If you’re the type of gamer who needs to keep up with everything, 2012 could be the year that ruins you. Until recently, it was just about feasible to get through every top-rated game in a year, even if you did end up with a small pile of shame collecting dust on the shelf by the end of it. Now, though, such an approach is completely impossible. The triple-A space is stronger than ever, and it’s being joined by a burgeoning free-to-play market
and a host of indie games that are, if anything, deeper and more engrossing than any retail release.
In other words, then, if you don’t have the time or the commitment, you may well not notice that another retro-themed indie gem like La-Mulana even exists. This 2D platformer-cum-exploration game shares obvious DNA with the glorious Spelunky, but instead of that game’s free-form, randomised journeys, this is a game of meticulous structure and an almost impenetrable level of difficulty. You play as Lemeza Kosugi, yet another fedora-sporting, whip-cracking adventurer, and it’s your mission to negotiate the vast and extraordinarily complex ruins of La-Mulana, the apparent birthplace of civilisation.
Where Spelunky pits you against the traps and terrors of its manic mineshafts, La-Mulana offers a more cerebral approach. If anything, this game actually seems to have more in common with the latter stages of the ever-divisive Fez. You see, there’s no obvious path, and sections – or fields – are gradually opened up by solving puzzles. Unlike most games, though, the clues for deciphering these conundrums aren’t generally found
in the same place as the puzzles themselves. And to call them clues is a bit of a stretch – obtuse, confusing semi-hints might be better. You’ll need a notepad and pen to keep track of everything, and even if you do manage to start breaking through La-Mulana’s esoteric logic, there are plenty of spikes, monsters and enormous Guardian bosses to eviscerate your body as you try to rest your mind.
It’s an extraordinarily hard game, and the type of time sink that many won’t be prepared for. While La-Mulana doesn’t feel the need to kick you all the way back to the beginning every time you die, there’s every chance you’ll get so lost in its maze of pillars, vases and idols that you’ll wish you had been. Like Fez, it’ll probably take more than a few trips to the internet to get yourself through to the end, although there’s nothing quite like that game’s community-driven puzzle-solving to really lose yourself in.
There’s a lot to admire in La-Mulana. After struggling to hit Western shores in its WiiWare incarnation for years, it’s a treat to finally be able to play it. Actually, it’s not a treat. It’s a nightmare. But if the success of Dark Souls has proven anything, it’s that there’s a world of people out there who just want to be punished.