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4:14 PM on 10.15.2009

A game that deserved better: Mushroom Men The Spore Wars (Wii)

(Fair warning: some SPOILERs in this post.)
(Second fair warning: long post.)

That, my friends, is the PAL boxart for the best game on the Wii.

Mushroom Men is quite the odd little game. It's a 3D platformer in the vein of Banjo Kazooie, only here you play as a little mushroom man. I first found out about the game when I watched an incredibly brief trailer on a DVD that came with some gaming mag (because the monthly Official Nintendo Magazine was late and I needed something to read. I believe it was...NGamer? Can't remember), and I was immediately interested because of the artstyle of the trailer. The game then seemingly vanished off the face of the earth until a good amount of time later when ONM ran a preview of the game, and I remembered it. I was psyched; it was a 3D platformer for the Wii, and I could do with another platformer for the thing (Mario Galaxy, as nice as it was, let me down a bit). The game was then delayed a bit, and I couldn't find any proper release date. It wasn't until about June of this year, as school ended and I went on the hunt for some games for the summer, that I saw it sitting on a shelf in HMV, going for 20 (incidentally, I got Deadly Creatures at the same time for the same price. Two great Wii games for the price of one!). I got it, brought it home and then had the main story finished the next day.

What did I think? I thought I had just found the best game on the Wii.

The thing I love most about Mushroom Men is the nostalgia rush it brought on as I played through it. I found myself being called back to simpler times, where a much smaller me sat wide-eyed in front of the small TV in my room, exploring the vast levels of Banjo-Kazooie, marvelling at the massive tree in Click Clock Woods, slowly sneaking around Mad Monster Mansion, just generally being enthralled by the levels that featured massive versions of everyday things. This was the nostalgia rush that I'd thought I'd get from Chibi-Robo! on the 'Cube, but didn't because it wasn't exactly like the games of old. Mushroom Men is more or less exactly like those games, only recreated on the Wii. It's as much of a joy to play as Rare's old N64 platformers, and it has all the staples of them (quirky characters, relatively simple story, lovely graphics, kickin' soundtrack and great gameplay) and a bit more. Some people will declare me to be a vile blasphemer for saying such things (admittedly Mushroom Men is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it affair, very much like another Wii game, No More Heroes), but I don't care because this game is unbelievably awesome. It's pretty much the Wii's very own Psychonauts, minus all the crazy mind shenanigans.

The story of the game isn't exactly complex. Basically a meteor strikes the earth, mutating all kinds of animals and plants, leaving humans unaffected. The humans don't really notice any change, but in the world beneath their feet, new life was blooming. Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes sprung to life, forming tribes and clans and starting up villages. Lumps of the meteor began to get passed around as trophies and valuable trinkets, but their power was dangerous. Many creatures had been grotesquely mutated by the strange radiation emitted from them. Soon, battles began to break out between mushrooms who wanted to control the meteor shards. The protagonist of this story, a young 'shroom by the name of Pax, is orphaned when his village is attacked and destroyed. He starts off on a journey to find a new home...and finds one at the start of the game. Yeah. No, the quest in this game is not "find Pax a new home", but rather, "find Pax's new home a new meteor shard after he absorbed their one". Yes, Pax has the odd ability to absorb meteor shards into himself, getting more powerful with each one he absorbs. The meteor shard he absorbed was used as a trophy for the little sparring contest the village usually held, if you were wondering.

From there, Pax travels through a variety of awesome levels, continually absorbing meteor shards against his will (it happens naturally) and discovering that a sinister plan is being put into effect by an evil tribe of mushrooms (coincidentally the same ones that torched his village). Pax decides to try and stop them, using whatever abilties and weapons he can. The story's alright. It has a bit of charm to it, admittedly, but it's nothing special. Nay, where this game excels is the gameplay.

The basic gameplay is pretty simple; in each level there are a set of tasks that you must complete in order to beat the level and progress through the game. Usually this involves defeating a bunch of enemies, defeating a boss, finding something or solving a puzzle. The controls are basic, too: move with the Nunchuck, jump with A (pressing A in midair makes Pax glide by using his mushroom cap. It's somewhat adorable), attack with a swing of the Wiimote and Z to guard against attacks. Nothing too fancy, but it works nicely. I've heard people have had problems with the camera, but personally I've never had them. Maybe fanboyism is blinding me, maybe I'm just lucky, who knows. If I'm honest the combat could be better as swinging the Wiimote (in any fashion) all the time gets a bit boring. But now onto the really cool part of the game; the weapons.

