PAX West 2017: First Impressions – Mulaka (Nintendo Switch)

One of the most interesting games in the Nindies area at PAX West was a game called Mulaka. It’s Zelda-esque in terms of gameplay and progression, but it definitely has a flavor all its own—and we can thank the developers of the game for that.

Mulaka is based on the mythology of the Tarahumara, a real, living indigenous culture from northern Mexico. The demo team was quick to inform me that they didn’t come to this project with an attitude of ease—they approached it by consulting with the Tarahumara first, then worked on the game while continuing to seek approval and recommendations from the leaders of this particular tribe. The team would then make changes based on the recommendations so that the final product presented the culture respectfully and accurately—and apparently there are even moments in the game where “extra information” pops up about the culture so that the player can learn more, if they so choose. For a culture whose language and history is slowly being forgotten, thanks to globalization, the demo team told me the elders were hoping to even use the game as a teaching tool for the younger generation.

I don’t know to what extent all of this is accurate or actually happening, but I have a deep respect for any creator who goes straight to the source when using a living culture in their art and storytelling. In today’s world, approaching living cultures with sensitivity and respect is critically important, and it makes me even more excited about this particular title.

But what about the game itself? It sets you up as a shaman, fighting against a force that is corrupting the world around you. As you progress through the levels, you’re gifted new abilities, such as the power to transform into a bird, and so forth. The creatures you fight and the level design is based on the real-world region, which added an extra layer of immersion to the demo.

The level I played through was challenging but not impossibly difficult—it required transformation into bird form to reach higher and new areas, and I had to seek out three stones to unlock the path to reach the level boss. There was a pleasing balance between puzzles, combat and exploration—and an added layer of challenge wherein some enemies could only be viewed via third sight. This third sight ability isn’t new to games—we’ve seen it in titles like Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider—but having it reveal particular spirits actually fit quite naturally into the world, in this particular case.

Combat is diverse enough to remain interesting, since your attacks need to be split between ranged (with your spear) and close combat, including some mystical abilities. You’re able to craft potions to assist you—like healing potions—automatically, rather than having to find a fire and dump items into a pot… not that we’re naming any names, of course.

There were some frustrating moments along the way—weird angles in the environment that made jumping puzzles and flight landing more difficult than they needed to be—but I imagine this will be addressed before the final version ships.

Overall, it wasn’t just fun, it was also a learning experience and an opportunity to connect with a culture I’d never heard of before—but if you’re just in it for the game, you’ll still have a bang-up time. This is definitely a title I’ll seek out after release to spend more time with.

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Dave
Author: Dave View all posts by
Dave will tell you that he likes to play video games, this is in fact a lie. What he really likes to do is buy games, and leaving them sitting unopened on his shelf. He is a monster.

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