(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.