Have You Played… La Mulana?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

While Lara Croft is shooting a bear in the face, Nathan Drake is hanging out the back of a plane, and Indiana Jones is squabbling with his dad, the heroes of La Mulana are doing the real work: taking notes, reading patterns, drawing maps. Whether you’d prefer to call it a Metroidvania or an exploration-based puzzler, La Mulana [official site] is the smartest game in its class.

With a sequel incoming, it’s a fine time to revisit La Mulana, or to visit it for the first time. It’s a wonderful game, though certainly tricky enough to be offputting if you’re not in a patient mood. You’re exploring forgotten places and while there are enemies to fight, with some extravagant bosses among them, it’s not the monsters that you need to fear – it’s the possibility of losing your way.

You’ll always be able to find your way back to the surface but if you don’t pay attention, and make those notes and maps, you might not know what do to next. Few games are so willing to trust in the player’s intelligence and observational skills to the extent that La Mulana is, and if you sprint through, heading in the general direction of treasure, you’ll end up trapped, dead and directionless.

Go slow and remember that no detail is accidental.

21 Comments

  1. Oozo says:

    Hey Adam, how about that essay you were once thinking about writing, about why La Mulana is the original “Dark Souls in 2D”? (I think it is definitely an argument that can be made, and I’d love to read your take on it– maybe when the sequel comes around?)

    Anyway, yes, I have played it, and even though I got to a point where everything got a bit too intertwined and much for me, I still think it was a marvelous experience… there is no game that can make you feel more like an archaeologist, discovering for the first time an ancient culture that is strange, wonderous and fascinating. Can’t wait to be among the actual first people to encounter the ancient new when part 2 comes out, instead of arriving years late to the party.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      Yes, I’m saving that for the sequel. Hadn’t forgotten about my plans to write it at all. No sir.

    • magogjack says:

      This game sounds a lot like what Ultima Ratio Regnum wants to do; in regards to letting the player feel like an adventurer/scholar and trusting that they are also intelligent.

  2. Syrion says:

    Oh hey, I’ve forgotten about this gem, but I’ve surely played it! I’ve actually forgotten about having bought it and just found out the old account for the download site still works and now even gives you a Steam code. I kind of feel like exploring a forgotten ruin all over again…

    I adored the original freeware release of La-Mulana, even though I found it just about unplayable without Deceased Crab’s YouTube guide, which I suppose actually fuelled the whole probability of a remake. That release then was so much more accessible, but apparently it still couldn’t hold my attention. I remember enjoying it a lot, but I also remember aimlessly circling the same screens over and over again in hopes of finding a clue as to where to go next.
    Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mind and didn’t pay enough attention as you’ve said. I’m interested in entering the ruins once more. Some day I will…

    • KDR_11k says:

      The remake’s puzzles are supposedly easier (with less BS) but that doesn’t mean they’re easy or without BS.

  3. Frank says:

    Tried the free version and found it extremely unpleasant, on par with Ghosts ‘n Goblins or Megaman.

    • KDR_11k says:

      You get used to the movement eventually. The puzzles though… I hope you’re used to ARG-level leaps of logic.

      I don’t know why you put Mega Man in that list since it has full air and ground control including jump height, just almost no inertia (Mario has the same with more inertia and that’s the gold standard of platforming). La Mulana is more akin to the original Castlevanias with a jump being a commitment you cannot back out of.

  4. vorador says:

    This is one of those times i completely condone and even encourage the use of a walktrough if you’re having problems.

    La Mulana can be really frustrating with enormous and confusing maps, hard to discern clues and plenty of traps. But if you’re willing to stick with it, is one of the best “Metroidvania” games ever made.

  5. KDR_11k says:

    I’m not creative enough to deal with the clues this game serves up, I had to have a walkthrough at hand almost the whole time. “Where the finger points and Anninaki does not dare look.” Fuck you, game. Extra fun bonus for some of the harder puzzles additionally using mechanics that are never used before or again.

