Out of the multitude of games that took inspiration in the classic and incredibly punishing Spelunker, the one that I ended up liking best was La Mulana. Extremely difficult in its own right, it’s a game that demands your constant attention unless you want to just waste your time walking in circles or just plain dying instantly as you explore the fabled ruins of La Mulana as Lemeza Kosugi, a famed archaeologist. Released as a prettied up remake of a 2005 Japan-only PC game, La Mulana went on to see releases on a multitude of different consoles since its debut on PC in 2012.
It took developer Nigoro six years to put out a sequel, but La Mulana 2 ended up being worth the wait, improving on just about everything the original game laid out, with a number of gameplay improvements that made it much more playable. Still, it kept things as tough as usual at the same time. Unexpectedly so, I liked it so much that in 2018 it ended up in my top games list. Granted, these games aren’t for everyone, but if you take your time and learn their ins and outs, both La Mulanas can easily provide many hours of entertainment.
In terms of port quality, the Switch version that’s coming out is on par with the rest, only with the added benefit of being able to take both games portably, a first for La Mulana 2, since the first La Mulana was already available on the Vita. Surprisingly, for as tiny as some of the graphic elements in these games can get, they’re very playable in portable mode, even though you can take or leave the Switch’s JoyCon button placement. In the end, I personally had a better time playing docked using a Pro Controller, my usual M.O for Switch gaming in general.
Both La Mulana games do absolutely nothing to hold your hand and guide you through their mechanics. It’s completely up to you to discover secrets and uncover the necessary items to make it through to the end. The maps in these games are absolutely enormous, split into different areas with distinct sets of traps and challenges to overcome, with no indication as to which order you should take. The only tips that they give you come in the form of stone tablets that you can read along the way as long as you have the means to do so, since they’re in an unknown tongue. The dead also have a way of helping, too. Not to mention the village elder, a Master Roshi-ish type who’s usually more of a troll than anything else.
There’s absolutely no shame in resorting to online guides for either of these games, and there are extensive ones available showing the exact routes you should take and all of that, but the real fun is tackling them on your own accord, taking notes of the cryptic messages you find on your way. There’s a huge sense of accomplishment that comes from conquering these games in the way that they’re meant to be played, but if you just want to get through them with a walkthrough, both La Mulana and La Mulana 2 are bound to still be very tough.
That’s because neither game is very wieldy to play. In the case of the first one, Kosuig’s very stiff and his movements can take you a while to get used to, especially when it comes to jumping, which you’ll be doing a lot while playing. Kosugi’s kid in second La Mulana is a bit better in that regard, but not much. But hey, at least you can crouch in that one, and that’s a big plus in this kind of game. As you make progress through them and get in tune with their style of play, things get somewhat more manageable, and thanks to some of the pickups you find, you’re able to save yourself more easily in later, more devious moments throughout your adventures.
While I wouldn’t call either La Mulana or La Mulana 2 beautiful, there’s a certain charm to how they present their pixely graphics. The second game manages to pop sprites up a bit more by having more detailed blown up in size for important characters, and the art hardly ever gets in the way of gameplay. Background elements also do a great job in blending with the environment, only giving slight hints of where traps and hidden ladders might be located, so keeping a trained eye set is key to being successful in your expedictions. It goes without saying that the sound work in both games is somewhat limited given their retro aesthetics, but the music tends to be quite catching for the most part, which is good considering how long you’ll probably be spending going back and forth through the same environments while playing.
NIS America has done a tremendous job picking up these games for release on Switch. They’re both extremely playable and can potentially provide a ton of content to dig into, even more so if this is your first time playing them. I once again strongly suggest that you to try going at it on your own and try to figure things out for yourself before relying on external sources of information. You’re bound to have a much better time if you come into the world of La Mulana with the right mindset, as these aren’t your run-of-the-mill platformers, and for that I can’t help but wholeheartedly recommend them.