Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I got an email last week asking how I felt about guest posts since my friend Sthenno really wanted to write one. He found an incredible game and wanted to share it with my huge audience. If he didn't tell someone about it he was going to burst which is a feeling which which I can emphasize since I feel like my stomach is going to burst. At any rate I'd never heard of the game before but it does sound pretty sweet. And right up my alley! Here's Sthenno about La-Mulana!

Imagine that I find an old lamp on a beach.  I pick it up and polish it and out pops a genie who is willing to grant me one wish.  So I wish that I could make my own video game.  This game, created by a wish, would be absolutely anything I wanted it to.  Graphics cards and available RAM are no object.  Anything I wish for this game to be, that is what it will be, formed completely out of my best imagination.

My game would not be as good as La-Mulana.

For those who don't know, La-Mulana is an indie game that is a tribute to the MSX, but because the MSX was mostly popular only in Japan, La-Mulana instead conjured memories of the NES for many North Americans.  The remake, just released on July 13 for the first time in English, has all new graphics, updated to remind you more of the 16-bit graphics of the Super NES.

You play Lemeza, an archaeologist modeled shamelessly after Indiana Jones.  You've arrives at the ruins of La-Mulana and you are going to explore them.  Of course by "explore" I pretty much mean ransack, and naturally you are going to have to kill everything that moves along the way.

If you have fond memories of searching every corridor in Metroid, wondering what you are supposed to do next, La-Mulana is for you.  If you have fond memories of fighting a boss over and over and over and over until you learn all of its patterns so you can finally win, La-Mulana is for you.  If you have fond memories of being hit by a bat or bird mid-jump and having the knockback send you into a pit to your instant death, La-Mulana is for you.

Don't get me wrong, La-Mulana does not feature instant-death pits.  La-Mulana does have pits that will leave you wishing that they would just kill you and put you out of your misery.  La-Mulana has invisible trap doors that send you back five minutes of game play.  La-Mulana has save points that are eight screens of moving platforms away from the boss that you are struggling to beat.  And it does have instant-death giant crushing blocks.

As an adventure game, of course, it's not all action and precision jumping.  La-Mulana also has gut wrenching puzzles.  I've heard the game referred to as a cross between Castlevania and Metroid, but as you get past the first few stages of the game it starts to feel more and more like Bard's Tale or Might and Magic 1 and 2.  You feel as if you should be making your own maps and taking notes everywhere you go.  The clues you have to deal with can be very cryptic.  I don't want to spoil anything, but solving puzzles in this game has really pushed the limits of my ability to think of things to do and even to not do.

In case it haven't been clear in my praise, I'll admit that the game can be incredibly frustrating at points.  There are a few puzzles that might be described as senselessly cruel including at least one upgrade that permanently seals itself off if you don't do the puzzle right the first time.  About 20 hours into the game (not counting time spent leading up to numerous deaths, of course) I finally caved and looked at a walkthrough when I was desperately stuck, only to kick myself when I found out that beating a boss had opened a door in another part of the world and if I'd just visited every single room in the game again I would have progressed without the help.  Is it fun to wander every room in the dungeon looking for something you've missed?  Of course it's not... until you actually find something, and then it's the best.

La-Mulana is an adventure game that delivers real adventure.  It creates real tension.  Enemies don't do a lot of damage but over many rooms of the dungeon the damage adds up.  Making matters worse, it isn't always easy to get back to where you were once if you leave.  It's a real question whether you should go home to save or whether you should risk all your progress on one more room, one more puzzle.

La-Mulana does basically everything right.  The mood takes you back to the time when there was no internet to help you solve puzzles and reminds you that the fun is solving them yourself.  The difficulty takes you back to your first days of gaming, as if all of the skills you picked up over the years are necessary just to scrape by like a beginner.  It is non-linear, there are probably literally a hundred different upgrades to find, and it is the perfect reminder that video games are not about instant gratification, but instead about some of the most delayed and frustratingly earned gratification you will ever encounter.

La-Mulana targets a particular niche in the world of video games, it is for nerds with no sense of perspective - people who are willing to test their minds to the limit to solve obscure riddles for next to no reward.  If you are such a nerd with no sense of perspective, you really have to give this game a try.

1 comment:

Sthenno said...

A quick addendum to what I wrote: It's definitely worth the $14.99 to download the remake from Playism. The original version is freeware but not quite as good in a couple of ways. The remake took out a lot of the irritation-based difficulty but added in a lot of monster fighting difficulty (the bosses in the original are actually staggeringly easy, but the bats move totally randomly and knock you back really far). Plus it appears that my favourite puzzle in the game so far doesn't even appear in the original.