<span class="bold">La-Mulana</span> This could be either your dream game or your worst nightmare.
La Mulana defines itself as an “Action Archaeological Ruins Exploration" game, which basically translates in "Castlevania meets Indiana Jones in a Japanese 2D madness".
The definition is right: taking the role of Professor Lemeza, you must search for a legendary secret in the immense ruins of La Mulana, uncovering and exploring many different areas while battling your way between a puzzle and another.
The game seems taken straight from the SNES or early Playstation era, not only in its looks but -unfortunately, I say- also in the interface: there is no mouse support of any kind, not even in the start menu, and you must navigate through the menus just like you would have done in Symphony of the Night.
The combat is quite easy (and fair even during the MUCH more challenging boss encounters), yet the puzzles are among the hardest you could ever find. The real problem in this is not the sheer difficulty of them (especially since the majority of them makes sense, despite a small number of absolutely preposterous, illogical and generally unreasonable ones), but rather their pacing and the hint system; to explain better, you should know that the game provides you with lots and lots of hints to solve what could have been an absolutely obscure riddle, yet it does so by scattering fragments of each solution over countless stone tablets... positioned everywhere in the giant map, and without the possibility to save more than a maximum of 20 lines of text at a time.
This is very
troublesome, as very often some tablets you read during the first 10 minutes of the game can become vital during the latter stages, and even if you remember you have seen them before, if you don't recall precisely their content you have to backtrack and read them again.
The vastness of the map (probably the biggest I have ever seen in a 2D game) and the insane amount of interconnected puzzles makes the faults of the hints system unbearable if -like me- you didn't start the game knowing what to expect, and you will inevitably end to get stuck somewhere with no other option to progress other than search for a guide; the problem is, since each puzzle is vital for the next but you cannot precisely know what you need at the moment, you will end up spoiling yourself more than half of the game to find the single item you need at that moment.
Also, READ THE MANUAL! There you can find vital information that the game does not provide.
Regardless of this, La Mulana is a great game: the developers have shown real love for the genre, crafting one of the more complex games in existence, with brilliant puzzles, good combat, a deep study and reimagining of ancient mythology and legends from all the world and completing it with a catchy soundtrack and as good visuals as 16-bit games can get. Wandering trough the ruins and solving your problems after having assembled the knowledge and the many items you need is extremely satisfying, and if you manage to do it on your own you intellect and skills definitely deserve praise.
You just need to know what kind of game waits you before starting and avoid to blindly rush in, otherwise your experience will be anything but pleasant. Follow my suggestion: abandon the in-game hint saving system altogether and play it in windowed mode with a text document nearby, writing down every-single-line and reorganizing them based on the common logic behind each sentence, so that you will always know what to search and have all the material you need to succeed. That said, I can both recommend the game and tell you to avoid it based on what kind of player you are: if you have a lot (and I really mean a lot) of free time and you want a real challenge that will put both your fingers and your brain at test, providing a great amount of clever riddles, hard to uncover secrets and complex gameplay, then La Mulana may very well be the Ultimate game for you; if on the other hand you don't want a game that will mercilessly strain you or you simply don't have enough time to spend behind a single title, avoid it like the plague, as in this case it is brutal and unfair.
I started it casually as I would with any other game, and this ended up burning what could have been one of the greatest experiences in videogaming; if only I had manually taken notes, I would have certainly not found myself stuck every 10 minutes. As it is, I bear the shame of having used a guide for nearly the 50% of the time I spent with it (nearly 15 hours). :P
I have big hopes for the sequel: if Nigoro could only abandon their ties to the console gaming of old, actually using the PC for what it is rather than making their game feel like an emulated SNES title, they could make a great “hint managing” system (one where you can register, label and move everything at your leisure like you were on a laptop, for instance) that would immensely improve the game without simplifying it in any way, crafting what could be one of the greatest videogames ever.
Let's hope they decide not to be stubborn!