Throughout the massive levels, you will find little container things. Bust them open to find a bit of junk like a paper clip or a twig or something. If you have the right combination of crap, Pax can MacGuyver up a new weapon for him to wield. Among the first ones he builds is that one in the image a bit up the page. The game divides weapons into four seperate categories: one for stabbing weapons, one for blunt weapons, one for flail weapons, and one for absolutely badass weapons. What does this game consider to be a badass weapon? Well...

Yes, a frickin' flamethrower! I couldn't believe it when I first saw it (it's one of the first weapons you make in the game!), but it's really in there. A flamethrower! But that's not all the game has on offer. Amongst other things, you can create a gun that shoots staples, a gun that shoots LIGHTNING, and one of the best things I've ever seen: A LIGHTSABER CREATED FROM A LASER POINTER, A PAPER CLIP AND A MARBLE. You can run around as a humanoid mushroom that's just a few inches high WITH A LIGHTSABER. That just made the game for me. The weapon-building bit of the game was a spark of genius, as all the weapons are pretty awesome in how they're put together. You only need to collect each item once to have it ready for all weapons (presumably Pax just takes weapons apart and puts new ones together whenever he switches from one to the other?), but that's good because it means you don't have to spend ages hunting for a ton of paper clips.

And it doesn't stop there. Let it be known: Pax is a mushroom Jedi. Alongside his array of weapons (including the motherfucking flamethrower and the unbelievably awesome lightsaber), Pax has the amazing power of Sporekinesis (better known as "psychokinesis for mushrooms", more commonly known as "WHAT THE HELL THIS SMALL MUSHROOM CREATURE THING JUST THREW A BOTTLE AT MY HEAD WITH ITS MIND"). Used by pointing at something covered in spores and then hitting the B button, Sporekinesis plays a big part in the game, as you'll be using it for all manner of things. You'll need it to move stuff, manipulate things related to puzzles, clear the way forward for yourself and, most importantly, you'll need it to help you fight. It helps you in two ways:

1) It's psychokinesis, man. It lets you throw stuff with your mind. Obviously you're going to throw shit at enemies. Mushroom Men is helpful in this matter by making it so that after you start lifting/catch something out of the air with your mind, when you shake the Wiimote to fling it/throw it back, it'll automatically go straight for the nearest enemy/your target. Useful.

2) With Sporekinesis comes the attack called "Spore Finisher". Basically, you use it on enemies that are about to die (you can tell because green gooey stuff starts coming out of them), making them explode with your mind (awesome!), damaging/killing nearby enemies and dropping recovery items for you. It's incredibly useful and it's really amusing exploding dying enemies with your mind.

Early on in the game, you receive one of those little sticky sling-hand things you see kids slapping against doors and stuff. This is essentially a grappling hook, and it's pretty awesome. Point at a surface it could stick to (mostly glass and metallic stuff), hit the B button and away you go, hurtling towards to the surface. When you reach destination, Pax will cling to the surface for a moment before dropping. This is your chance to get a big jump upwards to get on top of stuff or, if you have a massive thing to scale, hit the B button again to stick to the thing again, repeating the process 'til you get on top of/over the obstacle. Yes, not only can you run around pretending to be a Jedi, you can also swing across the massive rooms in with your sticky grappling-hook, pretending to be Spiderman. Whilst also being a Jedi.

Overall, the gameplay is awesome. The levels are huge, and exploration is rewarded with unlockable music and artwork (both of excellent quality) as well as more items to make awesome weapons out of (you have to explore to finish that lightsaber, and trust me: you want the lightsaber). The platforming works really well, and plays like the old Nintendo 64 platformers. The combat could be better, and you might into camera problems, though. And I'm not done yet!

Before I wrap up, there's one thing I absolutely have to mention: the soundtrack. Put simply, the soundtrack kicks ass. Most of the music in the game is performed by all manner of sounds from your environment; water dripping from taps, the wind blowing, that sort of thing. It's absolutely wonderful, it really adds to the atmosphere of the game. The few songs that don't use onomatopeia (hey, I learned something from English Lit.!) are pretty well done too, with the same quirky, odd theme as the graphics.

