In the spirit of judging things by their cover, I stumbled on Mushroom Men: The Spore War based on a small pack of artistic cards promoting the game – they must have made some impression, because I was instantly intrigued. Being a new franchise, I wasn't sure what to expect beyond the pretty cover, but I decided to give the little guys at Red Fly Studios a chance to knock my socks off.
During my preliminary research, I noticed a lot of the art and humor style seemed to be influenced by the Oddworld
series - one of the heavyweights (and my favorites) in artistic “indie” gaming. These are pretty big shoes to fill, and I was curious to see how Mushroom Men would hold up. So, I put down the one-and-only preorder on the game at my local store, and after dusting off my neglected Wii (not my fault...) here's my experience.
System: Nintendo Wii (prequel on the Nintendo DS)
Genre: Adventure, platforming
Rating: Everyone; just enjoy yourself!
Suggested For: Anyone who enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy and would enjoy something similar (minus the motion sickness,) the next generation of Oddworld fans, or anyone who really needs an excuse to power up their Wii.
The story begins, as so many do, with a meteorite crashing on the Earth. This meteorite doesn't appear to have impacted our world at all, at least - not on our level. However, the world of mushrooms and other plant life are brought to our level of thinking, talking, and warring. Once peaceful Mushroom tribes begin warring over pieces of the meteorite, a few tribes grew strong, and more peaceful tribes went underground.
Now, follow the hero Pax on his adventure to find where he belongs, after his tribe was completely wiped out. He'll meet up with plants, and other mushroom tribes who will assist him along the way, but he accidentally absorbs a meteorite from a peaceful tribe. His quest for companionship turns to a promise to quest and find this particular tribe a new meteorite – one that Pax can't
absorb. Mushroom Men: The Spore War is this quest.
Being a mushroom, Pax has a very different point of view of the world – it's still our world he's walking around in, it just looks much, much bigger. This makes house-hold items that one might discard or lose, very useful as improvised weaponry. Pax will collect specific prerequisites (called “Scav”) to create a simple, yet effective, weapon. For instance, a Pencil, Zip Tie, and Toothpick create a very unorthodox stabbing weapon, and a Match, Thread, and Exact-o knife create a useful slashing weapon.
Defending oneself in time of war, even small-scale war, is very important. Aside from the improvised Weaponry, Pax is armed with special powers he gains from his accidentally-absorbed Meteorite pieces. “Sporekinesis” allows Pax to use his will to move, throw, and activate objects without touching them. “Will of Spores” allows Pax to control plants that may be helpful, and “Spore Punisher” gives you a special direct attack on weak or injured enemies. Really, the “Sporekinesis” is the most useful of the spore powers, and you should use it to bowl for moles whenever possible. Trust me.
Of all these powers and weapons, though, I really have to say my favorite “item” in the game was the grappling hook. Actually, it's a child's sticky-hand toy, the kind I personally used to put sticky “hand” prints on the television as a kid, to drive my parents crazy – Pax uses it much more constructively while exploring his surroundings. I even enjoyed the grapple-points, which were things like “Vote for...” campaign buttons, or quarters stuck to various surfaces with chewing gum. Brilliant.
On this scale, the attention to tiny detail becomes increasingly important. Fortunately, I don't have to tell Redfly that, as all the nails, woodwork, mold, and scattered debris were just as I would imagine them being, were I the size of a mushroom, which I think about regularly. Though they may be only aesthetics
, detail is the kind of thing a lot of people seem to be looking at most with games, and where much of the criticism against the Wii lies – so, do not fear, Mushroom Men is still beautiful, and is even accompanied by very unique music.
One aspect I am always worried about with the Wii's unconventional controller, is the movement control and gameplay. For anyone who has played Super Mario Galaxy
, I can tell you the way the wii-mote works is very similar – which is to say; not too bad. Moving Pax around the screen is fairly straightforward, battles work smoothly, and aiming your interactive cross hairs on the screen works as well as any other Wii game.
It's once you incorporate the camera into this equation that things are a bit more frustrating, as I ended up standing still, taking much more time than I would have liked to center the camera where it needed to be. But, this camera issue was only bad in especially tight areas, while free-roaming, and fixed-camera areas, the game works best.
Humor and character design is very important in a game where the primary storyline is searching for rocks, and you're a mushroom. Mushroom Men measures up to the clever giants of gaming by utilizing a slightly askew idea of the way things work. For example, the enemies fit an array of different pint-sized animals, most of which are rarely considered a threat – unless you're a plant. The Rabbits are the first to come to mind, with their bunnicula presence, the plant kingdom (called “Kudzu”) fear the Rabbits above all others, and request help from Pax to defend them. This species is even taken a step further with a very odd Jackalope
enemy; a pretend species of Rabbit with antelope horns.
Another example of very off humor is the health-bar system – as Pax takes a hit, a piece of his mushroom cap goes missing, and his radioactive brain is exposed, until no cap remains. Even regenerating health comes from an odd place, when you have to beat dead rats that have fungus growing on them, to retrieve the fungi-spore health bits. Sounds disgusting, right? How many kids tend to favor disgusting things? Exactly.
In many action-adventure and platforming games, some of the most memorable characters are the side or alternate characters you run into on your path. Whether you loathe them
, or they made you feel guilty for all the times you abused them
, or they freak you out a bit
, you're bound to remember these characters. Unfortunately, I felt that aspect was a bit shallow for Mushroom Men. While Pax is adorable...in a fungus-sort-of-way, there weren't many quirky characters to banter with, or anyone particularly memorable.
This isn't to say the character design is completely lost, as the different mushroom tribes each has it's own social personality and traditions – I'd personally like to see at least one sequel, since the gameplay and design is just right, they can maybe focus on the writing aspect a bit more. Or, perhaps I missed enough storyline by not playing the prequel
, which is on a different game system altogether – probably not the best idea, guys.
That is, indeed, a cactus riding a lizard. It definitely makes sense.
While this game may not fall into the “all-time favorites” list, it was certainly a wonderful experience, and a welcome change from the music and mini-games that seem to be Wii's primary focus. If I were you, and you happen to enjoy a fun, mildly twisted, platforming game – I'd definitely recommend at least a once-over, especially if your Wii needs a bit of exercise as mine did.
Now, imagine me, only trying to figure out where this fits on a rating scale of 1-10. (8/10, or an A-? Almost great, with a few kinks that held back great potential.)