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Think you’re a gaming deity who can master anything in a few minutes and prove it over a weekend? La-Mulana EX wants a word with you in that dark alley downstairs, whereupon it will take your money, beat you senseless and leave you wondering what the hell happened to your gaming skills.This enhanced version of the PC and console sleeper hit has finally come to the Vita, and if you’ve never played the other versions, expect to be surprised at how difficult the game is. It may look like yet another Metroidvania, but it’s far from it. In fact, just jumping into the game and not reading the excellent manual beforehand is quite possibly the dumbest thing you can do here. La-Mulana EX wants to (and will) kick your butt all over the room if you’re cocky and unprepared.
On the other hand, spend time with that manual and read all the hints you’ll discover as you play and the game opens up considerably and becomes hugely enjoyable. It borrows from all over the map in terms of influences: there’s the obvious Raiders of the Lost Ark here, and a little bit of Legend of Zelda as well as a few other games you probably haven’t heard of unless you’re a huge fan of the MSX, a game system never released in North America. The team at Pygmy Studio has created a love letter to some of the tougher games on that old platform, specifically Knightmare II: Maze of Galious, a brutal side-scrolling adventure/platformer from Konami that was remade a few years back as a free fan game worth tracking down.
In the game, you’re Professor Lemeza Kosugi, who just so happens to be exploring the ruins of La-Mulana in order to find the legendary “treasure of life.” The prof is a fairly nimble guy who starts off with some basic supplies and a whip, but ends up packing some cooler and more useful gear as the game progresses. As noted above, this isn’t a straight up “run ‘n jump” platformer at all. Elements of adventure and action games constantly keep you on your toes. It’s entirely possible to get hopelessly stuck in some areas if you refuse to search every inch of some levels or backtrack into dangerous territory a few times after completing certain tasks.
You also need to take into consideration assorted warnings about everything from enemies that are unbeatable until you acquire certain gear or areas that require searching carefully for hidden switches. There are some very tricky puzzles to figure out, most involving those hidden switches and some trial and error. Having a good pair of headphones or the volume up on your Vita is a must, as listening for that shell horn blast when switches are activated is key to progressing though some maps. The tiny village Lemeza starts out from has shops and NPCs that can aid him with supplies, but you’ll need to scrape up the gold to pay for them. Our hero ends up with five main weapons, ten sub-weapons and up to ten useful items allowing him to scan objects, run faster, double jump and more.
Keep everything you find, maybe buy a couple in-game objects, and you’ll save yourself a lot of headache. The Zelda influence comes into play with all the grass-cutting and item-smashing you’ll be doing for a bit until you can afford enough gear to make it through the first of many trap-packed levels. Lemeza also carries a laptop that needs to be upgraded with different software, allowing him access to email, maps, a language scanner and even a game music player. As noted, scanning and reading are important life – and sanity – saving skills in this game. Enemy types range from easily whipped into submission ankle-biters, a few types of bats and pesky birds that dive bomb him from offscreen, skeletons, demons, mummies galore and more. You can also expect the big, bad bosses to be complete nightmares until you figure out how to take them out quickly.
The amusing thing about some of the bosses is you’ll be introduced to them well before you’re ready to fight them. The first one is about five screens away from the starting point, but there’s a warning sign telling you to come back when you have a certain weapon. You’ll run into other bosses in the caves and other areas just by exploring at your leisure. If you’re reading the signs and playing carefully, you’ll know who to avoid and return to later when you’re ready. The game does something amusing and cheap if you manage to defeat certain bosses before you’re supposed to. Instead of getting a hefty reward or key item, you get nothing for all that hard work until you return at the proper time and face that demon or giant statue or whatever and beat it again. Ouch.
The EX in La-Mulana EX refers to the extra features and reworked content from the original. Puzzles and some navigational obstacles have been changed up a bit so those who played the game already will need to work their brains out even more. The new Bestiary adds helpful and humorous info on every enemy and NPC in the game, also adding more reading to an already text-heavy experience. Retro look aside, there’s nothing at all casual about this game. It was created to be challenging by a team raised on similar types of games, and it shows. There’s even a tough-as-hell level based on Maze of Galious festered with same of the same challenges, enemies and map designs.
As the game was programmed initially as a series of 20-room levels that fit older PC monitor aspect ratios (or TV screens from the MSX era), you’ll need to deal with some nice looking borders on the Vita’s screen. Pygmy kept the screen ratio as it was in the original game because they’d need to completely reprogram everything for it to run in the Vita’s widescreen format. Still, the sprite art is gorgeous and the various environments spectacular and packed with detail. The game looks more like a really awesome Super Nintendo game on steroids, and when you see it in motion, your nostalgia meter may spin itself crazy. In addition to the single-player mode, there’s a Time Attack where you can take on the game’s bosses in Low, Mid and High level form or do an Endless Battle where you see how long you can last. This is a good way to practice for the main game’s challenges, and you can upload your best times to the online leaderboards if you want to show off.
Complaints are few about such a well-made game. You may encounter some pause-related glitching should you pause when bosses that change form are between those changes. Some trophies seem to register and some don’t even if you think you’ve earned them. The latter seems to be an issue when you do certain tasks out of a set order, but if you’re a completion freak, it may get on your nerves. The game’s $20 price point may not sit well with budget-minded gamers, but that’s not at all an indication that the game is too expensive. We’re just in a cheapskate culture that has devalued gaming to the point where free is the baseline and maybe $10 or so for a digital indie game is the upper limit some will pay.
Still, given you’re getting a few dozen hours of playtime out of it (I’ve sunk about 45 into it so far), La-Mulana EX is going to be a game you’re not going to beat anytime soon. That and you’ll probably hope Pygmy is working on a sequel that takes advantage of both the Vita’s wider screen and the PS4’s processing power.
Edited by: Avery Osborn and Alex Miller
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