Some of my favorite video game memories growing up involved playing action/adventure games that sometimes didn’t make a lick of sense, but I kept trying over and over again to see how much further I could make it. I’m talking about classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Atari 2600 (boy has that one aged badly), Pitfall II, and Montezuma’s Revenge on the Commodore 64 (really my first introductions to an almost Metroid-like progression). Of course the NES had plenty of Game Paks in the Adventure Series and while some were a little more forthright with explaining where to go next, titles like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest pretty much required you to seek out help from an issue of Nintendo Power magazine or a friendly NES Game Counselor.
As the video game industry matured some might argue that in the pursuit of making titles more accessible they became too easy and even open world games often have a sense of linearity to them thanks to mission objectives and other icons littering the game map with arrows showing you exactly where to go next. The mystery and magic has sort of evaporated over the years, and I think that’s why games like Dark Souls and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have become so popular in recent times. They drop you into the world with little explanation and just sort of let you go out on your own. This has been refreshing to see for many old-school gamers out there, and that’s exactly who La-Mulana 1 & 2: Hidden Treasured Edition for the Switch is aimed at.
La-Mulana first came to my attention as a WiiWare game, but by the time it had released in the fall of 2012 I was already focused on purchasing a Wii U and saving up for some launch games so it sort of faded away into obscurity. Over the years I had heard that it was a great game, but that it was extremely difficult. In addition to being straight up challenging, the game features extremely obscure clues that must be deciphered to figure out what to do next. Add in random traps that can instantly kill you and plenty of other hazards, and you get a game that does little to hold your hand. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t search out difficult games. I like to have a good time and I do appreciate a fair difficulty, but with my time constraints I often get frustrated if a game features annoying gameplay mechanics that artificially inflate a game’s difficulty.
Despite La-Mulana’s obscure puzzle solving and troublesome bosses, that feeling that I had so long ago playing those classic games I mentioned earlier began to creep back in and I found myself constantly drawn back to try again and again. As I made my way into the ruins I soon discovered that there were plenty of different ways to proceed. Each time I suffered a game over I learned from my mistakes and was ready to try again. The labyrinth of rooms soon became engrained in my memory and I was learning the layout pretty well – which is pretty much necessary since the map system in this game is pretty horrible.
Actually a lot of things in this game aren’t up to current day standards, and that’s probably on purpose. Is it the right move? I’m not so sure that purposely making your game obtuse is ever a good development strategy, but for some reason I was able to overlook these issues the more I played. Take jumping as an example – quite frankly it sort of sucks. You can’t jump onto or off of ladders and jumping onto a platform above you is oddly difficult to do. These gameplay quirks won’t be for everybody out there, but if you grew up playing games in the 8-bit era you’ll probably manage just fine.
Graphically the game is very heavy on the pixilation and resembles what your mind might think an original Nintendo game looked like 30 years ago. In reality the graphics are slightly better than that, even though they don’t look all that appealing on the big screen. You’ll definitely appreciate the visuals more if you play in handheld mode. That being said, the ruins that you explore are pretty well detailed and there are quite a few different environments to enjoy as you progress. Enemies are fairly small and lack detail for the most part, although some bosses are much bigger. The music far outshines the graphics with some really great tunes throughout.
La-Mulana 2 released on PC back in 2018 so it definitely has the advantage in the graphics department, and indeed I did enjoy the presentation more with this game as it was more of a 16-bit style. The first title you played as an archaeologist and this time around you play as his daughter. What’s pretty cool is that you start the game in the same small village from the first one. Indeed, if you run to the left or to the right the entire opening section is pretty much identical. Even going into the ruins you’ll discover the same areas, except now they’re under construction and the graphics have received a much-needed upgrade as well. Soon enough you’ll discover another realm where you’ll have to explore all new areas, so don’t worry about the sequel being a complete rehash – although it does borrow some of the same artifacts and powers.
Gameplay in both games is of the standard run and jump variety and your characters are equipped with a whip to take out all sorts of enemy creatures, like snakes and bats. You’ll be able to talk with a smattering of NPCs and purchase new items and weapons with the money you find in jars and from defeating enemies to aid you on your quest. In your sub-menu you even have a PC that you can load special software into that gives you access to other abilities. If you enjoy getting lost and trying to figure out where to go next then you’ll be right at home.
La-Mulana 1 & 2: Hidden Treasures Edition is available as a physical package at participating retailers for around $60. While it does come with a bunch of cool physical goodies, like a soundtrack CD, and art book, it’s a bit expensive for the games you get. You might be better off going the digital route to save some cash. There’s plenty to like in this collection and if you’re into the Metroidvania genre and enjoy difficult and cryptic games this one’s for you. Despite some of its flaws I found myself coming back to it over and over again and you probably will too. Oh, and since Game Counselors are no longer a thing, you might find this free La-Mulana Official Guide extremely helpful! You’re welcome.
La-Mulana 1 & 2: Hidden Treasures Edition Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 8.5/108.5/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
La-Mulana 1 & 2: Hidden Treasures Edition should appeal to those gamers who enjoy difficult gameplay and cryptic hints set in a Metroidvania style universe. Those that grew up during the ‘80s and liked adventure games on the NES are the target market for this one. Just be prepared for obscure puzzles, tons of death traps, and challenging enemies!