All in all, Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is a wonderful game. It's a damn shame it was so overlooked, as it could've easily been a popular game had its developer (Red Fly Studio, the people in charge of the Wii and PSP versions of the Ghostbusters game) and publisher (Gamecock Media Group, the same people who published Dementium: The Ward in Europe) been a bit more well-known, and if it had gotten at least a bit of advertising. If you're interested in it, it might be hard to find (the copy I found was the only one in the store, and it's the only copy of the game I've seen since).

I'd say "definitely buy it", but I must point out that this game, like Deadly Creatures, is rather short (a bit longer than Deadly Creatures should you choose to explore as much as possible, but still short). It'll take a while before you'll get 100% in the game, to be sure, but the main story can be beaten in a number of hours (a recurring problem for a few legitimately good games this generation). Rent it, and if you really like it, buy it to support the developer.

On another note; there is a DS Mushroom Men game (subtitled Rise of The Fungi), but I haven't been able to find it anywhere. I don't know much about it other than it does star Pax and is probably a prequel to the Wii game.   read

3:46 PM on 10.14.2009

A game that deserved better: Deadly Creatures (Wii)

(Fair warning: Deadly Creatures features (haha) a lot of close-ups of creepy-crawlies, particularly those of the arachnid kind. If spiders and arachnids in general scare the piss out of you, you might want to skip this blog over. They also tend to gore each other a lot and I'm hardly passing up the chance to post an image (or three) of a scorpion performing Fatality-esque killing moves on various creatures. You have been warned, though I doubt it's necessary, as you Dtoiders tend to be made of stern stuff. The third image in this post might feature regularly in some of your nightmares, depending on how squeamish you are, though.)

(Second warning, thar be some spoilers.)

I still wonder how this game got off with the 12+ rating, sometimes. Most 12-year-olds I know would be scared out of their minds playing this, just because of all the beasties running about.

Like so many (oh so many) good Wii games, Deadly Creatures is pretty damn underrated. It's a 3D action platformer in which you play as either a scorpion (who shall be referred to as Steve) or a tarantula (who shall be referred to as Tim), alternating between the two each chapter. It wasn't a particularly long game (you'll likely get through the Normal difficulty in a couple of hours), but it was still pretty good. I got it for half-price alongside Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars (my pick for best Wii game of 2009 and, currently, best Wii game in general. Look forward to that game's blog entry at some point in the future), which was pretty good as I got more than I paid for. It didn't sell at all well in the States or Europe and Austrailia (to my knowledge, anyway), which sucks as it really deserves more love than what it got. I'm somewhat enraged that the likes of this gets passed over by the major portion of the Wii's audience. It's understandable (small children, mums and old grannies would be terrified beyond belief by the protagonists, never mind the enemies and bosses. By this point you're probably wondering how it plays (if you haven't fucked off to read a review or a FAQ or are doing something else), so let's get on with it.

As mentioned, Deadly Creatures is a 3D action platformer game in which you play as Steve the scorpion and Tim the tarantula. The game has a lot going for it. The graphics are pretty well done (for the Wii, mind), all the animals and creatures move more or less exactly as their real life counterparts do. Gameplay differs a bit between Steve and Tim, which is something I'll get to in a bit. Combat comes down to smacking buttons to attack enemies or guard, with some Wiimote-swinging thrown in for good measure. As you progress, new abilties become open to you, with more powerful moves requiring a fighting game-esque button combos (combos that I can't pull off because I am horrible at that sort of thing) to pull off, with satisfying results. Combat is fairly good, if tough if you are for some reason incapable of pulling off the better moves (I blame RPGs). The game will put up a fight, too, especially on harder difficulties. Just like in God Of War, if you get killed at a certain segment a few times, the game will offer to boot the difficulty down a level to let you progress.

In fact, that's probably one of the better ways to describe Deadly Creatures: A toned-down God Of War with Kratos replaced by Steve, and occasionally Tim. It's nowhere near as tough and epic as God Of War, but the gameplay similarities are there. Quick Time Events are a part of gameplay (but then what action game nowadays doesn't feature them?), with finishing moves starting them up with gory results if you succeed. Well, there are finishing moves if you're playing as Steve, as Tim doesn't have the sheer power (or the appendages) to match him. It's satisfying killing your enemies this way, as you know that when Steve murders the shit out of a creature by ramming his stinger through its head or tearing its wings off and slamming his stinger right through its chest that the thing on the receiving end is well and truly dead.