  6. horrorgasm says:

    People like to compare this to Dark Souls, but really it’s the complete opposite. The combat isn’t difficult at all. It’s the overly obscure level design that will destroy you. When you get halfway through the game and can’t progress any more because you’re at a complete dead end and the only thing that could have saved you was reading and saving the text off a single rock that you missed 10 levels ago, one that probably would have seemed completely worthless back at the time that you read it anyway? Oh boy is that not fun.

  7. DingDongDaddio says:

    The original La Mulana is one of my favorite gaming experiences of my life. I couldn’t make it through without liberal use of walkthroughs but that didn’t sour me at all. The remake is great too but I lost patience with one of the bosses and never got around to finishing it.

    Such a brilliant game though. Been waiting for La Mulana 2 for much too long…

  8. Syrion says:

    Is it helpful to actually take physical notes while playing the game? Reading about other players’ experience with the game, I’m wondering if it would help to do that and maybe allow the player to get more of the bigger picture and not miss much. I’d really like to play a game this way, similar to how I’ve heard most people did for 80’s and 90’s RPGs, but only if it’s of any use.

    [edit]
    Interestingly, it appears I was subconciously inspired by reading the headline of the RPS article “The Witness and the Joy of Note-taking” from 6 days ago, and without knowing it, it mentions La-Mulana as well. Huh.

    • Syrion says:

      Also I didn’t fully get that the notes mentioned in this very article are physical notes, too. So, I guess that answers my question, as well as my worries about paying attention, duh.
      Still, it’s interesting to read that, as when I first played La-Mulana 4 1/2 years ago it didn’t occur to me at all that taking notes might be useful.

  9. Natanji says:

    I liked this game a lot, but I honestly can’t imagine anyone finishes this game without a walkthrough. Even when I read all the murals and stuff, I had absolutely no clue how to solve the riddles. The game often relies on specific items being used at very specific spots for weird, nonlogical reasons, or on finding invisible pathways in the walls and such. I suppose it would be nice to see an FAQ that actually goes through the logical steps required, because at many points when playing it I was just screaming “WHY?!” to myself all the time.

    So yeah, the puzzle design mostly just sucks by today’s standards, it’s more trial & error than point & click adventure games from the 80s. I suppose this is because the original was from a time where you needed that to artificially stretch out the play time? It’s completely bananas and way too random and hard, which is why I absolutely don’t agree with the comparison to Dark Souls, which might be hard but is always pretty *fair*. It doesn’t require random actions all the friggin time. But that said: with an FAQ you still get a pretty nice Metroidvania in a very connected, memorable world and can have a lot of fun with it really. I suppose nVidia could stick their “the way it’s meant to be played” on playing this with a guide.

  10. Zazzaro says:

    This really is a great game. If I were younger when I had the time to search everything and try everything, I think I would have been able to figure out 95% of the game. However with limited time and a huge backlog of games, I was able to make it about 2/3rds through the game before I had to view a walk through. Then whenever I was stuck, I gave some things a try and if I was spending more than 20 minutes or so trying to figure out what to do next I would look at a walk through. I already am someone that searches every corner of adventure games, but I just don’t have the time to do it over and over when I got a new item. Really looking forward to the 2nd game. AGDQ had a runner do the game this year as well which was cool to watch.

  11. Chillicothe says:

    Not one mention of the music (which is BONKERS good).

  12. GeoX says:

    It’s weird to me how many people admit it’s impossible without a walkthrough but nonetheless think it’s great. To me, that seems like the definition of bad design, even if it IS meant to be a throwback.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      If you think of it as a game, then yeah, it’s hard to say it’s really great when it requires a walkthrough.

      But if you think of it as a love letter to the MSX in the form of a game, then it is definitely great.

  13. Shinryoma says:

    You can’t mention La Mulana without mentioning Knightmare 2: Maze of Gallios on the MSX.