Mulaka is a 3D action adventure platformer based around the culture and mythology of the indigenous Tarahumara people of Northern Mexico. While it may not be the most extraordinary indie in the genre, its quality and distinct quirks help make it an admirable effort as a fun and intriguing form of culture preservation .
Platform: Nintendo Switch. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Controller or Mouse and Keyboard
Available on Nintendo Switch eShop, PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam
In Mulaka, you play as the titular shaman, known as a sukurúame, tasked with fighting against the corruption taking over the land and bringing balance back to the world.
Being a sukurúame, Mulaka has a strong connection to the spiritual realm, which gives him spirit vision and the ability to communicate with the demigods he meets throughout his adventure. Spirit vision allows Mulaka to find objectives in each area, reveal hidden platforms, see otherwise invisible enemies and spirits, and view enemy health, all while draining his magic meter over time.
Each demigod met reveals more about Tarahumaran mythology and grants Mulaka with the power to transform into different animals with helpful abilities. These abilities allow Mulaka to fly, swim, break obstacles, and jump on specific platforms. Most of these transformations can also be utilized in combat, becoming necessary for some boss fights and in turn making those fights more enjoyable once a pattern is recognized. As these transformations also drain Mulaka’s magic meter over time, they can’t be used at the same time as spirit vision, and have to be switched between in some areas.
Each area featured in Mulaka is based on a real life location, with environments ranging from deserts, to waterfalls, to jungles, and even a town. Areas are vast and most have three mythical stones hidden within them, which must all be found in order to unlock the boss of the area. Due to Mulaka’s long distance running ability and general speed when in animal form, areas never feel overly expansive, allowing for quick movement between objectives and more enjoyable area exploration.
The methods to acquire each stone can range from platforming challenges, combat arenas where Mulaka has to face groups of enemies, and water puzzles. The water puzzles can be solved rather quickly and can feel unnecessary, but are simple enough to never feel tedious. Areas can also be traveled between, allowing for exploration of previously unreachable areas via use of newly acquired abilities.
In combat, Mulaka’s signature weapon is a spear, which can be used for melee with light and heavy attacks or thrown at enemies. When thrown, it takes a moment for the action to recharge, just brief enough to prevent attack spamming. Although the spear is his most used weapon, it’s not the only one in Mulaka’s arsenal. Through the course of his adventure, Mulaka gains the ability to craft several potions, which can be used to restore health, break special walls and damage enemies, shield himself from otherwise unavoidable attacks, and increase his own attack strength. Each potion can be crafted from a specific amount of various plants spread throughout the world, usually with just enough provided for whichever potion is needed.
Enemies in Mulaka vary and start out small and weak, but become stronger and craftier over time, requiring players to use new strategies and a bit of fancy footwork to adapt. These enemies are encountered both through exploration as well as the aforementioned combat arenas. Each time a new enemy is encountered, the game can be paused to provide background information about the creature, including hints on how to defeat it, as well as the opportunity for players to take pictures of it if they appreciate the design.
Some of Mulaka’s skills can be enhanced by Owiruame, a witch encountered in the second area. These enhancements include increased strength, durability, magic, and faster magic recovery time. All enhancements require an amount of in game currency, called koríma, to unlock them, which is gained through defeating enemies and finding secrets throughout the world. While these enhancements aren’t all necessary to complete the game, they help make some of the toughest challenges more bearable.
The language, music, and art style featured in Mulaka are all directly from Tarahumaran culture, which helps create a authentic feeling game. Although the low polygonal style has been seen in other indie games, Mulaka is able to create its own look from blending the graphical style with Tarahumaran art, even using Tarahumaran style artwork for cutscenes in between levels. The music further enhances Mulaka’s authenticity, and helps give each area a distinct atmosphere.
Although Mulaka is well made and does a great job of channeling its inspiration, it does have some flaws. Mulaka himself has a hitbox slightly larger than needed, so dodging doesn’t always help even with some space between Mulaka and an enemy, unless dodging repeatedly. Jumping can be used to avoid attacks as well, but faces the same problem, although jumping and flying provides a decent, if not ideal, alternative option.
While the animal transformations provide more gameplay variety, they still have a few problems. Some transformations are a second too slow when activated, which can be detrimental in boss fights where they’re necessary. As previously mentioned, some areas have Mulaka switching between transformations, which isn’t as seamless as it could be, and can unnecessarily increase the amount of time spent between objectives even with added skill enhancements.
Additionally, later skill enhancements require a high amount of koríma when compared to the amount gained from enemies and previously inaccessible areas. I found myself grinding for koríma to get the last two enhancements, which again aren’t necessary but still useful, and it might have been beneficial to either have an enhancement which boosts the amount of koríma obtained or reduce the amount needed. There were also a few obvious grammatical errors throughout, and although they’re noticeable, they don’t make the dialogue incomprehensible.
Mulaka is a charming indie adventure which respectfully portrays an unfamiliar culture and mythology, and while it doesn’t try to redefine the genre, it provides an intriguing look into the world of a lesser known culture and mythology. It may have some flaws, but they won’t stand in the way of you enjoying everything else this game has to offer.
Want to learn more about the development process of Mulaka? Check out our Interview with developer Adolfo Aguirre here. You can check out our older Indie Dev Interviews to learn more about the stories behind a whole host of other indie games, as well as the motivations of the people that make them. Comment, like and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you find them interesting and want more!