With so many sequels out there, it’s nice to see an original game come along and introduce us to new characters and worlds. That’s the main reason why Mushroom Men seemed so exciting. It features an interesting premise (errant cosmic dust creates a society of anthropomorphic fungus warriors) and some gorgeous artwork and character designs. Unfortunately, there’s an occasional problem with these rookie games — so much time is spent developing the game’s style that the actual gameplay appears to become an afterthought. Although the DS version of Mushroom Men suffers from this, the Wii version is a more enjoyable experience.
It helps that both Mushroom Men titles are completely different. While the DS version (subtitled Rise of the Fungi) is a 2.5D side scroller, The Spore Wars is a free roaming 3D platformer. Here, you control Pax, a mushroom drifter who learns that he has the ability to absorb small chunks of the meteorite that gave him and his kind life. As he sets out to learn the secret behind his newfound ability, he must face off against vicious animals and rival mushroom tribes that wish to harness the power of the meteorite themselves.
A lot of the game’s fun stems from the level design. As a mushroom, Pax’s small stature gives him an interviewing view of the real world. A seemingly simple act like getting onto a folding chair becomes a challenge that requires ample exploration and a few acrobatic leaps. The sense of scale gives the levels personality, and upon entering a large area, you’ll probably spend a minute looking around, trying to take in all the possible areas that you can reach. The game’s personality is further enhanced thanks to the game’s bizarre, yet fantastic score, which is composed in part by Les Claypool of Primus fame.
As you travel through each stage, you’ll come across a ton of those small, plastic eggs that contain cheap prizes that are found in vending machines. In them are random items and bits of trash like bubble gum, thimbles, and the like. This scav, as the game calls it, is used to assemble new weapons for Pax to use. It’s a clever way to add more powerful weapons to your inventory, and it encourages you to check out every last nook and cranny of the stages so that you find each and every weapon component.
Use the Force
In addition to brute force, Pax also has “sporekinesis” powers that allow him to manipulate certain objects within the environment. This allows you to knock down barriers, move platforms, or chuck objects at enemies. Later in the game, you also gain a Spore Punisher move that is very useful against enemies. Although the sporekinesis is a decent idea, it does feel a bit neutered after experiencing the more elaborate “move stuff with your mind” techniques in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
Once you’ve built your makeshift weapons and mastered your psychic abilities, you will unfortunately find that the actual combat that they’re used for isn’t that impressive. Once again we have a Wii game that relies on tiresome remote swinging to make your character attack. There isn’t even much technique to the fighting. You pretty much start swinging at your foes and hope that they run out of energy before you do. Boss battles add a bit of variety to the combat, but they’re generally not too challenging.
Both exploration and fighting suffer from the game’s shoddy camera, which has an awful lot of trouble keeping up with the action. You’ll be forced to frequent make adjustments with the d-pad, which doesn’t offer the precise control over the camera that you would like. The game also sports a pseudo two-player mode where another person can use their own cursor to use sporekinesis. It’s a bit like Mario Galaxy’s two-player mode, and just like that game, it’s pretty much pointless.
Sure, Mushroom Men has a few flaws, but it’s still an enjoyable game. The platforming is solid, the premise if fun, and it has fantastic art direction. Hopefully we’ll see an improved sequel in the future.