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Mulaka review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Lienzo
Developer: Lienzo
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: T

I really want to like Mulaka. After all, it tells a story from a perspective you don’t often (or, possibly, ever) see. The game is set in northern Mexico, and is built around the lore of the region’s indigenous Tarahumara people. Admittedly, the broad strokes — that you’re playing as a shaman trying to rid of the world of evil — are pretty universal, but the details make for a fascinating learning experience.

On top of that, Mulaka looks gorgeous. Again, there are hints of what you can find elsewhere (particularly Rime or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker), but the vivid colours and angular lines, not to mention the cast of characters, are undeniably Mexican in origin.

It’s a shame, then, that such an interesting story and such fantastic designs are kind of wasted on a game that’s basically your standard action-adventure. Sure, you’re exploring a brightly-coloured desert with enemies based on creatures you’d find in northern Mexico, but at the end of the day, you’re just hacking and slashing and throwing spears and, er, magicking at them. Obviously, there are only so many ways you can attack enemies, but given how much care went into making the game look unique, it would have been nice if it played uniquely, too.

Of course, generic attacks would probably be fine if the controls felt smooth. Instead, it all feels a little too loose, as if you’re flailing away rather than targeting with precision. This feeling is exacerbated by the lack of a lock-on feature, which becomes particularly noticeable when you’re facing down wave after wave of enemies — which, unfortunately, is a pretty common occurrence in this game.

Because one of Mulaka’s core features (that is, the combat) is so annoying, it doesn’t take much for other annoyances to take on greater significance. For example, the titular character dies when he touches water, even if we’re talking little rivulets cutting through desert sand. Somehow, apparently, these tiny little streams of water are deep enough to drown Mulaka standing upright. Similarly annoying: the design decision to opt for invisible walls, rather than simply hemming characters in with actual obstacles. I know that the developers wouldn’t have been able to make an actual enormous desert, for example, but it still feels weird to be stuck in the middle of a desert and not being allowed to go beyond some random point, even though you can see land beyond where you’re standing.

Again, if the rest of Mulaka were good, those are the sort of complaints you could overlook or even explain away. Instead, they add on to the frustration you’ll feel from the wonky combat, and take away from a game that, from an aesthetic perspective, might have otherwise had a lot going for it. It’s still great to have these kinds of stories told, but it’s hard not to wish that such a fresh and unique setting had a fresh and unique game to go with it.

Lienzo provided us with a Mulaka Nintendo Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B-