La-Mulana / La-Mulana EX

A game by Nigoro and Nicalis for PC, Mac, Linux, Wii, Vita, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One, originally released in 2012, with the EX version released in 2017.
La-Mulana began its life in Japan as a freeware PC game in 2005, which later received an English fan translation by Gideon Zhi (who also translated Cave Story, among many other games). The game pays homage to the games developed for the MSX, a computer system that was popular in Japan in the mid-1980’s, which predated Nintendo’s Famicom console.

Due to the way that MSX systems handled video output, games developed for the system (or ported to it) have a distinct look when compared to other consoles or computer systems. For instance, many MSX games do not feature scrolling (or have choppy scrolling if they do), and instead display a single-screen interface which transitions from one screen to the next as the player moves through the environment. The most likely connection that U.S. players would have to the MSX system is from the first two Metal Gear games, which were released originally on the MSX, then ported to the NES, and later re-released in their original (emulated) form for the PS2.

La-Mulana stars a fedora-wearing, whip-wielding adventuring archeologist who explores ruins and tombs to collect treasures, find hidden passageways, and (at least attempt to) avoid traps. Sound like anyone you might know?

The game features action-platforming, puzzle solving, and a non-linear design which requires backtracking to previous areas of the game to access new paths. A variety of weapons and equipment become available as the player makes his way through the game, some of which drastically impact gameplay. Certain items allow players to unlock new areas or to return to a previously inaccessible path with a newfound ability. Today, we have a term for this type of gameplay, namely “Metroidvania”.

However, the inspiration for La-Mulana comes from another Konami-developed game, a Japanese exclusive MSX title known as Maze of Galious, a side-scrolling action-platform game released in 1987. There is actually an area of the game that pays tribute to The Maze of Galious, which can be accessed by picking up a certain MSX cartridge (see below).

In addition to the look and feel of the old MSX games, the freeware version of La-Mulana also makes references to the two cartridge slots available on the original MSX, which allowed players to unlock additional content if a second cartridge was inserted. This second cartridge could be another game, or it could be a cheat cartridge such as The Game Master, a device similar to the Game Genie which was designed specifically to work with Konami-developed MSX games. The closest parallel to this dual-cartridge system would be the ability to unlock certain features in older Nintendo DS games by having the appropriate cartridge in the GameBoy Advance slot.

The hero in La-Mulana actually has a portable MSX in his possession during the adventure and can get new cartridges for it, which factors heavily into the gameplay. Throughout the game, players may find or purchase games in the form of MSX1 and MSX2 cartridges, laserdiscs, diskettes, and special cartridges, each of which has its own in-game function. These cartridges were originally named for real-world MSX games, with a number of titles that would be recognizable to U.S. players (mostly Konami-developed games that were released in the U.S. for other platforms), but these references were excised from the remake. The cartridges can act as utilities within the game itself, such as giving you the ability to save your game (that’s a pretty important cartridge), read and translate glyphs, and view the in-game map. Others grant the player new abilities, such the ability to teleport, increased offensive or defensive power, and some even have minigames stored in them.

A modern port of the original game was developed by Nigoro for release on WiiWare and PC. While it still has much of the flavor of the original (such as the single-screen environments), it definitely no longer looks like an MSX game. Rather, it is a much smoother recreation of the game which retains most of the original’s environments and puzzles, while adding a handful of new weapons, items, and environments (and a new NPC). However, a side-by-side comparison shows that care was taken to leave the layouts of the environments virtually identical to the source material.

In addition to the graphical upgrade, Nigoro used their development time to completely rebalance the game. While the original was known for its abject difficulty, Nigoro is working to make the game somewhat more fair to today's console gamer. This is not to say that the game is being dumbed down, but a few changes have been made, such as preventing spikes form harming you while walking alongside them (while still harming you if you fall onto them from above). It is also be easier to gain money earlier in the game in order to purchase items and weapon “ammo” such as shuriken. A new hint system has also been put into place to offer some additional explanations about the player’s objectives or about specific items or abilities, but these hints are entirely optional and may be ignored by seasoned players.

The developer, Nigoro, is a Japanese company whose name translates literally as 256 (as in the highest 8-bit value). The company was established in 2007 and focuses primarily on Flash games, which are oftentimes quite bizarre in nature. Since their inception, they have tackled a variety of genres (see below).

The game was ported to multiple platforms featuring different developer and publisher credits for each. Some versions of the game were published by Playism / Active Gaming Media, which went on to publish the game's sequel, La-Mulana 2. The company also published Kero Blaster, Pink Hour, Pink Heaven, Gunhound EX, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, Touhou Luna Nights, Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, and Mighty Goose,.

Nigoro's first game was Death Village. This is a strategy game where senile Uncle Kevin wanders around a creepy mansion at night, and you have the ability to manipulate various pieces of the environment to keep him from succumbing to panic and getting himself killed.

Your goal is to get him out of the mansion within the time limit, but you cannot control him directly. You can, however, make a noises to make him change directions, make him slip down the stairs, or set him up for a scare that will make him run quickly in the opposite direction

The trick is to scare him in a productive manner, to get him closer to the exit rather than scaring him to death. Various ghosts, mummies, and bats will thwart your attempts, as well as the occasional falling bathtub, which are suspended liberally throughout the mansion for reasons unknown. The game even has a built-in stage editor that allows you to create your own levels.

Probably strangest among Nigoro’s games is a game known as Rose & Carmellia, which is centered entirely around women having slap fights. Yes, slap fights. You play a young woman named Reiko who has married a nobleman. Her husband has recently passed away, and now she must defend her honor against the nobleman’s disagreeable family by slapping the ever-loving hell out of them. This is a 2D anime-inspired game where you swipe the mouse across the screen to slap the noblewomen, avoid being slapped yourself, and counter-slap when the opportunity arises.

While the game is technically motion-controlled, it doesn’t seem likely that it will ever show up on motion-controlled consoles… imagine the PR you’d need to move a product that centers around waggle-based bitch-slappin’! (ed note: the 8 Bit Horse “bitch slap” quota is nearly used up, and can only be used once more for the life of the site.) The game operates like a sort-of fighting game, except that the visuals are comprised of mostly static figures with almost no animation whatsoever. It is otherwise indescribable.

Nearly as strange is Lonely House-Moving, which starts out with your girlfriend packing up a moving truck with all of her stuff and driving away. You (the lonely guy) decide that you can’t live without her. So you start chasing her down the highway (like a maniac), avoiding everything that comes at you, which ranges from crapping crows to pop-up moles to boxes falling off the back of your (ex-?) girlfriend’s moving truck.

Desperate as you are, you run for the entire day, until the sun begins to set in the distance. Finally, your otherwise oblivious girlfriend’s truck has no more boxes on it, and she looks back to see you running after her. Suddenly realizing the error of her ways, she leaps into the air, arms outstretched. And you can catch her… if you want to… or let her crash and burn on the street. Your choice.

Mekuri Bancho (a.k.a. Mekuri Master), puts you in control of a bancho (delinquent) who runs through the hallways of a (Japanese) school, flipping up the skirts of the female populace. This is done by quickly flicking your cursor up at the right moment. Most of your victims are schoolgirls in the traditional Japanese uniform, but there are a few teachers in the mix as well, which adds to the challenge because they are wearing dresses instead of short skirts, which are therefore harder to flip, and some of them can hurt you and break your combo. Getting a good enough combo causes crazy blue spirit flames to rise from your hands and shoulders, and then allows you run in slow motion, skirt-flippin’ away. Missing enough skirt-flips ends your game and earns you a scolding from the principal.

The end of each stage tallies up all of the different kinds of panties you have revealed, as well as how effective you were at skirt flipping (BAD, GOOD, GREAT, or PERFECT). One of the bonus stages places you in the lunch line, where you attempt to flip a whole line of skirts all in one shot. There are 9 girls in the line, and performing a successful maneuver from the back of the line allows you to blow up all 9 skirts, blow all the food off the table, and even blow up the skirt of the lunch lady.

Not all of Nigoro’s games are quite so odd, although there is a lot of variety to their catalogue of titles. Mirai is a Japanese-only X-COM style strategy/simulation game where you build up a city and protect it against UFO attacks. Bounce Shot looks like a Space Invaders-meets-Breakout game where you defeat rows of alien enemies with shots that ricochet off the walls and ceiling. Space Capstar II is a Thrust-style action-strategy game. And Miracle Witch is a fast-paced and short fantasy action-RPG.