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La-Mulana EX Review (PlayStation Vita)

It has been a long time since I've put a game in and had it utterly stump me. Today, video games offer so much in terms of graphics and story that the delveloper wants you to see they practically hold your hand to get to the next section. Even some of the hardest games start your character in a nook, where the best way to go is forward (okay, so maybe there's a little pick up right behind your feet, but that's about it). 

I remember going to Wal-Mart, where they had this Nintendo demo kiosk (man, I wish I could find one of those) that had like ten cartridges in it for you to try at your convenience. No instructions, just go. I remember going cold turkey into games like Bayou Billy, Battletoads, or Contra. Games like that may not have had a lot to tell you, but they were able to get you pushed off in the right direction. Then, I hit the button for A Boy and His Blob. Now, other people may have had an idea of what to do, but not me. I got stuck in a hole. I had a few jellybeans, but this thing wouldn't turn into anything that would benefit me. It was about as bad as the infamous E.T. hole. I've heard tales of that game being awesome for those who played it at the time, but, it was just thrown at you, and you had to figure it out.

Some games can do this and go on to greatness. "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!" started a series that lives to this day. Classic Nintendo games relied on you trying everything before you knew what to do. Without an instruction manual, you had to run into that first Mario Goomba to find out what happened. And then Mario 2 came, and if you jumped on a baddie, you rode them! Today, everything has a tutorial, and you don't get that feeling of exploration.

This is where La-Mulana EX has come into my life. Itself an upgrade of a game made ten years ago that's design was to mimic even older styles of game play, you find yourself in the shoes of an archaeologist by the name of Lemeza searching for missing family in the ruins of La-Mulana. A Metroidvania at the core, Lemeza starts with a whip and determination, but eventually comes across a shield, knife, pistol, and other weapons to make it through. And like those games of old, you're left with no direction of where to go. Some may call this unfair, while others may accept the challenge.

A classic side scrolling Metroidvania, La-Mulana is full of platforms and timed jumps. Enemies attack sporadically. It's not the damage they deal that hurts the most, it's the drops from that difficult precipice you were on that enrage you. Save opportunities are few and far between, so death can lead to a lot of backtracking. Also, the game intentionally has dead ends and instant death traps. In your average Metroidvania style game, if the map says that there's a room below, most likely a hole in the floor is a safe way down. This isn't always the case in La-Mulana, as you'll find Lemeza impaling himself on spikes if you jump headlong into unknown territory. 

The game hurls a lot of different mechanics at you. With puzzle elements that an archaeologist would find and decipher, Indiana-Jones whipping action, and Mega Man style pattern-based boss battles, the game hurls a lot at you. Also, if you don't pay attention and end up breaking the natural sequence of item discovery (going into an area before finding the equipment needed within), you can find yourself in a much harder predicament than you originally expected. La-Mulana is not for the weak gamer. You will find an extreme level of difficulty. It walks the fine line between "so hard it's fun" and "terribly broken section of game". Sometimes the jilted jumping style of our hero will make you feel as if it's a game mechanic that's making you miss that jump. Sometimes you'll think that the game isn't explaining what item you need where, or why a certain object is in a place yet seems to do nothing. But breaking out the oldschool patience, on top of the archaeological brain, you can research findings in Lemeza's computer. This will help you make it into the bowels of the mysterious labyrinth.

First-time players of brutally hard games may be discouraged. Even those coming from the more popular "brutally hard" games such as Dark Souls and the like might get discouraged thanks to the fine line that this game walks. But if you're willing to take the time to learn it, much like the young me had to figure out the jellybean conundrum for a certain white blob, it can provide a wonderful experience. The Vita is a great platform, allowing you to suspend the game when it tests your last nerve, and hop right back onto it when you feel adventurous enough to continue the challenge of exploring La-Mulana.


A review copy was provided by the developers.

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