La-Mulana EX is a remake of La-Mulana, a 2D platformer developed by Nigoro and first released 2005. Pygmy Studio takes the reins for this Vita version, which features updated graphics and greater guidance in tough areas. In the purest fashion, this is a love letter to platform games of the past in an era when videogames weren’t afraid to push us to our limits to make every victory all the sweeter.
La-Mulana EX puts you in the boots of Lemeza Kosugi, an archaeologist descended from a long line of ninja. The story is light, with Lemeza investigating the ruins of La-Mulana EX to find his missing father. Elder Xelpud is your sole frequent contact. He gifts you a laptop through which he doles out advice via email. These messages are a source of humour, alleviating the grim reality of the ruins with practical jokes and slang-laden dialogue.
Discovery is at the heart of La-Mulana EX. Once you embrace the fact that the game is tasking you quite literally with the protagonist’s profession, it becomes something truly special. Progression is never straightforward, and only the vaguest of clues are offered to give any sense of direction. Much of the game is open to get lost in form the very beginning, and finding areas that are solvable with the items at hand is half the battle.
The other half is just how to go about solving a series of incredibly devious puzzles. Many require a combination of factors over multiple rooms, and they only increase in complexity over the course of the adventure. The game begins by teaching you about placing a weight on a dais and adds wrinkles to the formula like invisible walls, maze-like room arrangements, and breakable sections of the wall or floor. At times it can all feel a little much, though taking some time to reread clues works wonders. It feels great to get the better of the game, especially after wracking your brain on the ingenious designs standing in your way.
There is also some tricky platforming at play here. The jumping physics took some acclimatisation, as it initially felt quite rigid and weighty, though it wasn’t long before I became more comfortable. Some of the traps highlight La-Mulana EX’s malicious sense of humour. This is a game unafraid to push you down an inconspicuously placed trapdoor and lay a bed of spikes to break your fall.
Each section of La-Mulana EX features a wide variety of enemies that will challenge you at every turn. Of particular note are the game’s airborne creatures. They take unpredictable paths to knock you off ledges and make life in the ruins all the more difficult. No matter how harmless a particular enemy may seem, they are all capable of compounding the difficulty as they whittle away at your health.
Your ultimate aim is to defeat the Guardians, eight increasingly brutal bosses that can seem insurmountable at first. Learning a repeatable strategy is always for the best, though taking damage is inevitable. As with any great boss battle, the game forces you into a strange situation to test your skills and reflexes. For example, the third Guardian Ellmac is fought from a mine cart careening down an unpredictable track. It truly is a great feeling to turn Guardians to dust, providing a reward for hardship.
Taking some time to reread clues works wonders.
While much of the game can feel overwhelming, Lemeza has an arsenal of items at his disposal to tip the scales in your favour. Weapons each have their own play style. While the whip can hit enemies in an arc above Lemeza’s head, the knife can strike those lower to the ground. Each area’s balance of enemy types will determine which is most appropriate. Sub weapons are also present. Shuriken allow for ranged attacks, caltrops can be used to set traps, and shields can block enemy projectiles. There is also a pistol, which dishes out devastating damage.
La-Mulana EX requires a hefty chunk of back-tracking, made necessary by more than a handful of untimely deaths. This can feel demoralising as death steals away everything you achieve between saves. This is where the game’s most useful item comes into play. The Holy Grail is the key to success in La-Mulana EX, allowing you to warp directly to and between save points. This allows for a tactical retreat to regain health before making a triumphant return and inching toward more progress.
The magic of La-Mulana EX exists in this freedom to progress at your own pace, with an allowance to play as cautiously as you see fit. As much as the game can beat you down, there is an almost tangible sense of momentum that comes from conquering the game by breaking it down into small chunks. I found myself turning off my Vita and contemplating how those new items I just gathered could help me solve some previously impassable sections.
That the game looks and sounds as beautiful as it does is the icing on the cake. Sprites embody an extensive amount of character. Lemeza’s animations in the pause screen are particularly noteworthy, as he takes a well-earned break by shovelling down some delicious bat curry. Enemies and environments are drawn from mythological inspiration, with a great deal of Egyptian, Greek and Arabian influences.
The game’s score never lacks a punch, featuring some rousing tunes to accompany your adventure. It won’t be long before you’re humming along, even as the ruins try to break your spirit. Add to this the satisfying weapon sounds, offering an aesthetic reward to slicing foes. While La-Mulana EX isn’t a game for the faint of heart, those ready to embrace a challenge will find plenty to sink their teeth into. There is an extensive adventure on offer, with a host of puzzles and bloodthirsty enemies to conquer. Simply put, it is a brutal delight where small victories will have you grinning from ear to ear in the face of ever greater hardship.