Treasure hunting has always been a solid go to subject for entertainment, most likely due to its inherent intrigue and danger, and it’s a well that video games go back to time and time again. Just look at classic titles like Tomb Raider or Uncharted and it's easy to see why gamers are drawn to the action and adventure that comes with searching through ancient ruins. The latest game to head deep below the surface in search of uncovering a great mystery is La-Mulana, a WiiWare remake of a Japanese side-scroller from 2005. La-Mulana evokes nostalgia on just about every level with this near perfect release, and finally brings this wonderfully punishing games to the States in proper form.
Armed with only a whip and his wits, Professor Lemeza ventures into one of the world's most dangerous places in search of his missing father. Even though he may have an extensive archeological background, there is no way he could possibly prepare for the unexpected twists and turns of La-Mulana. Structured as a classic 2D sidescroller, the kind where the player only sees one screen at a time, very little is as it appears. Fake walls, hidden ledges, falling rocks, and angry monsters are just a few of the things that are guarding the secrets of this ancient place.
La-Mulana is an homage to the games of the MSX, a vintage computer system that never really caught on in the United States, but was host to the early incarnations of classic franchises like Metal Gear, Bomberman, and Castlevania. Everything about La-Mulana feels like it’s out of the 80s, from the graphics, to the music, to the gameplay. There has been a trend over the last few years to recreate modern franchises with a retro look and feel (I’m looking at you Mega Man), but since La-Mulana is a “new” game, its intentions feel different, and oddly more sincere.
The game is a joy to look at and listen to, whether you’re a fan of retro games or not. The art style doesn’t have any semblance of feeling dated, and instead actually comes across as unique and crisp. The music is another highlight, offering up a digital orchestra of sounds that could have appeared alongside the classic tunes of some of the best 8-bit soundtracks of 80s. The only downside of the music is that with the game being so challenging, replaying each area, with the same music, can become an additional source of frustration.
When I say La-Mulana can be “challenging” I mean it’s a punishing and grueling experience on a level that games haven’t seen in years, and it should not be attempted by the faint of heart. Whereas most modern day games usually up their difficulty by throwing more enemies at you, or making things harder to kill, La-Mulana tests your gaming skills, and your ability to solve some of the most devious puzzles ever created within a video game. Nothing is as it seems - walls aren’t really there, boobie traps are set at every turn, and countless other pitfalls attempt to keep you from completing your quest. Professor Lemeza’s arsenal may grow throughout the game, making La-Mulana easier to traverse, but actually being able to solve puzzles is up to the player’s ability to deduce the solutions from cryptic hints found on fallen adventures and broken stone tablets.
Without spoiling much of this wonderful experience, La-Mulana is a great game from start to finish. If you have what it takes to put up with trial and error gaming, unexpected deaths at every turn, and brain-bending puzzles - in other words, retro gaming at its finest - then you absolutely have to play La-Mulana. It’s one of the best reinterpretations of the Metroidvania genre, and if you’re up for the challenge it offers, you’ll be rewarded with possibly the best game that was ever released on WiiWare as well as on the console itself.
There are 53 days until the Wii U launches, and Nintendo moves their fans onto an all new gaming platform. Because of this, it's safe to say the Wii is dying and is struggling to stay on life support. Depending on whom you ask, the Wii has had either a stellar or not-so stellar life. Bringing innovation without the traditional technical advancement that comes with a new console, the Wii won over millions of people with its unassuming appearance, and, at the same time, was the target of countless attacks for marginalizing gaming by many core gamers. Even though both of those groups are at opposing ends of the spectrum, and the Wii is in its twilight days, I dare both groups to at least try La-Mulana as a send off for Nintendo's great white hope. To the millions of new gamers that were introduced to gaming through the Wii, consider La-Mulana a test to see if you have what it takes to keep playing, or find out if you were just a fair-weather fan. To the core gamers out there – La-Mulana is a test to see if you can get over yourselves and enjoy one last amazing game on a console before you officially put it to rest.