First Impressions – Mulaka

Drawing on the rich mythology of the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico, Mulaka’s rolling hills may lack the lively bustle of recent animated fare, but it is refreshing to see a story based on Mexican folklore that doesn’t focus on the Day of the Dead. The cutscenes are simply beautiful, and Mulaka relies on a simple polygon style that sits just on the right side of simplistic. The sparse landscapes and gently chattering characters lend Mulaka a charming pastoral feel – if you ignore the cost-cutting overtones of these visual and aural choices.

Mulaka comfortably sets up the classic third-person fighting style – light attack, heavy attack, reusable if useless ranged weapon, a smattering of potions and, of course, a cheeky dodge. There is even some effort made to pull these together into a few combos. Unfortunately, everything is just a little hard to implement in its appropriate context – attack actions are clunky and overly long, combos don’t trigger when you want them to and the ranged attack is impossible to aim between a minute crosshair and an intermittent auto-aim.

On the other side of your spear, Mulaka puts its own spin on your classic enemy types – invisible, shield-bearing, the annoying one that flies out of reach – but these are accompanied by a legion of irritating minor enemies, who come by the dozen and are often tiny and difficult to target. Fights quickly become unwieldy; the game locks into enemy and player actions that often leave you trapped when a grunt makes a successful hit, leaving you stuck as a dozen little scorpions jump at you again and again.

Mulaka also features a highly effective sprint action, owing to the renown of the Tarahumara people’s athletic ability. It’s a shame more isn’t made of this skill, as it mostly becomes an effective way to avoid unnecessary fights and speed through the game. Mulaka is far more engaging when you’re traversing its beautiful landscapes, or when the game drops in a saucy puzzle – making it all the more disappointing when the markers come up for another repetitive combat sequence.

An achievement jokingly reminds you that this isn’t “Zel – that game with the pots” – but it isn’t in Mulaka’s best interest to invoke such a comparison. The game’s trailers feature some more exciting features ahead – larger enemies and a shapeshifting mechanic – but you’d be forgiven for ducking out after the umpteenth scorpion slog.

Mulaka is available on PS4, PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

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