracks. La Mulana 1 & 2 feature a few tunes that will keep your head bobbing the entire time that you’re playing, whether you’re peacefully buying items from a shop or stressfully trying to take down a boss.

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La Mulana 1 & 2 are some of the best Metroidvania games on the market. They aren’t for the faint of heart, however. While I think playing these games with a guide can still be fun, the fact that most players will need a guide to progress past the first area is really saying something.

If you want a game that will challenge your wits and gaming skills, look no further than La Mulana or La Mulana 2. Although they can sometimes feel like they are a bit too challenging or their puzzles are too obtuse, I think this is precisely what Takumi Naramura intended. As far as Metroidvanias go, La Mulana 1 & 2 are first class.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jake Yoder

Lover of all things gaming, anime, film and theatre. Shonen anime/manga enthusiast.