The outstanding visuals make Mulaka a notable action title, but frustrating controls and low production values stop it from reaching its potential.

Mulaka draws you in with its gorgeous looking visuals and bright imagery inspired by Mexican folklore.

There’s a shortage of games that deal with less-told and unknown legends and stories – like those of the native population of both North and South America.

Lienzo, the Mexico-based developer, is trying to address this shortage by telling the story of the fallen ones: the children of the sun and the moon who fell to Earth and settled there.

We experience this story through the eyes of Sukurúame, a great shaman of the Tarahumara tribe. Sukurúame sets out to save his people with the help of the demigods – beautiful creatures that resemble animals and protect all life from evil.

The story itself is presented through a series of high-quality animated cutscenes. These cutscenes accompany us throughout the entire game, mostly setting the stage for the next in level. Lienzo did a fantastic job here, and each one of them has great visuals and sound.

Unfortunately, beyond these beautifully animated scenes, you don’t experience a whole lot of story as you play. You’ll meet the occasional NPC, telling you something horrible happened and you as the hero need to amend it. The usual stuff: kill monster A, get item B and save person C.

As a hero, it would have been better to deal with more heroic missions through the level and to have the story blend a little bit better with my actions, but I still found the plot satisfying.

The visual style remains insanely unique outside the cutscenes, and the two are very distinct. In contrast to the dark, hand-drawn art in the cutscenes, the game itself is vibrant and colorful.

The game utilizes a simple drawing style associated with ancient tribes and the bright colors associated with South American folklore that combine for a gorgeous low-poly look that is just incredible to behold. The environments are all vivid, the character design is imaginative, and the animations are all charming.

From time to time you do encounter areas that look a little flat, especially when the color doesn’t pop, but those are very few compared to the majority of the game. It’s hard not to continue and praise the game’s visuals.

The visuals are not where the praises stop. I did find myself dancing in my chair to the game’s musical score. I will probably forget it ever existed after finishing the game, but it does manage to keep you going through the game when the oh-so-unique visuals don’t quite cut it.

Here is where we move on to the game itself, and the fundamental problem it has – the controls.

Sukurúame controls a bit off. For starts – he can’t walk, only run, so the only way to explore the edge of a cliff is to hurl yourself over it.

It’s even worst when in combat, especially when you fight multiple enemies. There’s no lock-on system, so you’ll need to constantly change the camera angle yourself. Your character’s jerky movement and the lack of any way to direct your attacks make for a very frustrating combat experience.

Mulaka review - Combat

Whenever you encounter a new type of enemy, you can press a key to learn how to defeat it. Mulaka is a pretty easy game to begin with, so this is a somewhat strange addition.

Furthermore, you can unlock a “supervision” skill to guide to exactly where you need to go, and even reveal some of the in-game secrets. Again, this isn’t an overly complex game, so this new skill removes a significant chunk of the challenge. However, using can lead to some very unusual interactions with the hidden ghost world and can help solve some puzzles and defeat certain bosses.

As much fun as the Supervision skills is, it’s still a too powerful tool for such an easy game.

There are also other useful and cool skills to unlock, like one that lets you whizz through the entire map in seconds. You’ll zoom past birds in eye-watering speeds, all with a stupid grin smeared across your face.

So while the game tells you outright how to dispose of each type of enemy, the same is not true for the bosses. Every single one of them is completely different from the others, and they do not resemble anything from other games in the genre.

The bosses are not nearly as challenging as they might be in other games (we’ve already established Mulaka isn’t’ a difficult game), but they are still great fun to fight. The game’s imaginative approach to each boss battle will make you go “oh, that’s so cool” every time, and makes every bit of gameplay before that fight worth the effort. Boss fights are the best part of the game, especially if you’re into the boss rush genre.

The game’s health system helps make these boss battle even more intense. You are responsible for replenishing your health bar whenever you see fit. Health does not regenerate or fill automatically when you pick up a health item. You need to make sure to use the weird plants you collect to boost your health at the right moment. It can create some tense moments near the end of a level when you’re short of health plants, and there are no more to be found.

Mulaka review - important conversations with NPCs

Where Mulaka’s gameplay really shines, however, is in its mechanics. You’ll climb, fly like a bird, chase down all sorts of rewards, solve puzzles and more. Puzzles are scattered across the world, and while they don’t get more difficult as you progress, they do increase in complexity and offer a nice challenge.

The overall experience feels like an amalgam of open world, hack-and-slash combat, and some platforming. At times it feels like Lienzo took 10 other games and mashed them together. However, this feeling dissipates when you realize the game’s unique charm puts a twist on everything, in both the visual and gameplay sense.

The developers are well aware of that familiar feeling and were sure to include plenty of easter eggs fans of games like Mario and Zelda will enjoy. Just try and break a pot and you’ll see what I mean.

On the surface, Mulaka has it all. You can even go back to previous areas with your newly unlocked powers and unlock new places to explore, Metroidvania-style. But doing everything isn’t the same as doing everything well.

You can clearly see the lack of polish in graphics fidelity, AI that bumps into random objects, and the terrible control scheme. But if you can look past that, you’ll find a beautifully crafted first attempt by a new and exciting studio.

With great visual prowess and quite a wonderfully innovative set of encounters, Mulaka isn’t afraid to show its new ideas. This little reason not to give this colorful experience at least a chance. It will definitely help a promising indie studio like Lienzo make a real gem next time around.

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