Friday, October 5, 2012

La-Mulana, first reactions (and link to original)

at 9:12 AM
Still sick as a dog that has mono, so I've got a bit of time to play La-Mulana while I'm in bed. This game is being presented as downright terrifying by those who've played it, with horror stories of no healing items, no way to progress without a guide, and a secret hard mode that can be permanently activated simply by reading the wrong stone tablet. The difficulty is being played up without much discussion of reward - I suppose proclaimed old-schoolers find difficulty a reward in and of itself.
The game has some great sprite art that ranges between 8-bit and 32-bit styles
That being said, I took the plunge because I like adventure-style platformers (Monster World, Muramasa, Ufouria (weird game)), loved the music, and can generally get a kick out of a good puzzle. I have a pretty strict no-guides rule when I play a new game; it's my opinion that if it takes me three hours to solve a puzzle, that's three hours the game intended me to spend. Then again, when I spot the hallmarks of poor design (poorly translated clues, indecipherable pathways (the "holy shit, I can go there?" effect), click everything rooms), I'm not going to hesitate to let GameFAQs save the entire game from being ruined by one moronic puzzle. See Simon's Quest for a game where I think it's perfectly legitimate to use a guide, and Wonder Boy III for one where you never should.

So where's La-Mulana gonna fall? With the puzzles being labeled simultaneously as "brilliant" and "I needed a guide", I wonder if some people know what good design is at all. For me it sounds like there might be a frightening amount of wandering and wondering. Or trial-and-error, and in a game with save points spread thin and limited health reserves, trial-and-error is a grim prospect.
La-Mulana was born as a freeware game with MSX-style graphics (MSX is an old game computer that never made it big in the US, for my readers who don't know that, which is none/all zero of you). If you don't want to spend ten bucks on the WiiWare game, check out the link below - but be warned, this version of the game is MUCH more difficult
So far none of those dark prophecies hold true! Two hours have gone by in no time and had me moving along without a hitch. The hardest puzzle so far was an Indiana Jones reference that I deciphered in all of ten seconds, and anywhere that I've had to experiment, the negative consequences were never a significant setback. Screwing up a puzzle usually just landed me in a completely different room with more secrets of its own - I never felt the need to trudge back to step one and start over because there's been so much else to do. Thus far it's a far denser game than Metroid, so the situation never feels hopeless. There's always somewhere else to investigate. If the game can keep this up for the rest of its duration, it'll be a smashing success. If anything, the biggest challenge at this point is that there is so much to do and so many places to look that I feel like I'm forgetting things. Hopefully that non-linearity is intentional and doesn't come back to bite me in the ass.

Oh yeah, and the whole limited health thing. The platforming is a bit rigid, so you can always take it slow when things start to get tight. In general the feel is of Metroid (can't believe I have to provide a link for Metroid but I have CERTAIN readers who don't know up from down - which is okay, you SHOULD be learning), where each individual hit from an enemy is barely a scrape in your life reserve, and only the cumulative damage of a long and reckless expedition will put you in danger of dying. Rarely will you find yourself shockingly low on health - it's a gradual process. This creates a sense of going on individual adventures, gauged in length by how long you can make your health last. You won't find yourself with fingers crossed hoping the next room is a save point, a la Castlevania, because you have to go home to heal (luckily, as soon as you find the necessary item you can warp to any save point at any time, even from midair).
Still working on figuring out up from down? Here's a start.

Alright. Enough details, I need to go play Dragon's Trap, because I've had this playing in my head since the minute I typed "Wonder Boy". Greaaaaaaaatttttttttessssssst soundtrack everrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

You can get the original freeware La-Mulana here:
http://agtp.romhack.net/project.php?id=lamulana
Grab the English patch and the game itself from the links on the right-hand side of that page. It's all perfectly legal, the game was released for free. As aforementioned, this 2005 edition has primitive (authentic) MSX graphics and sound, and lacks almost all of the guidance the remake provides, rendering many puzzles painfully obscure. Then again, it is free. Either way, if you like what you're hearing or what you play there, go download the WiiWare game and support a developer that jumped through a lot of hoops to get you to play his game.

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