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June 2019

La-Mulana 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Playism
Developer: NIGORO
Release Date: July 30, 2018

About Judy

As WP's managing editor, I edit review and preview articles, attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of Rainier's news posts, and keep our reviewers on deadline, which is akin to herding cats. When I have a moment to myself and don't have my nose in a book, I like to play action/RPG, adventure and platforming games.


PC Review - 'La-Mulana 2'

by Judy on Feb. 13, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

La-Mulana 2 is a platformer in which the player takes on the role of Lumisa Kosugi on a mission to find the entrance to the ruins of Eg-Lana, which is rumored to be the source of recent monster appearances.

La-Mulana started life in Japan in 2005 as a free PC game that emulated the graphics of the MSX series of computers that were popular in the nation. It was a big hit with fans, who enjoyed the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night gameplay style and brutal difficulty level. It would take quite a while before anyone offered to translate the game, and the delay was so long that the first port for the Wii (via WiiWare) is a remake with updated music and graphics. It has since gone on to several different platforms and sold well enough that a sequel was announced. La-Mulana 2 is a good sequel that keeps the main formula intact and tightens up the gameplay.

The story has you taking on the role of Lemeza's daughter, Lumisa, who has just received a message from a village elder near the La-Mulana ruins. Due to Lemeza's actions, the ruins are even worse than before, but the monsters have been cleared out, making the location a burgeoning tourist destination. The problem is that the monsters have returned, and the elder believes that Lumisa is up to the task. Lumisa quickly discovers that the monsters are coming from a doorway leading to the alternate world of Eg-Lana, and it's up to her to clear out the enemies and close the passageway.

The story succeeds due to two different elements. The first is the humor, which is prevalent throughout the tale but doesn't turn this into an adventure parody. There are a few joke characters scattered throughout the world, and some characters joke around with you. There are also a few things that you do in the name of story progression that can elicit a few chuckles, such as the use of body language since the title doesn't feature any dialogue, spoken or text-based. The other thing to note is that the mythology cues are more focused this time around, with Norse mythology being used as the basis for the creatures of Eg-Lana, as opposed to the equal melting pot of mythologies in the first title.

From the outset, La-Mulana 2 is more of a classic Metroidvania title. That is mostly evident in the combat, where the protagonist's main weapon is an upgradeable whip that can only lash out horizontally, even though that means you can hit anyone in close proximity above you. Jumping feels stiff at first, but you get used to it rather quickly, and unlike before, you can control the direction of your jump at the apex. That's a big change, as it lets you not fully commit to a jump direction and also allows you to do some nice platforming tricks. Character progression is strictly tied to items instead of gaining XP, so there's no benefit to farming, aside from gaining coins and items.

The sense of exploration is heightened greatly thanks to the size of the world. There are a ton of screens to go through, and lots of different biomes give the world some variety. Like any good game in the genre, La-Mulana 2 practically lets you go anywhere in just about any order you want, so there isn't a set order to acquire items. Of course, some items make it easier to get other items, but the various ways in which anything can be acquired means you can play your own way and be absolutely fine.

Puzzles are the main draw of the game, and in the footsteps of its predecessor, the puzzles in La-Mulana 2 can easily be considered devious. Many of the puzzles have you traversing the same areas multiple times, and considering how large the locales are, that's quite a bit of backtracking. A few of the solutions are pretty easy to figure out, but a majority of them can be obtuse. It doesn't help that many of the hints you get are so vague that they barely point you in the right direction. The only solace is that you'll encounter enough puzzles at nearly the same time, so you can find one that may be easier to beat if you're stuck on a particularly nasty encounter.

The puzzle difficulty gives you a good idea of how unforgiving the game can be. Many of the solutions are hidden, so you'll need to hit everything to give you a better idea of what the solution can be. With that said, there are enough traps that punish you for hitting the wrong thing or outright kill you for solving things incorrectly.

Despite all of that, La-Mulana 2 still retains the level of fun necessary to make high-difficulty games work. Although the world is huge and the puzzles are quite difficult, you never feel that things are dragging. Each screen has something interesting to explore, and the combat works well enough to give you something to do while not feeling like it's all busywork. Combat ratchets up during boss fights, which all feel intense yet inventive thanks to your limited move set, which forces you to be inventive rather than spamming attacks and hoping that something hits.

The presentation is top-notch, especially in the sound department. The sound effects have some heft; elements like whip cracks and injuries become a workout for your speakers and subwoofer. The music gets a special mention for its diversity and its adherence to the classic PlayStation style. There's a lot of good exploration and combat music here that's heavy on both real and synthesized instruments, and the combination works well enough to make you want to listen to it outside of the game as well. Graphically, the backgrounds look nice, while the pixelated characters animate well and provide a cartoon-like squished appearance that looks nice and provides an interesting relief against the high difficulty level. Like the music, the particle effects will also remind you of PlayStation-era games, with the bright glow that appears whenever you pick up something or hit something with your weapons.

There are two issues with the graphics, however. While the border around the 4:3 display is nice, the rock pattern can sometimes fool you into thinking there's a solid wall at the edge of the screen instead of an opening that you can go through. The other complaint is that it can be difficult to see some of the things you can use to move between platforms. While some ladders are completely visible, others look like they're part of the background until you press up or down to move on them. The same can be said for the stairs, which also look like background decorations until you try to use them.

La-Mulana 2 is an absolutely solid sequel. Even though there are a few additions to the core gameplay loop, they don't dilute how unforgiving the game can be. The level of difficulty doesn't feel cheap, and obtuse puzzles can feel very rewarding when solved. The game is long enough to feel like you've squeezed more than enough value out of it, but it never drags on. The game has a few flaws here and there, but anyone who's looking for a tough platforming experience will be pleased with what they find in La-Mulana 2.

Score: 8.5/10

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