Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One
If I were to make a list of features for my all-time favorite games, chances are things like strong world building, compelling narratives, good writing, and captivating characters would rank near the top in almost all cases. But every now and then beautiful, even if shallow, experience can break me out of my comfort zone to deliver something thought-provoking and genre expanding.
Unfortunately, Mulaka wasn’t that game for me. Every now and then a game that I play feels like it’s actively trying to give me reasons to dislike it. On the surface, Mulaka ticks a lot of the right boxes for me with its sharp, eye-catching art style, inventive cultural inspirations, and action-adventure tropes. But for everything it does right, it feels like it stumbles in one way or another.
The Color of the Wind
In Mulaka you take on the role of Sukuruame, a shaman-esque character, in a story that centers on the Native American Tarahumara people from Northwest Mexico. There’s a deep, dark force threatening to overrun the land and it’s up to you to stop it. It’s all a very mysterious and mythical story about Gods, magic, and the afterlife.
From its opening moments, Mulaka feels like the type of game that you won’t easily forget. The art style at first reminded me of Journey, with its tan deserts, beams of light, and simple textures, but that was quickly set aside once I ventured into my first lush, green environment, or saw a cascading blue waterfall.
Aesthetically it reminded me of BC-era folklore wall paintings and cave men a bit, which fits the tone and setting well. Much of the dialog and story is told through text boxes with NPCs, which is fine, but I would have preferred some more creative ways of learning about the lore and culture as well.
Hack and Slash
From a gameplay perspective, Mulaka is far less inventive. The majority of your time with the game is spent performing light puzzle or basic platforming segments, broken up with standard hack ‘n’ slash-style combat. The aesthetics do a nice job of keeping it interesting visually, but it’s just not that engaging on a moment-to-moment level. Luckily the payoff is decent since the boss battles near the end of each area are pretty intense.
Using a special view power, you can see spirits during some of the combat encounters, which does lend a certain unique nuance to the fighting, but it didn’t really step things up a notch at all. The lack of a lock-on camera felt incredibly absent considering the third-person melee combat focus.
I played the game on Nintendo Switch and the framerate often felt subpar, especially when the action really started to heat up. There wasn’t any significant stuttering or lag, but it was enough to be noticeable at times -- which seemed a bit odd given the relatively simplistic art style.
Style and aesthetics can only take you so far in and of themselves. In order for a game’s striking art style and creative ideas to really shine through there needs to be meat on the bones beyond what you see in screenshots and trailers. At first glance Mulaka feels like a Zelda-meets-Okami-meets Native American culture experience, but it ended up feeling much less nuanced than that.