Review by buruburu1

Reviewed: 10/13/14

One of Those Rare Games I Didn't Finish

Graphics (25/30, judged by era): Everything about this game is a throw-back, and intended to invoke nostalgia. In that sense, I'm reviewing this game in comparison to the era it is representing, which is essentially Super Nintendo-era. Given that, it's a nice-looking game, and would have stood out at the time.

It stands out primarily in the environments, which really do have that classic feel, with large labyrinthine areas styled in various themes. You have areas consisting of all the major elements, and archaeological ruins of various kinds. The backgrounds vary from minimal and sometimes nearly black, to elaborately designed and complete with flowing water or bubbling lava, machinery and moving platforms.

Creatures and characters are largely unimpressive, some of them have decent design, but even when they do the animations are often a bit simplistic. This portion of the graphical package is aided largely by the boss creatures, which tend to be big and interesting, although again they are all throwbacks to things you've seen before.

Sound- FX/Voice (4/10): The sound effects are a bit sparse here, but there are certain sound effects that are helpful as you are playing to key you into various things, including the presence of secrets, sometimes. That is often a welcome addition to any game in my book, when you want to leave the volume up so you can succeed.

Sound- Music (9/10): The music, as much as if not more than the graphics, are the aspect which most conjures up the memories of bygone days in gaming. There is great variety, it's memorable, and you generally like hearing the music. It gets you going, it propels you forward, and generally has more energy than the game itself has. This is important since it will keep you moving when you are stuck, or backtracking yet again.

Game play Length/Replay (15/15): This is one of the very few games in my life that I abandoned without finishing. In 35 years of gaming, I can probably count on two hands the games I didn't finish. When I abandoned this game, the in-game timer read a bit under twelve hours. But, that does not include deaths. And there were a lot of deaths. All told, I probably put in 20-25 hours into this title, and from what guides tell me, I wasn't even half-way through.

Game play- Story: (3/5) There is really more lore than story, but there is a lot of it, and you encounter a lot of it along the way. You get the feeling that something interesting has happened in the past of the ruins you are exploring, but I don't know if it resolves itself later. I did appreciate the attempt to allow the lore to inform the many puzzles of the game. Unfortunately, many of those clues were essentially inscrutable.

Game play- Game Design (15/30)- As mentioned, I abandoned this game. I heard it was hard. And it is, but it's not hard because of the skill level required to succeed. I beat maybe 5 bosses or so, none of which were impossible, even if they were a bit tough at times. The game didn't require lightning-fast reflexes. It's hard because the game design is one giant, inscrutable puzzle.

The designer created the game as a sort of love-letter to old school games, thinking that modern games had gotten a bit easy. And I agree, and these things led me to play this game. However, the way in which the developer seems to be nostalgic for old games seems centered around the utterly personal logic often present in old games. Games that required a guide, or a ton of trial and error. Clues that reveal so very little, or require a lot of note taking. Sensing early on that this was going to be the case, I kept my own file where I transcribed all the many messages I came across. This proved helpful, and was indeed a reminder of decades gone by, when I did similar. But there are so many of those kinds of messages, and often their clues are just vague—requiring you to carefully look at background details and so on.

There is a lot of back tracking involved in this game, and normally that's not a bad thing. But it's mixed with a format that is partially open-ended. At any given time, there are usually 2-3 different things you can be trying to do. It doesn't require that you move through it in a linear way. These things add up to problems.

The main issue becomes this: if you don't play this game consistently until you are finished, you will totally forget what you were up to, where you needed to go, what entrances you'd encountered in the past that you hadn't yet explored, and so on. I played this game during a pretty busy period of my life, where I was away from it for weeks at a time. Each time, I had to dig through a guide to find out where I was and remind myself what I was up to next. Of course, since the game isn't entirely linear, this made even hunting a guide for info difficult: did that, didn't do that, but did do that, so what am I doing now?

It resulted in a game where I would return to it, check the guide, find a portion I hadn't done or explored, and head there, figuring things out on my own until I was stuck. Which was often. You didn't attempt to walk into a random wall? Can't proceed in the game. You miss major power-ups because you didn't strike that random rock with your weapon to break it. Entire areas become giant question marks. I'm sure there are those who finished this game without ever using a guide: congratulations, you're pretty hard core. But it became impossible for me, to the point where it became a chore to look through the guide to find out what I was doing, what I had done, so I could continue. The game play part of this game was completely covered over, with few in-game prompts and far too large of a game to just power it on and wander around trying to see what hadn't been done yet, which could take half to an hour if you did it organically. And then it might be time to stop playing.

And of course, I grew up playing games through the 1980's. I'm no stranger to these types of games. But it was the sheer size and number of barely hinted-at puzzles that made this game over done compared to those old classics. I'm no stranger to odd logic, but a tough game might just have a couple of areas like that. This was overwhelming.

That said, the exploration aspects were fun, the controls decent, and fighting bosses and creatures was great. The upgrades were interesting (though some of them were equally impossible to figure out how to combine and use without a guide). There is a lot of good game here, but it's overshadowed for me by the unnecessary obtuseness.

**Final Thoughts- Be prepared for a very long game with lots of frustration without a guide, or to play with guide beside you. And play it consistently, or don't bother.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: La-Mulana (US, 09/20/12)

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