Nigoro, a Japanese indie team, put out a bunch of games before releasing their first opus, La-Mulana. The studio took to Kickstarter a few years ago in the hopes of finally realizing the complete vision they intended for the original game, in a full-fledged sequel. The game was easily funded, the stage was set, and now La-Mulana 2 is finally in my hands. Having limited experience with the first game, I went into its sequel blind and yet with hope. Is the archaeology-themed sequel many fans threw money at worth the wait? Let’s dig in!
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: July 30, 2018
Players: 1 Player
La-Mulana 2 feels and looks like a game ripped straight from the PlayStation 1 era, or rather games that just refused to fully let go of 2D artwork. The result is a beautiful and meticulously crafted visual tour made up of multiple layers.
At first glance, the chibi-styled pixel-sprites may throw you off when you’re looking at trailers or screenshots. Don’t let this dissuade you as overall this game is wonderful looking. Nothing in the game really feels out of place or seemingly put there for no reason.
Every screen you’ll adventure through is packed with both interactive environment pieces, as well as simply beautiful landscapes or background artwork. There’s also scrolling backgrounds, fantastical yet realistic full-body character art, and even intricate boss fight designs.
You play as Lumisa Kosugi, the descendant of the same Kosugi family the original game’s protagonist, Lemeza, is from. She handles different from her predecessor, and yet the game still decidedly feels like an old Castlevania game in terms of movement.
Her jump feels unwieldy at first, but once you wrap your head around it you’ll be moving strategically and not so much erratically. La-Mulana 2 is a complete and expertly crafted love-letter to the metroidvania genre of yesteryear.
While lots of new games like to call themselves metroidvania’s while procedurally generating their worlds, this game is so deviously hand-crafted it’s actually mind-boggling. On so many levels this is the most challenging game I have ever played, and in a completely legitimate way.
There are lots of games that love to arbitrarily increase the difficulty by throwing lots of “gotcha’s” your way, i.e. forcing you to memorize lots of patterns and not actually think critically.
La-Mulana 2 will push you to your very limits in terms of platforming, defeating monsters and bosses, clearing puzzles, and of course – the overall exploration of the ruins themselves.
The game will oftentimes push you to your breaking point when it comes to platforming and solving puzzles. If backtracking or critical thinking in games isn’t your thing, you’re going to have a really hard time with this game.
Honestly, I can only describe La-Mulana 2 as an honest to goodness video game adaptation of an Indiana Jones movie, filtered through a Castlevania lens. While the game may not have big cinematic or blockbuster action sequences, it does have some pretty fantastic boss fights.
Without spoiling any of the ingenious puzzles, the game is littered with epitaphs, ancient inscriptions, and mythological beings that all leave you cryptic hints and clues as to how to progress.
All of this brilliantly ties into the narrative, and ultimately, will be a boon to your progress or will really make you scratch your head. There were many stages in the game where I spent a long time trying to figure a puzzle out, or ultimately where to go next.
La-Mulana 2 is a true metroidvania. You’re given a massive ancient ruins complex to explore and it’s literally built to challenge you every step of the way. Just when I thought I was stumped, I’d go explore an old area and realize there’s an area I can now access with a new item.
From my own playthrough, I’d say to just complete the main game you’ll be putting in at least 80 to 100 hours. This will naturally vary pending your ability to think critically and backtrack efficiently.
Once again, if you prefer a game hold your hand with bright visual clues or simply don’t like reading, you’ll probably have a bad time with this game. Coming from this, you’ll run into a multitude of mythical beings pulled right from the core world creation myths and religions.
You’ll be interacting with said beings and unlocking things by following their clues or conflicts. It’s all one giant meta-level narrative that fits together like a massive, sprawling puzzle, and it’s quite amazing to be honest. I simply wanted to keep discovering more.
The soundtrack in La-Mulana 2 is something to behold even on its own. I cannot stress enough how catchy, fun, atmospheric, and completely appropriate all of the musical compositions in the game’s soundtrack are to the game itself.
If you want a perfect example of a highly varied musical score that perfectly encapsulates the mood in a game, look no further. Most scores in games these days are tend to range from lame and uninspired chiptunes to same-y orchestral tracks.
The La-Mulana 2 soundtrack is wholly unique, enchanting, and so varied yet matched toe-to-toe for each world or scenario you’ll encounter. Not only is this a superb musical score on an artistic level, it also matches the era that inspired it – PS1 game music.
In terms of sound effects, the game has lots of great sound cues for when you attack, jump, get hurt, and so on. So much of the game relies on you being in the moment, so it makes sense that the game even has sound cues that are literal hints to hidden rooms, traps, or solving puzzles.
There’s no spoken dialogue, but that’s ok as it honestly wouldn’t fit with this game’s aesthetic. In terms of story, whether you played the original La-Mulana or not, you can hop right into its sequel and get caught right up to speed.
In fact, the game’s narrative was designed as such where the original protagonist solved the mystery behind the La-Mulana ruins, uncovering the entrance to Eg-Lana, the second labyrinth of ancient ruins hidden below. Your journey begins at this point.
I naturally don’t want to put spoilers in here, however, the game does hit you early on with the overall gist of what to expect. You’ll learn the secret behind the origins of humanity, as well as the gods of ancient cultures or religions, all lie within the ruins of Eg-Lana.
As you explore, you’ll progress through the pantheon of gods ranging from ancient Greek, Hindu, Norse, and even Judeo/Christian myths. The small team behind the game, specifically mastermind Takumi Naramura, have seriously done their homework.
If ancient myths, cultures, and religions are your thing, you’ll find oodles of it all in this game. Whether it’s the UFO-like vimanas, the Nemean Lion, various Norse gods, and so on – they all fit into this giant narrative that is a fun take on the origins of humanity.
Nigoro have managed an insurmountable feat. They not only have delivered a product that matches their Kickstarter goals completely, in my opinion they’ve created a game that massively surpasses all expectations possibly set by their crowdfunding campaign.
For such a small team, this is an astounding and masterfully executed game that I’m left at a loss for words. There are a few bugs here and there but they are so far and few in between the team is already working on patching them out. It’s been a long time since a game has so thoroughly and completely taken over my free thoughts.
Whenever I had to sadly take breaks from playing the game, I’d constantly be thinking about how to get to the next area, how to get to the next boss, where to find that next trinket that grants a new ability, and so on. The game demands sacrifice, and I loved every minute of it.
La-Mulana 2 is a complete love letter to hand-crafted metroidvania games of yore. So much of the game oozes with attention to detail, so much of each corridor and area has been meticulously looked at, thought about, and laid out to fully challenge you but ultimately reward your hard work.
I commend Nigoro for this amazing game and I really do hope they can only get bigger with the success of this game, as they deserve it. I can tell from how superb this game is that Naramura and crew really do love the genre, and they poured their blood, sweat, and probably tears into this. La-Mulana 2 is a testament to the metroidvania genre, and it simply cannot be missed.
La-Mulana 2 was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Playism. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 10
- Nostalgic yet beautiful visuals
- Fun characters with silly dialogue at times
- Vast, overwhelming, sprawling and hand-crafted game world
- Legitimately challenging yet rewarding
- Fantastic soundtrack full of addicting tunes
- Expertly made puzzles that require clever thinking
- Meticulously crafted archaeology-themed narrative that is a fun ride
- Enormous amounts of backtracking, may turn off casual players
- Some puzzles require galaxy-brain level thinking, could also turn off casual players