If Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars were just a slideshow of concept art on a DVD, there’s a pretty good chance that it would be a successful retail product. Artist Frank Teran’s highly stylized and “campy“ comic book-esque concept art for Red Fly Studio’s upcoming Wii game is simply that cool. Fortunately, there’s what appears to be a pretty slick game behind the art, and we had our first chance to see it in action at this EIEIO 2008 in Austin last week.
The Spore Wars follows the adventures of a naïve young bolete named Pax as he ventures outside of his village to explore the extraordinary and terrifying world of Mushroom Men. Plant and animal life has been transformed by a mysterious green dust that fell from meteor that passed over the Earth, creating a tiny, yet brutal war taking place just under the radar of the humans.
We were shown an unfinished version of the game’s second level -- a shed inhabited by the vicious Kudzu tribe and a horde of dangerous, bloodthirsty rabbits. Hit the jump to find out how Pax uses spore telekinesis, a DS stylus, and a thimble to topple the dreaded king of the rabbits, the deadly and jackalope.
As the demo began, we were shown that Pax’s entrance to the shed is being blocked by a bottle of anti-freeze. Along with most things in the world, the scale compared to the bolete is enormous; but by using Pax’s telekinesis, the gigantic object doesn’t cause too much trouble. As the on-screen cursor passes over the object it changes, indicating that the spore power can be used. Pax is easily able to lift up the object and toss it aside, clearing the path to enter the shed.
Inside the shed is a war zone, with a number of insane, rabbits on the loose causing trouble. The rabbits While Pax can go head-on with the killer mammal, it turns out that telekinesis is used for more than simply getting around the environment. In fact, it looks like a lot of Mushroom Men’s environmental objects are able to be manipulated. In one instance during the demo, Pax knocks uses his power to roll a bowling ball into a unicorn trophy (which, by the way, is a totally sweet trophy to have). The trophy them plummets to the ground, crushing the rabbit below. For the violence-inclined, it should be noted that you only see the aftermath -- no rabbit guts here. After all, Red Fly are shooting for an E-10+ rating.
Despite the lack of violent rabbit death, Pax does have a number of melee and defensive maneuvers at his disposal. Movement is controlled with the Wii Nunchuck, and Pax can roll and dodge to evade enemy attacks. Melee attacks are controlled with a quick flick of Wii Remote, and special attacks can be performed using various button combinations. The game’s producer, Ryan Madsen, notes that the team are experimenting and considering other control options, as well.
"We’re still investigating different control mechanisms and continuing to develop them to make sure they’re not tiring, or not too tedious," he says, conscious of the common Wii control pitfall. "That’s something we’re definitely interested in, especially since we all play Wii games as well."
Of particular note is the game’s weapon system -- by finding pieces scattered throughout the world, the player can craft up to 40 different weapons, each of which falls into one of four categories: slashing, piercing, bashing, and "bad ass." For example, combining a DS stylus and a thimble creates a nifty bashing-type weapon; a DS stylus and a straight razor would be slashing. A bad ass weapon, however, will be far more potent and requires rarer parts for its creation; pumping gasoline through a football bobble head using an aspirator, for instance, creates a flame thrower.
Despite its title, The Spore Wars is certainly not all about combat. Red Fly is adding a number of platforming and environmental navigation elements to the game, as well. The "Cap Glide" will let Pax use his mushroom cap to glide slowly to safety, or reach otherwise out of reach platforms. The sticky-hand toy can also be used as sort of a grappling hook, turning Pax into a bolete "Bionic Commando" of sorts. Both can be used in conjunction to reach new areas, of course – jumping and gliding, followed by a well-timed use of the sticky-hand can open up more of the level.
Red Fly also demoed an early revision of one of this particular level’s boss battle, the Jackalope, king of the rabbits. Transformed by the meteor dust, the normally weird-assed mythical jackalope becomes a monster, throwing apple cores at Pax and rushing forward with its sharp antlers. By swiping the apples away with a well timed melee attack, Pax is able to goad the rabbit-deer-monster-thing into running head-first towards rocks in the environment. Once the jackalope is stunned, it’s easier to get the jump on him, and finishing him with attacks becomes a cinch.
Visually, Red Fly seems to have done a great job bringing the concept art to life. The simple, yet highly-stylized design fits perfectly on Nintendo’s system. Based on what we saw, it looks like Red Fly hasn’t tried to overstep their boundaries on the Wii hardware, graphics wise. Characters pop and the environments seem to be full of life. In this early version, there did seem to be a bit of slowdown present during some of the more hectic encounters, but there’s no reason why this won’t be smoothed out before release.
Overall, Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is looking to shape up like an impressive action-platformer for the Wii. Without getting time with the Wii controllers in my hand, it’s hard to say whether or not the game makes appropriate use of the Wii’s unique controls. But really, this new IP doesn’t need to do anything revolutionary with the hardware -- simply being an original idea brought to life on Nintendo’s hardware might be enough.
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is set for a Fall 2008 release.