Yes, the two creature protagonists (if you can call them protagonists) aren't clones of each other in gameplay! The basic combat is more or less the same, but there are a number of differences between the two. As some of you may have guessed, Steve is the bruiser guy that just smacks shit out of his way whereas Tim is the speedy fragile guy that leaps at you from a distance. There is a noticeable difference between the two playing styles. Tim is far faster than Steve, being able to dart around most enemies and keep up with the speedier ones. Tim can also jump around like a maniac if you need to start spastically dodging for whatever reason. However, in terms of fighting all he has is his agility and his fangs, which while not necessarily weak, just aren't as strong as Steve's mighty pincers. Odds are you'll be leaping around the area when facing enemies, occasionally leaping close enough to strike with your fangs. Steve, on the other hand, is slower than Tim and cannot jump, but what he lacks in agility he makes up for in several ways. For one thing, being armed with pincers and a tail means Steve has a lot more moves at his disposal, and he can just bitchslap enemies out of the way with a shake of the Wiimote. Steve can also use his pincers to block, which is pretty helpful. It does mean you can sort of play Punch-Out!! with your enemies; only instead of dodging attacks, you just stand there blocking and then striking.

The major area where the two differ are the finishing moves. Steve, being the scorpion reincarnation of Kratos, can tear his opponents limb from limb in a gory, somewhat-over-the-top sequence of QTEs. If you succeed in pulling them off, Steve will make his opponent his little furry/scaly/insect...y bitch and murder them. Fail, and the opponent gets away. But you can still just run to them again and start the sequence again, provided you don't kill them first. Before you can perform a killing move, the enemy needs to be inches from death. It's really satisfying and it never gets old seeing Steve slam a wasp into the ground, then lift it up into the air only to tear its wings off and hammer it to the ground with his stinger. I love that one in particular.

Believe it or not, there is actually a story in Deadly Creatures! And it isn't told in the regular way, either. There are few cutscenes in this game; most of the plot info is discovered by hanging around the two humans nosing about the desert region Steve and Tim inhabit. You will see them in the distance, or hear them talking above the ground as you crawl through tunnels. It's an interesting way of delivering plot details; if you want to hear some tidbits (and foreshadowing involving scorpions and ghoulies), hang around whenever you spot or hear the humans. If you don't want to, move on. The story isn't particularly complex (two guys hear rumours about gold in the desert and go look for it), but it's interesting enough considering how Steve and Tim get involved. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that one guy gets some swift, karmic stabs to a particularly sensitive area. There's another element to the story, and that is the rivalry between Tim and Steve. The two lock...well, the two run into each other early one and let's just say that a blooming, slightly homoerotic friendship is not forged. Eventually, Steve starts following Tim in what is either a quest to off the only thing to either match him in combat or a quest to find a fuck-buddy, and this gets them involved with the other plotline about greed and treasure and stuff. Not only does Tim have to deal with Steve stalking him, he has also has several unfortunate meetings with a particularly vile, determined rattlesnake. The story won't be rivalling the epics of JRR Tolkien but it gets the job done and it did hold my interest.

Now that I've gushed for a bit, it's time to point out where the game fails. It isn't anywhere near perfection (only SMT: Digital Devil Saga (1+2, they're essentially one game) and FFIX has achieved perfection in my eyes), to be sure. One of the things you're most likely able to notice is that enemies will get stuck in all manner of things. I've had one of those thorned lizard things get stuck in both a wall and the ground, leaving only its armoured spiky back for me to hit, which is obviously a stupid thing to do. Sometimes your waggles of the Wiimote just will not register, and when this happens during one of the QTE where the consequence is death, you're fucked. The game is, as mentioned, pretty short, and if you aren't as inept as I am at inputting a sequence of commands quickly, you'll likely have little trouble with the game and will just breeze through it in a number of hours. Despite the trouble I had, I still had the game's story beaten in about six hours.

Overall, Deadly Creatures is quite underrated. The fact that it didn't do nowhere near as well as THQ wanted in order to justify a sequel saddens me, as I would certainly love to see what those smart gits that made this game would come up with next. It's a fairly original 3D platformer with decent combat and graphics, with nice voice-acting (provided by Dennis Hopper and, IIRC, Billy Bob Thorton) too. I would recommend you find it cheap like I did, because it is a rather short game. Rent it, if you must.

Good god, I went on for quite a bit, didn't I?   read

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