Four years after its successful Kickstarter campaign (and two years after its intended release date), Nigoro's retro-style platform adventure game La-Mulana 2 finally has a launch window. The game will be arriving on Steam this summer, bringing its unique blend of mind-bending puzzles and white-knuckle twitch challenge to self-flagellating gamers around the world. Though the project has faced its share of difficulties as its small creative team has worked to complete it, that seems perfectly in keeping for the sequel to a game famous for its unapologetic difficulty level.
I spoke briefly to Takumi Naramura, the game's lead designer, at this year's BitSummit to get the inside track on his work with La-Mulana 2. As a game so heavily geared around exploration and puzzle-solving, its show floor demo didn't offer much new information about how things are shaping up. Naramura, on the other hand, was more than happy to explain his team's vision for La-Mulana 2 and what players can expect.
Not surprisingly, what players can expect first and foremost is a pretty steep challenge. "We're getting all the data together this month," says Naramura, "and over the summer we'll be fine-tuning and making adjustments to ensure it's as fun as possible. We realized there aren't enough traps yet. We need more traps!"
Indeed, as Naramura explains, the entire La-Mulana concept hinges on nasty surprises. "We've been working on La Mulana 2 for a really long time, and there have been a few points where I've thought, 'We should really tone down the difficulty and make it easier,'" he says. "But each time, I come back to the same conclusion: If we do that, it's no longer really La Mulana." While Nigoro has no intention of toning down the game's wicked personality, though, he feels that the team's experience developing the first game through its numerous iterations, and the feedback they received from players, have helped them to find the perfect balance between fun and frustration.
"It's going to be a difficult game, but not ridiculously difficult. It's still got the same kind of challenge level as the original. The puzzle element should be a bit easier to get into and understand. Less confusion, more twitch challenge.
"It'll probably be impossible to get through the game without taking some notes. But I think it's become more reasonable than it was before. There'll be a lot of solutions you'll be able to figure out just by using logic and common sense. It's a lot less randomized."
Naramura says the team has also fine-tuned the action to be friendlier to players this time around. "One thing that's different from the previous game is that the physics are a bit easier. Before, when you jumped you couldn't maneuver in the air at all. But now when you jump, you can pull back a little bit. She's a little more controllable.
"The weapons are fundamentally the same. There are some items as in the last game, and some appearing for the first time. There are a lot of completely brand-new gimmicks, too."
Despite the high level of complexity and difficulty the team has set as its target for La-Mulana 2, Naramura doesn't see their work as some sort of test of worthiness for players. Rather, he hopes it will encourage people to work together and create a community of support and sharing similar to the way gamers collaborated to complete brutally difficult games back in the old days.
"I'm not really sure how this sort of thing works in the U.S., but basically La-Mulana 2 is a puzzle game," he says. "I'd like not only for people to enjoy playing it, but also to enjoy watching it together and thinking about how to solve the puzzles. Streaming or whatever, I don't care how people play as long as they're playing! Everyone's got their own style for enjoying video games, and I fully support people making use of strategy guides and FAQs. When we were growing up, that's how we played games. Just so long as they're enjoying it."
Naramura once told me the original La-Mulana was designed to reflect a sort of alternate reality in which the MSX home computer line had survived beyond the 8-bit era. While the sequel doesn't hold fast to that specific sensibility, it nevertheless embodies the spirit of classic gaming. "We're not really conscious about the MSX spirit anymore, but we are still really full-on into the idea of 2D gaming evolved." He also encourages players to resort to old-school techniques, like swapping tips and manual mapping of the game world. "If you map everything out properly, there'll be a lot of puzzles that become a lot easier to solve," he teases.
Nigoro has found the freedom afforded by Kickstarter funding to be quite liberating. Naramura in particular says it's been a huge help not to be accountable to anyone besides backers, with whom they've kept in touch with regular (nearly weekly) progress reports on the development process.
"We've been making the game the way we want to make it," he says. "I'm the kind of person who, when someone tries to put pressure on me — be it a publisher or whatever — it just slides off my back. On top of that, our backers have been very supportive, which has been really encouraging."
While Nigoro doesn't have to answer to pushy publisher demands, the team has remained cordial with companies—something that should be of particular value when it comes time to convert La-Mulana 2 to consoles. "We've developed good relationships with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo," Naramura says. ""We just need to be careful with the timing on console releases where no one's going to get pissed off about it. The game is all made in Unity, so I hope it should be a painless conversion." He's also open to the prospect of bringing the original game over to current systems as well... eventually. "I'd prefer not to work on La Mulana for a while, if possible!" he says.
"The subject of a port has come up several times. If there comes a time when you aren't able to download the game to any current systems, yeah, we definitely want to make sure that we can keep it available. There's nothing at all concrete about bringing it other platforms, but it's something we'll consider doing."