Journey Across the Sierra
Based on the vibrant mythology and culture of the Tarahumara, Mulaka follows the journey of a Sukurúame — a Tarahumara shaman — as he fights back against evil corrupting the lands that the indigenous peoples inhabit. Mulaka is a strong example of how drawing upon a long history of stories and myths with careful respect can enhance a title’s gameplay.
The most striking thing about Mulaka is its art style: it’s polygonal with textures that lack any sort of detail, but a good use of shading and color helps make objects stand out from one another. This is a sharp contrast with Morphite, which sports a similar visual style to far lesser degrees of success. It certainly helps Mulaka when its character and enemy designs are also hyper stylized. Environments in Mulaka range from deserts to jungles to canyons, and with the possible exception of the game’s opening area, each environment is strikingly beautiful.
Mulaka is a 3D action-adventure game that reminds me of Super Mario Odyssey a little bit. Each area in Mulaka is open-ended with one clear goal: collect three crystals to open a gate and then fight the boss on the other side. After that, players can travel to the next area and repeat the process. On the surface it sounds dreadfully repetitive, but Mulaka gives players enough new mechanics and varied areas to alleviate that repetition.
The Sukurúame are renowned for their ability to draw on the power of demigods, and players will encounter several — and obtain their abilities — over the course of Mulaka‘s seven to eight hour adventure. At the start of the game players only have a spear and the Sukurúame vision, a power that allows the shaman to see beings hiding in another realm. Mechanically, the Sukurúame vision lets players check in on waypoints and see invisible enemies that may be lurking about. Those waypoints include the aforementioned crystals (although not all will have waypoints) and jars containing Korima, an energy-like substance that players can use to increase their defense or attack strength. Korima is also granted when players defeat enemies in battle.
Exploration doesn’t really require using the waypoints, though. I found each area to be well-designed enough where I was able to find crystals and other points of interest on my own. Some crystals can only be picked up after switches on the other side of the map are activated or when players find a new ability in that area.
Combat in Mulaka took a little while to get used to, but that’s not due to any of the actual mechanics of spear-swinging, for the most part. The game starts off very, very slow, with the fist level’s enemies consisting of scorpions and creatures that look like tumbleweeds. They were so tiny that I wasn’t even sure they were enemies. Things get much better after that first level, though, as the game introduces Mantis-men, rock-like boars, and plenty of other foes that require players to jump, dodge, and use their demigod powers to defeat.
There are a couple problems with combat, unfortunately. While swinging the spear works perfectly fine, throwing the spear with gyro aiming isn’t nearly as responsive as it is in games like Breath of the Wild or DOOM. Players also can’t really move much while they’re aiming the spear, so as soon as they take aim they pretty much have to throw it. I also had control issues with a powerful finisher move early on — it prompts players to press the right trigger and the X button to use, but they have to be pressed at the exact same time in order to initiate the attack. Pressing them slightly off or holding one down before pressing the other will result in a strong spear swing instead.
One of the abilities players acquire is the use of throw-able bombs by facing a direction and pressing right on the d-pad. This works well when a cracked wall needs to be demolished, but, oddly enough, players aren’t able to aim the throw with the right stick or with gyro controls. Some enemies can only be defeated with bombs, and this odd design oversight makes those encounters a little frustrating.
Those bombs and three other abilities, including health restoration, are acquired by picking up different types of herbs that grow across the land. Powers obtained from demigods are more exciting: they allow players to transform into a bird to fly across chasms, a bear to destroy walls that bombs can’t, and more. Each area also has optional sections that are blocked-off Metroid style, requiring an ability that players don’t yet have to access to. Each of the abilities granted by demigods are related to the stories passed down by the Tarahumara; it’s really refreshing to see a game celebrate nature the way that Mulaka does.
Aside from the visuals and rich mythology, one of my favorite parts of Mulaka is its boss battles. They start off small but quickly grow into gigantic creatures that players have to climb in order to defeat. Each of the bosses also requires players to use all of the abilities that they’ve acquired up to that point in order to slay.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Mulaka for this review.