Out of the many reasons nostalgic older gamers love retro games and sometimes look down at modern games is for lacking difficulty. Though recent games have captured the difficult experience delivered by older games, like Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, it still pales in comparison to the output of incredibly difficult games during the youth of many gamers whose early gaming experience was made up by some of the most challenging games ever made, either by flaw or design. The demand for retro games has only increased as many gamers have aged and crave to re-experience similar challenging games to those of their youth, and hence we have what could be called the renaissance of the sidescrolling platformer, or the use of 8-bit and 16-bit graphics in so many games as of late in the indie market. It is not to say this is exclusive to just indie games, as the release of last year’s beautiful Rayman Origins or Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. series will attest to. Still, these new releases lack that difficulty, fun and nostalgic as they may be. This is where Nigoro’s La-Mulana comes in. A Wiiware title that homages retro games, and is built with a solid foundation of pure nostalgia.
Starring an Indiana Jones-inspired adventurer, the immediate callback most players will get is to Castlevania, as the dark world and whip wielding protagonist fights off snakes, skeletons, bats, and other monsters from a very numerous and varied set as you explore the dungeon of La-Mulana. And like Castlevania, it’s gameplay style is also reminiscent to Metroidvania style games, in which you explore a dungeon, sometimes encountering hard-to-reach areas which you can later access with the use of a powerup. It is these powerups that help La-Mulana become rather unique, though.
The dungeon is not randomly generated like that of The Binding of Isaac, but how you get to the ending and what powerups you have will remind you of it and similar games, as these powerups and paths you use to get to the ending will likely be different in each subsequent playthrough. This is because while the game will always have the same ending, there are many paths one can take to get there, as the dungeon is set up like a labyrinth. Each of the various paths in La-Mulana will have their own powerups, changing how you go through the game each time, unless you’ve memorized a select path to go through. This of course adds a lot of replay value to the game, granted that depends on how much of a glutton for punishment you are.
This game is difficult. Very difficult. It is almost embarrassing to look back and see how long it took me to get through different areas. Yet, it is a good kind of difficult. Much like the aforementioned Souls franchise, or a good Castlevania game, a high level of difficulty is not a bad thing, as it actually increases the enjoyment of the game and forces you to get better. Dying in this type of game comes from failure to master controls and mistakes on the players part rather than from unfair or bad game design. It also adds a sense of tension that so many modern games lack, as it requires you to carefully consider your options before you start exploring trial-and-error style. This type of challenge adds a sense of accomplishment that few other games can recreate, as any victory, small, big, or even those that have a bit of help from luck, come from your own skill.
Visually, the game is very beautiful, using a mix of what looks to be 16-bit style graphics and aesthetics reminiscent, yet again, of Castlevania‘s dark environments outside the dungeon. Once inside it shifts more toward a South American and Egyptian ruins aestheticism, with dungeons seemingly built of sandstone bricks, and backgrounds that vary from Incan sun calendars to giant Egyptian statues. This accompanied by an even better soundtrack that rounds out a very enjoyable experience that is not only fun to play, but to look at and listen to.
The music is a standout, as it achieves a good balance between energetic, dark atmosphere, and epic themes. It’s just like old soundtracks with their memorable melodies that kept one playing just to listen to the music and kept one going no matter the many defeats suffered. The music here will inspire similar feelings, though maybe not so memorable that you’ll find yourself humming it like those melodies from older games, but enough that it will inspire a sense of excitement as you play as it evokes an epic sense of adventure that will definitely attract many a player.
While many modern players are tired of the retro game, it’s great to see developers see how far they can take the old format. Beautiful and fun to just look at and listen to thanks to its great use of aesthetics reminiscent to those of both retro games and films like the Indiana Jones series, and bringing back the high challenging difficulty of retro games, La-Mulana is a fantastic game that will test out the skills of any player. Though many will give up quickly, those who don’t will play through a fantastic experience that will test their gamer mettle, and deliver a sense of accomplishment that many modern games will never be able to deliver. Unfortunately, is it also an experience that will likely not be seen on the Wii again as its life cycle is nearly at its end, but will hopefully repeat itself in the coming Wii U.