La-Mulana 2

A game by Nigoro for PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch, originally released in 2018.
La-Mulana 2 is the follow-up to the original La-Mulana, a tough action-adventure inspired by classic MSX games. The original game got its start in 2005 as a freeware release and was later ported over to modern systems with a major graphical overhaul, rebalanced difficulty, and the addition of new hints to push the player in the right direction. The original game was extremely difficult, and its modern re-release reduced the difficulty somewhat but still required the player to pay close attention to the environment and the available hints in order to make progress.

La-Mulana 2 follows suit with its difficulty level. Players with reasonable platforming and combat experience can manage their way through most areas, but there are still some traps to trip them up when they least expect it, and boss encounters can be quite difficult. Players’ progress is most likely to be impeded by the riddles and puzzle solving required to move forward, and players will find themselves stuck if they aren’t mindful of their surroundings.

The original game’s protagonist, Lemeza Kosugi, was a whip-wielding fedora-wearing archeologist who sought treasures within the booby trapped ancient ruins of La-Mulana… fitting firmly into the archetype established by Indiana Jones. In the sequel, which takes place five years after the events of the original game, you take on the role of his daughter, Lumisa Kosugi, as she dons the fedora and whip and heads into another set of ruins called Eg-Lana. Some characters from the original game reappear, including Lemeza’s family members, the ancient Mulbruk who is now a historian, and Elder Xelpud who is now operating a tourism business near the mouth of La-Mulana and fills the “creepy old man” role by surrounding himself with buxom young women.

The game begins in a small tent village outside the fabled ruins of La-Mulana, and Lumisa is free to wander about, enter shops, and interact with the NPC’s therein. Xelpud informs her that monsters have been sighted nearby, and that he initially sent for Lumisa’s father to investigate. Lumisa has apparently lost touch with her father and she has taken it upon herself to investigate the ruins to deal with the monster outbreak.

Lumisa comes equipped with a tablet device called the Mobile Super X 3, similar to the one used by her father in the original game. The device allows Xelpud to communicate with her via text messages that pop up as she makes discoveries in the ruins. More importantly, the tablet allows her to install programs that she can use to assist her in her adventure – one of which is Xelpud’s text messenger – and the device’s limited memory means that she can only have so many apps installed at a time. There are more than 20 programs to be discovered and installed throughout the game.

In the opening area, the Village of Departure, Lumisa finds shops selling items such as throwable shuriken, a pistol and ammo (priced way beyond her range at the start of the game), and weights that are used to operate switches in the ruins. Weights also appear as drops from killed enemies and destructible objects, so thorough players can ensure that they always have a supply on hand for the game's many switch-based puzzles.

These shops also sell software, some of which is needed to perform basic actions that would otherwise be available by default in other games of this type. For instance, the Yagoo Map Reader allows the player to view a map of the rooms in the area (once he finds the corresponding maps for each area), and the Hand Scanner allows the player to read the writing on tablets and signs. Since progress in the game is heavily driven by solving riddles and getting hints in the environment, the ability to read stone tablets and other objects is essential to moving forward.

The opening area consists of the ruins of La-Mulana, which are undergoing reconstruction after the events in the original game. As such, most navigation takes place across scaffolding, girders, and metal stairways. There are a couple of traps and some bats to deal with in this area, but nothing overly difficult and no major puzzles to solve, which allows the player to grow accustomed to the controls without the presence of a tutorial. There is a stone tablet in this area that claims to curse anyone who reads it twice, and doing so causes skeletal remains to rise up, forcing the player to deal with numerous enemies. Xelpud messages to state that there is no known cure for this curse, as this essentially activates the game's Hard mode.

Your life bar is quite short at the start of the game, so you can’t sustain much damage, and you are required to complete multiple challenges between save points. There are no traditional health restoratives to be found by killing enemies or breaking objects, but doing so sometimes causes a green orb to drop, and collecting enough of these grants the player a full health restore. Early on, the player acquires an item that allows him to warp back to the Village of Departure, where there is a health-restoring spring, and the player can eventually warp between designated save points in each themed area.

The player has a 2.5x variable jump and can whip to the left or right while standing, ducking, or jumping. As in the original game, the jumping mechanics are somewhat unusual, but the player is given a bit more post-jump control in the sequel. Jumping while running gives the player a standard jump with midair directional control, but jumping while standing still requires the player reach the apex of his jump before he can initiate midair directional control.

The player has no midair direction control when falling – except when falling from a jump – resulting in a fall straight down, and this is used in booby trapped areas to drop the floor out from under the player and send him down into spikes with no control over his movement. Spikes do not kill the player instantly, but they do take off a significant chunk of health; however, the player is free to walk through spikes without taking damage when approaching them from the side (a concession added in the La-Mulana remake).

