Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

La Mulana Review

la mulana

La Mulana is too damn hard.

This is coming from a person that likes difficult games. I played through Super Meat Boy with enthusiasm, I own a mint copy of Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts, and I recently unlocked every play mode on every level on Super Crate Box. I enjoy the frustration of missing a jump by a millimeter and the rage that builds after falling in the same damn pit for the 100th time. Sometimes you need to play a game that humbles you; one that will make you feel less cocky about your skills, and inspires you to become a better gamer.

But still, La Mulana is too damn hard.


I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I lost interest in the game. Maybe it was the second time I was toasted by Ellmac in the mine cart level, even though I had impaled him with nearly a hundred shurikens and six revolver rounds. Maybe it was when I finally caved and perused a walk-through to figure out where the crap I could find a helmet, so I could use it to bypass a binary lock in the form of a waterfall. Maybe it was when I found the shop that sold the “heat proof laptop case”, and realized that I needed to grind money for twenty minutes just to afford it.

Regardless, La Mulana is too damn hard.

Radiostorm asked me why the game was so hard the other day, and I came up with this anecdote. I think a lot of La Mulana fans are also Super Metroid fans, so hopefully you’ll know where I’m coming from.

In Super Metroid, there is a point in the adventure where you have to blow up a glass tunnel (leading through the aquatic world of Maridia) in order to progress. Up until that portion of the game there are fairly strict rules for how to open up new areas. Doors are colour coded based on what you need to open them, and bombs will reveal what weaponry certain blocks are vulnerable to. It is a straightforward system and it functions very smoothly.

This tube does not follow the aforementioned rules. Players can bomb it, shoot it, and hurl profanities at it and it will never reveal its secrets. Its weakness can only be discovered through trial and error, and many players (myself included) will spend time searching EVERY SINGLE OTHER area of the game looking for the cues that they are already familiar with. It is frustrating as hell, and a small speed bump on the otherwise smooth ride that is Super Metroid.

And that is why La Mulana is too damn hard.

La Mulana

Every time I play this game I feel like I’m stuck at that damn Maridia tube. There aren’t enough clues to direct you around the labyrinth, and the combat and traps are so unforgiving that exploration quickly becomes frustrating. Even the written cues that are supplied to you are fairly garbled, and oftentimes I found myself ignoring them completely. “Decipher the riddle of the slumbering giants? FUCK THAT. I’m going to press buttons ’til something happens!”

That being said, La Mulana does bring quite a few noteworthy things to the table. The world is enormous – albeit it impossible – and the sprite artwork is a thing of a beauty. The controls are not exceptional, but are solid and comfortable enough not to be distracting. The variety of enemies and items are also very impressive. Did you think Samus had a ton of upgrades? Wait until you start messing around with your laptop’s software.

But despite all these boons, La Mulana is still brought down by it’s one major flaw. It is too damn hard, and ultimately too frustrating for all but the most dedicated of gamers. I really tried hard to enjoy it, but ultimately it defeated me before I could defeat it.


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  • I played the original version and was constantly stuck trying to figure out where to go and whether there was a combination of MSX cartridges that would yield a useful result. I take it not much has changed.

  • I never played the original, but “constantly stuck” is a good way to describe my overall La Mulana experience. I’d love to see a version of the game with some sort of helper system, like they did in the newer Monkey Island games.

  • Actualy, you don’t need to bomb the tube in Maridia if I remember correctly. You can just go right from the Wrekced Ship and go down through the caves to get to Maridia, and then from there just maneuver your way to the watery grassy part.

    I don’t /think/ the pipe hides anything more than an upgrade.


  • Excellent review! I have read so many reviews on this game to see if anyone shared my sentiment and you are one of the few. I too love tough games, or games with a sick amount of polish like Super Metroid.

    La-Mulana does so many awesome things but to me is incredibly dragged down by the fact that it really is far too difficult to figure out. I think “difficult” may be the wrong term to use as it makes people think that, “Oh, well you’re just not hardcore enough”. La-Mulana is too obtuse. Too tedious. I really don’t think it’s terribly difficult… I’m playing the Wiiware version and haven’t struggled with the bosses or platforming, though I am using a walkthrough. The game is pretty forgiving on save points, but the secrets are just so random and nonsensical at times.

    Instead of having masterful puzzles, if you are playing blind it soon devolves into brute-forcing your way around and endlessly retracing your steps to see if some new passage opened or object appeared. Beautiful game, though with a very talented team.

    • I think there is a general reluctance in the gaming community to label a game as too hard. It seems to signify weakness on the part of the player/reviewer, and often results in verbal jabs and dismissive attitudes.

      Obtuse is a good word… perhaps one that I will use to describe games like this in the future. It implies clunky game design instead of sheer difficulty, and fits exceptionally well in this particular situation. A game like La Mulana is hard to PLAY not hard to BEAT.

By Michael
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer