Review in Progress: La-Mulana 2

Like the original, just much more young and hip

When we received a code to review La-Mulana 2, I was simultaneously excited and frightened. I greatly enjoyed the first game, but La-Mulana isn’t what I’d call intuitive. The original basically simulates what it would be like to land in an Indiana Jones situation and have to figure your way out of ancient ruins with cryptic clues. Calling it an adventure would be putting it lightly, as completing it feels more like an exodus.

So while I was clamoring to try out Nigoro and Playism’s latest mind-bender, I also had this fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish it before the embargo. For a lot of people, conquering the original La-Mulana without a walkthrough can take upwards of 50 hours depending on how keen your situational awareness is. Was I astute enough to surpass the trials of Eg-Lana and reunite Lumisa with her father?

As you may have already guessed from the title, I haven’t yet reached the conclusion of La-Mulana 2. That being said, if you’re wondering if you should grab La-Mulana 2, the answer is an easy yes depending on your tolerance for old-school game design.

La-Mulana 2 (PC)
Developer: Nigoro
Publisher: AGM Playism
Released: July 30, 2018
MSRP: $24.99

For those unfamiliar with the original La-Mulana, one could easily describe it as an ultra-difficult version of Metroid. It shares a lot of similarities with Nintendo’s beloved franchise, but shifts the theme from futuristic sci-fi into modern-day spelunking. You play as Lemeza, a guy clearly cosplaying as Indiana Jones, as he delves into the ruins of the titular La-Mulana to uncover the secrets that were buried within.

La-Mulana 2 does little to change the foundation of what its predecessor set before. To the untrained eye, this might come off as a gender swap mod since the art style is strikingly similar to the original. Before taking a look back at the original, even I was a little shocked at how closely the game resembles its forefather.

The story this time is that you’re playing the role of Lumisa, Lemeza’s possible daughter, as she explores the ruins of Eg-Lana after receiving a letter from Xelpud, the leader of the tourist spot now situated on the ruins of La-Mulana. Xelpud had originally summoned Lemeza, but you’ve shown up in his place and are good enough for him. Some monsters have appeared where Xelpud is trying to build and he wants you to figure out why so he can get back to making money.

As you start your cave-diving adventure, you quickly learn that there is a sister site to La-Mulana, a place known as Eg-Lana. This is where the source of evil is coming from. Following in the footsteps of her father, Lumisa is eager to jump in headfirst without stopping to ask why. It won’t be long before you’re facing down giant bosses, collecting all sorts of tools and smashing your head against a wall as you hit a seemingly impossible puzzle.

While there were some concerns among fans that La-Mulana 2 was going to be dumbed down a bit, I can safely assure you that Nigoro has done no such thing. While the opening couple of hours are a little more straightforward than the original, you’ll eventually hit a point where it looks like you’re at a dead end. For me, this happened after around seven hours of playing, which is a remarkable improvement over the first game.

La-Mulana 2 requires you to have a keen sense of awareness as you traverse the many different areas of Eg-Lana. Clues will be hidden in plain sight and often through cryptic messages that you’ll need to refer to later. In a nice touch, Lumisa can actually record specific messages into her handy smartphone-like device, the Mobile Super X3, and pull them up at will. This will at least prevent you from needing to backtrack to a one-off room just to remember a riddle that seemed pointless hours earlier.

Still, you’re going to reach a point where you’ll think you’ve turned over every stone and you’ll end up walking through every area multiple times with nothing to go on. It is exactly what I feared when I took on the review and it kind of got me into a funk. With a few helpful hints from Playism’s PR rep, I was able to get back on track for a few more hours until I eventually hit another dead end. Ah, the joys of old-school gaming.

I could have kept that going, but one of the coolest aspects of the original La-Mulana was how eager the community was to dig up its treasures. After roughly five years of existence, the guides for the original are so detailed and well written that new players are likely to never get lost, but that aspect of sharing information and lending a helping hand is reminiscent of my youth as a dumb kid. I didn’t always know how to progress in games, be it from poorly translated text or because of obtuse game design, but getting a different viewpoint on the schoolyard would typically lead to me having a eureka moment and running home with renewed fervor.

So I thanked Playism for even helping me a little and told them I would be waiting to render a full review. La-Mulana 2 is a game made for fans and one that hardcore players will likely get a real kick out of exploring to its fullest. Nothing I say is going to stop them from lapping it up, so why not contribute my current knowledge and nudge people on the right path?

At least I can talk about some of the more subtle changes to gameplay that are likely to make fans happy. For one, Lumisa controls a bit better in the air. She still has the frustrating tendency to fall in a straight line should you walk off a ledge, but Lumisa can almost turn around immediately after jumping and it even gets factored into some of the platforming challenges. Within minutes from starting, I was doing backward jumps and accessing areas that would have taken several upgrades to reach in the original.

The inventory is virtually identical to the first game with a lot of similar items making a return. The whip still has a long animation that can see you take damage if you aren’t careful and your secondary items can be swapped with the L and R buttons on your controller at will. Using those isn’t required, but will certainly make enemy encounters a lot more manageable.

The boss fights are quite numerous and while I’ve only taken out two guardians (basically the “main” bosses of La-Mulana 2), I’ve encountered possibly 10 mini-bosses that have seen me invent some new curse words. In my efforts to not give up until the latest possible moment, I’ve actually defeated every boss I’ve met up to this point.

One of the best aspects of La-Mulana 2 is how open-ended the structure is. I’m not exactly sure if this was the same for the original (I definitely used a guide to finish that), but the order in which you find upgrades in La-Mulana 2 is non-linear. While you’ll naturally gravitate towards certain items, you can basically travel to the different areas in a random order and still make quite a bit of progress.

This came to a head when I encountered Mulbruk and had her explore the “Annwfn” region. She then got stuck in there and I had to figure out a completely different route to reach her (which is what led to me asking Playism PR for help). If I had sent her to the “Immortal Battlefield,” she would have relayed information to me about another region and I could have gone there, first. Instead, I then set off to rescue her and ended up in the complete opposite direction.

For me, the only real issue I’ve been having is just that the clues are still overly obtuse. I know this is a huge point for fans that makes La-Mulana what it is, but I would love to just have a bit more guidance in-game. At points, characters will chime in with what they think is a hint only for you to realize you’re missing an item that you never even knew existed. When you eventually get around to finding that item, you’re now in some other spot where you’ve forgotten the room they originally told you about to use that item.

Fast travel still exists like in the original, but the points often require you to backtrack through a bunch of tough platforming sections that can be littered with sudden traps or instant death. To say it gets annoying is an understatement. At least teleporting around to the various areas triggers a quicksave, but it still sucks to get a plan in your head and have it immediately crushed when you plummet into a pit of lava and perish.

Even with that frustration, though, I still want to play La-Mulana 2. I think the dread of trying to race through it for review triggered the worse parts of my brain, but I really do want to conquer the challenges that Nigoro has concocted. The refreshing lack of guidance is a real joy for me since it reminds me so much of the games that I cut my teeth on. That and the music is just fucking incredible, which makes me want to sit around and simply listen when I get utterly lost.

It may be a while before I ever reach that finale, but La-Mulana 2 is every bit as engaging and well-crafted as its predecessor. In a lot of ways, I prefer it over the original for the added level of polish it has. I think by the time I do conclude Lumisa’s journey, I may have my personal favorite metroidvania game to return to.

[This review in progress is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Peter Glagowski
Former Dtoid staff member.