A bit of exploration and NPC interaction reveals that the monsters seen around the mouth of La-Mulana are actually coming from Eg-Lana, which is also known as “the other side of La-Mulana”. Much of this opening exposition goes into detail about the lore of the game world and the nature of La-Mulana. The narrative centers on an entity known as Mother and her “children”, which were the various races born from Mother but subsequently destroyed… eventually leading to the creation of the great philosophers who went on to create the human race using Yggdrasil. The player gains access to an encyclopedia app which records details about the game’s various creatures and major characters as they are encountered or defeated.

When the player enters Yggdrasil, the game proper begins. The game world consists of numerous large open areas that the player can freely traverse, with new areas unlocked as the player completes challenges and solves puzzles. Activating switches and performing other actions within a room may cause changes within the room itself or some other room elsewhere in the area. It is important that players pay close attention to changes around them and listen for audio cues indicating moving stonework, or fanfare signifying that puzzles have been solved. There are also numerous traps that can harm the player or kill him outright, so the player must be mindful of these… although he must sometimes purposely trigger traps in order to open the way forward (skeletons often indicate trap locations).

Aside from some occasionally obtuse clues offered by NPC’s, there is no in-game hint system to help you if you find yourself stuck, leaving you to fumble about and retrace your steps as you look for something you may have missed. This is all part of the game’s old-school design, which makes a concerted effort to go against modern designs that offer overt guidance to push the player forward.

While it is technically a metroidvania, the game has a much heavier focus on puzzle solving than other genre entries, and forward progress is mostly gated by puzzle solving rather than platforming and combat… aside from some tough boss encounters. In addition, most modern metroidvania titles restrict the player’s movement to smaller areas until he earns the ability necessary to move forward. La-Mulana 2, on the other hand, offers a largely open design where players are free to roam about, often solving puzzles in any order, and allowing for quite a bit of nonlinearity as players make steady progress forward while regularly revisiting previous areas as they discover objects that open new routes and unlock various treasures.

Despite the heavy focus on puzzle solving as the primary means forward, combat and platforming still play an important role. Players who are not adept in either of these areas will find themselves repeating gameplay as they load back to the most recent save point. Checkpoints are spread out and the player must manually save at each, although he is free to teleport to major checkpoints in each area as needed. Failure in platforming will often lead to falling down into an earlier area or falling into spikes and losing precious health.

There is quite a bit of enemy variety, and each enemy has distinct movement and combat behaviors that require different tactics on the part of the player. There are ground-based enemies, flying enemies, enemies that move quickly, and even enemies that hop upside-down across the ceiling, and many enemies will react to the player based on his movement and position relative to them. There are also multiple enemies capable of firing projectiles, and these are especially dangerous given that your primary weapon is melee-based, and enemies are often well out of your reach.

The player’s health meter allows for a few mistakes, but each bit of damage taken reduces the possibility for success in later areas. This is especially true in areas leading up to bosses, as the game does not feature health restoratives or save points immediately preceding boss encounters as is traditional in other games. That said, as the player makes progress in solving puzzles, changes in the environment often open shortcuts that allow him to travel more quickly and directly through the area.

The game’s nonlinear structure allows players to encounter bosses well before they are capable of defeating them (although doing so is certainly possible for the most skilled players). Throughout the game, the player slowly upgrades his life bar to allow him to sustain more damage, and he discovers new weapons and equipment to assist him as well. There are seven different primary weapons and numerous limited-ammo sub weapons that allow for projectile attacks.

The player’s inventory plays a key role in navigating the environment and solving puzzles as well, with dozens of items to find throughout the game. There are the aforementioned weights that are used to activate switches, gloves that allow you to grab ledges or swing around ice stalactites, a shield that blocks projectiles, and the skulls of defeated bosses that allow you to open doors and reach new areas.

While the La-Mulana remake offered a substantial graphical overhaul compared to the original 2005 release, La-Mulana 2 adds an even higher level of visual fidelity (and a widescreen aspect ratio), most noticeably in its robust lighting system. Tied in with the enhanced visuals, the lighting system allows the developer to enhance moods by alternating the brightness and tone of the lighting even while reusing tilesets, offering an array of brightly-lit environments, red and orange glows for fiery boss encounters, and near darkness for caved-in catacombs.

La-Mulana 2 was developed by Nigoro, a Japanese company whose name translates literally as 256 (as in the highest 8-bit value). The company was established in 2007, and their most well-known title to date is the original La-Mulana. The company’s back catalogue 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 published by Playism / Active Gaming Media, which 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, Mighty Goose, and some versions of La-Mulana.

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.