La•Mulana is a platform title that was five years in development and was designed to look like an MSX game. This is not only reflected in the controls and the graphics, the protagonist also carries a fictive Super Laptop MSX with him that is used in-game. It is based on an earlier web game called Naramura, by the same author.
The protagonist is Lemeza Kosugi, an archaeologist who returns to his study after a lecture at a university to discover an envelope with no return address. It is by his father, who disappeared a long time ago and now claims to have found the hidden land of La Mulana. Lemeza sets off to follow his trail and to investigate the land himself.
Although the game mechanics are fairly simple, the game is very large in scope. The character moves between different non-scrolling screens that form broad maps. Lemeza can jump and use his whip to attack enemies. When returning to a previous screen, all enemies have respawned. There is a large focus on puzzle solving by pressing switches, moving blocks and using a hand scanner and other tools to decipher messages. During the game additional weapons can be acquired such as a mace, a knife, an axe, shurikens, a pistol and many more. At all times Lemeza can wield a single main weapon and a secondary tool.
Although most enemies do little damage (opposed to the bosses), there are very few means to restore health and Lemeza will usually need to carefully explore the environment, avoid traps and then use an item to teleport back to the village before venturing inside the ruins again. Most puzzles are quite complex and some effects are visible on screens far away from the trigger.
The portable MSX computer plays a large role. Lemeza can collect cartridges that allow him to save the game, provide maps and grant special effects. Players also need to discover treasure and items that are stored in an inventory. Later the MSX can be upgraded or replaced to make room for more cartridges, sustain heat or to use it underwater.
At the beginning of the game, Lemeza only has a small health bar. This can be extended by collecting life jewels. Killing enemies provides experience and they sometimes leave behind coins, also found in chests. In the village these can be exchanged for items in the shops. A straight playthrough takes about ten hours, while playing the game for the first time will take between 25 and 40 hours to complete. Messages left behind by deceased adventures gradually explain the myths and the events about La Mulana.