Taking inspiration from other cultures is something that more and more game developers are doing these days. Never Alone, for example, looked at the Iñupiat people’s tales and lore, allowing those far away to experience those stories in the form of a platformer and providing insight through documentary footage. Mulaka, on the other hand, opts for a 3D action adventure game set in the lore of the Taramuhara people of northern Mexico. It has its moments as a game, but it certainly captures the spirit of the subject.
As the Sukurúame – a shaman of the Taramuhara people – the protagonist is tasked with driving out the evil spirits in the Sierra, while at the same time finding the demi-god shrines to seek their aid. It’s nothing we’ve not seen in other games before, but there is always that sense of wonder when it comes to seeing it through the eyes of another culture, and it does lead to some spectacular moments later in the game.
What will divide people is the use of the low-polygon art style. NPCs and enemies are certainly distinctive enough, and a low-poly style can work well, but in this case it just makes the game look outdated,especially on the current hardware available. I’d love to know why they decided to follow this art style, and for me the use of an art style tends to be for a reason, but Mulaka’s low-poly visuals don’t seemingly add anything to the experience.
Playing Mulaka on both the base PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, the PS4 version ran at a consistent, if low frame rate, but the Nintendo Switch version has a few teething issues with stuttering. It’s by no means unplayable as the game is relatively slow paced and I actually completed the game on the Switch, but dodging attacks is slightly more cumbersome than it needs to be. Thankfully the developers are aware of these issues and working on a patch.
Mulaka is essentially a 3D platformer with combat, set in hub worlds where the Sukurúame must solve problems or defeat enemies to unlock runes that open doors to the bosses. It’s a bit of a “rinse and repeat” job as the structure feels the same throughout, which quite frankly adds to the dated feel of Mulaka.
Each world is relatively large, though easily traversed thanks to the Sukurúame’s ability to run at full pelt without stopping. As such, the game is reasonably short overall, but there’s also quite a bit of replay value since the spirits bestow powers that can be used to reveal hidden extras, whether that is currency to spend in the shop or one of the two types of collectables found within each of the levels. It probably won’t take too long for players to uncover the collectables once all the abilities are open to them though, so the replay value is limited in that sense.
Since the protagonist is armed with a spear, there’s lots of combat involved as well. The main gimmick of switching to a different viewpoint allows for hidden enemies to appear as spirits, as well as allowing the player to track their health. Later on, the Sukurúame gains the ability to channel certain spirits to increase their attacking options and there is an upgrade shop in one of the worlds. I never felt the need to use the shop, since one attack you unlock kills most enemies outright and severely damages larger foes with few drawbacks.
I only really struggled with one boss fight against a giant toad, not because of the boss itself, but the frogs and toads it spawned that I had to dispatch with a few hits. That said, the design of the boss encounters themselves range from the mundane to the colossal and it’s nice to see some decent ideas with these fights.
While I appreciated the insight into the folklore of the Taramuhara people, Mulaka as a game is about as average as an action adventure title gets. It’s got some great ideas lurking within, but the overall structure is incredibly dated and only really saved thanks to the subject matter. As a game, it’s not really doing much that hasn’t been done better before, but as a cultural insight, it has a lot to offer those interested.
Versions Tested: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch