Developer: Pygmy Studios
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Genre: Archeological Ruins Exploration Action!
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Score: A- (90%)
“Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games…”
Yeah, I see you looking at those handsome La-Mulana EX screens and that exciting trailer and thinking “Oooh, a new ‘Metroidvania’ game to play and beat in a day or two!” Ha. La-Mulana EX laughs at your brimming overconfidence. Let me be the first (or perhaps last, as this review is a bit late) to inform you that going into this game with your dreams of adding a fast notch to your speedrun belt will have you lose that belt and perhaps your Vita right out the nearest window or under a speeding bus or some other method you choose to remove that handheld from your possession.
No, the game isn’t “bad” by any stretch of the imagination. Not at all. It’s just going to be one of the toughest games you’ll play if you’re not willing to read the digital manual and pay close attention to the basic to advanced techniques you’ll learn. In fact, what’s here will hopefully make you remove the word “Metroidvania” from your gaming vocabulary, as it’s a meaningless description that’s also a bit lazy in how it fails to actually describe a game as deep as this one.
As Professor Lemeza Kosugi, you’re challenged with exploring the legendary ruins of La-Mulana, a treasure, creature and trap-packed series of maps that will put all of your gaming skills to the test. Again, the game LOOKS deceptively like yet another retro platformer, but it’s much more than that. The game is a love letter to some classic games such as Knightmare II: Maze of Galious on the MSX (a gaming console never released in North America). There are also bits of Spelunker and The Legend of Zelda in here and Raiders of the Lost Ark is a major influence on the art style and some of the gear the prof uses throughout his long adventure.
But you won’t be spending so much time picking out those influences as you will trying to survive them. Just wandering around a few screens from the starting village you’ll encounter a big boss monster strolling back and forth waiting for you to take a whack at him. Good luck with that, as he’s invincible until a certain weapon is acquired later on. The game does this sort of thing frequently, but you’re warned in the manual, through NPC interactions and signs that danger lurks where it’s both most and least expected. New to this version are a bestiary that shows you which foes you’ve encountered (and tracks NPC’s as well) and new/remixed puzzles for players who may have played this previously that add a healthy about of work to solve. The game tests your reflexes as well as your brain with invisible switches, items placed out of reach until certain tasks are completed and more challenges. Going at this with an old walk through will be a terrible thing to attempt unless you want to give yourself a new hairdo by yanking out what’s on your head while your eyeballs pop from their sockets.
Fortunately, many of the tools you’ll need are either available from the beginning or found through some effort by exploring and re-exploring maps. Chopping grass and breaking items gets you some easy early gold that needs to be spent on that item scanner, some weights (required for some puzzle solving) and as many healing items as you can carry. Once you get accustomed to all the item scanning and clue reading you’ll need to do, that early busywork pays off handsomely in the form of new rewards and important information needed to progress. Some gear takes a lot more patience to get to. But the game is never “impossible” to defeat unless you’re really tired and not in the mood to think and fight your way through its levels.
Success here is all about how well you pay attention and use the new gear and skills you’ll gain. Avoiding some enemies is better than fighting them, but learning how to quickly best beasts becomes better in building your confidence level. Formerly formidable foes fall frequently, while flailing fails fabulously and frequently. In less tricky words. You play as if Lemeza’s life depended on it. At least the game is often funny and makes jokes at its own expense (and Lemeza’s). Once you’re in the zone and start whittling away at the dangerous dungeons and outrageous outdoor areas you’ll explore along the way, the game becomes fun yet still highly challenging.
In addition to the main game’s lengthy adventure, there’s a great boss rush mode that tasks you with defeating every boss in the game as quickly as possible. You can choose to tackle this treacherous task in easy, normal and hard versions that give you more weapons on the easiest setting and less life on the harder ones. I love that the starting village gets a makeover into a colorful flag and signage packed hub with assorted villagers cheering you onward. As the game clock in this mode never stops counting, you’ll want to be quick about everything you do, even when you swap out gear between fights. Once you’re done, you can upload your time to the online leaderboard to see that you need to to a LOT better because there are some madmen with insane skill playing this mode.
Visually La-Mulana EX is gorgeous if you love this style of art, but somewhat annoying if you don’t. Sure, the HD trend to remake or present new “retro” games as super polished and ultra shiny looking is still a thing and yes, some games look fantastic all gussied up like that. Pygmy Studios has kept the same color palette, enhanced SNES-like sprites and great audio found in the PC game while adding and remixing content so that players of the original release will find things a lot different (as in harder). The game is presented in the same aspect ratio as the original, so you have borders along the sides of that Vita screen that make the game look and feel like you’re playing an old arcade cabinet. That just so happens to house one of the most complex side-scrollers you’ll ever play.
While this may seem as if it’s a case of a “lazy” port, you’d be VERY incorrect in thinking this. The game was designed so that the maps needed to be a specific size and widescreen reformatting would require the game to be completely reprogrammed from scratch. Yes, it means that those sprites will be tiny to some older players or anyone who just likes larger characters in their games. However, the game IS Vita TV compatible so you can play it on any HDTV with a few presses of a button. I sunk about 47 hours into the game before that final boss went down to defeat, but this one’s not disappearing off my Memory card at all. Like a good book, a good game deserves to be replayed and re-savored, I say. When you step into the world of La-Mulana EX, you’re getting a solid deal for that $20. Sure, that may seem like a “premium” price point now (in this age of “free” to play cheapies bot good and bad). However, it’s a great deal you’d probably be paying twice to thrice as much for if it were the 90’s and the game was on a cartridge or disc. It’s not going to be beat on a rainy weekend, that’s for sure.