Remember the good ol' days when games were actually a challenge? I mean, don't get me wrong, Dark Souls will whoop your ass if you're unprepared, and some games force you to "grind" on end to get the most out of them. But I mean the old-school kind of games where you had to write down password codes and look up strategy guides to really get anywhere, or, if you were a true gamer, tooled around for hours on end just to find the next necessity. Well, some developers still believe in that type of game design, among them Nigoro and EnjoyUp Games, who have finally released the oft-delayed La-Mulana for Nintendo WiiWare.
Now, I know WiiWare isn't the greatest downloadable game service out there, but every once in a while, you get a gem that makes you want to dust off the ol' Wii and see what makes it tick. This is definitely one of those games, a Metroidvania-ish adventure where every clue, every health upgrade, everything you can locate is of some use on your adventure – especially when you're trying to defeat a boss that's ten times your size.
The game focuses on an Indiana Jones-type character named Lemeza Kosugi, who's investigating the La-Mulana Ruins, where all civilization stemmed from so long ago. But during his journey to find out all the secrets about the ruins, he runs into all kinds of danger, from small snakes and enemies that can put the hurt on you to the previously aforementioned bosses that will squash you flat if you don't put together some form of strategy. So you can see where it's inspired by classics of old.
You begin the game with a lowly whip, which you can upgrade over the course of your journey, but the real tool that you'll need to get through La-Mulana is patience. You're going to die – often – and that forces you to use your items wisely when it comes to HP regeneration or other power-ups, and also spending any money you come across over the course of your trip. This game will test the very fabric of your gaming skills, just as Spelunky did a few months back on Xbox Live Arcade (though in a slightly different way, honestly).
That said, true fans of the old Nintendo days will definitely want to pick this up. La-Mulana is chock full of creative puzzles, some of which will require note-taking and back-tracking to completely solve (even though you have an in-game laptop, you'll want to keep a notepad close). The action itself is terrific too, especially when you defeat your first boss out of sheer will to survive. (Just get ready for the guardians that follow, though – they're even worse.) The item selection and power-ups are pretty novel as well, but, again, you'll want to use them at the right moments, just as you would in, say, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
La-Mulana also benefits from one of the better presentations we've seen in a WiiWare download. The graphics are both retro-inspired and modern, a nice blend of 2D sprites and backgrounds that really bring these ruins to life. And though the enemy design is basic at first, some of the later bosses that enter the fray are devastatingly awesome.
On top of that, the Michiru Yamane-composed soundtrack is fun to listen to, with its own unique vibe that fits just about right with the game. The other sound effects don't deliver much, but the music alone will drive you to keep going, even if you manage to reach points where you just can't defeat that guy in front of you. (Warning: You WILL have moments like this.)
Some say that La-Mulana is the last great WiiWare game to come down the line, but considering you can port over that service's library over to your Wii U, I have a feeling it feels more like a rebirth, showing what developers will be able to do with the forthcoming revamp of the service. With its challenging gameplay, beautiful presentation and hours of ludicrously deep puzzles, La-Mulana proves well worth exploring.