The humble platformer has become somewhat rare on home consoles in recent years, so it's refreshing to see that one is getting a chance in Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars on Wii. Red Fly Studio's debut, not happy to shine a little light on 3D platformers alone, also takes a look at a hitherto unexplored idea; one that mushrooms are, in fact, sentient beings who are in a constant state of fungi fracas.
Well, it turns out they weren't always this way. A comet has crashed to Earth, giving the planet a nice sprinkling of radioactive dust as it goes. It's not harmful to humans so, typically, it goes completely ignored and nobody notices that their mushroom gardens are now walking around. We can only assume nobody has fancied a farmhouse pizza since the comet incident, because these little fellas would not become tasty toppings without a fight. The mushrooms have grouped into tribes made up of their species to battle against each other and animals such as rabbits and moles who have also been mutated by the space dust. In the middle of all the wars is you - naturally - as Pax, one of the peaceful bolete mushrooms. It also happens to be that you're particularly brilliant as living mushrooms go, as you can absorb bits of meteorite from the comet and become more powerful. Excellent.
Mushroom Men isn't what you would call a standard platformer. Sure, you're jumping around on platforms for a good percentage of the game, but there haven't been many games where the gigantic areas you're jumping around actually equate in real-world size to that of a garden shed. Rather than jumping across gaping chasms in sprawling landscapes you're scrabbling for survival as a three-inch tall fungi/human hybrid. To help you out, Pax has a number of talents. Firstly, he can use his pileus productively to protect himself: to paraglide about and stop himself being harmed from all those big drops, and as a shield against enemy attacks. Secondly, he's a bit of a engineering genius who can build weapons out of just about anything he can find, providing it'll fit into his tiny hands. These come in four categories: bashing, slashing, piercing and 'radical' weapons which use ammunition. As an example, if you find a shard of glass and a pencil, you can stick them together with some bubblegum to create a vicious looking axe. Most significantly, he's got a few 'spore powers' that other mushrooms don't have: sporekinesis, which allows him to chuck stuff about with his mind, the power to restore or alter plant life from a weakened state and the nasty spore punisher, which just blows up stunned enemies. He's also got one of those stretchy sticky hand toys that he can fling at certain objects to pull himself around.
With all these things in place, Mushroom Men makes for an interesting experience. The gameplay is nicely mixed so you're not stuck doing one thing for too long at a time; as well as platforming, you're also solving puzzles - easy to work out what to do, but sometimes challenging nonetheless with the time-based ones - and fighting against those that stand before you. The spore powers, particularly sporekinesis, play a major role in the puzzles as they often involve things being moved around or slotted into place, and Red Fly have done a great job with using the pointer for these; you have a cursor on screen at all times, a la Mario Galaxy, which changes when there's something interactive for you to click at with B. Sadly, the excellent use of Wii controls do not extend to the combat, which essentially breaks down into you holding the Z button to defend yourself and swinging the remote around for every single strike you do, or rolling around with C, jumping up and doing aerial attacks repeatedly with more remote swipes. It would've worked all the better for taking an approach such as that of No More Heroes and MadWorld, only using motion for key attacks. You can bring telekinesis into the combat, too; it's pretty fun to pick up stone blocks and hurl them at enemies, plus if you damage your opponents enough you can use the spore punisher to explode them - and sometimes those around them if your powers are great enough and you time it correctly.
The platforming itself is great, and the levels are intricate in their design and make you feel that you're actually working to get where you need to go, as you should with such a tiny character. However, it's certainly not as enjoyable as it should be as the camera can be absolutely dreadful. It does its best to swerve around to give the best viewpoint, but it will get stuck on a view of the top of your head if you're in a tight spot or not move quite as fast as you'd like it to. You can centre it behind Pax with a click of minus or adjust it with the d-pad, and if you want to enjoy the game you're going to have to learn that quickly, because leaving it to its own devices will often end in frustration and missed jumps.
It's not the best looking Wii game we've seen, but there's a clear effort to make the environments interesting using common settings; we would've preferred to see less brown on the platforms though, as it sometimes blends with the colour of walls and makes it more difficult to jump about accurately, but we have to say it's pretty colourful for a title primarily set in the earth at night. Where it really stands out is on the audio side. Les Claypool of band Primus deals with the music, and it's a superb job all around. The music itself can be basic, but as you move around sound effects will blend in and add extra layers, resulting in dynamic music tracks. For example, in one level you're climbing up a chamber slowly with the aid of a balloon, and you must move to specific platforms with to call the balloon to carry you. On these platforms you see lightbulbs overhead, which begin to make sparking noises that creep in. In other parts, water drips from pipes segue in to the beat masterfully.
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is a welcome addition to the Wii's library, and it's clear that Red Fly understand Wii and have been inspired by Mario Galaxy by the inclusion of such things as the pointer usage and a two player mode wherein the second player takes control of the cursor. However, they've also brought their own slant on the genre to the table, and despite the faults and short length it's a commendable effort.
Great variety: platforming, combat and puzzling all interchange on a regular basis, and there's also the odd minigame, such as target shooting, chucked in. It's just a shame that the camera can't behave itself.
The characters are well done in their disturbing ways. The environments aren't on the same level but still look decent, though the colour of platforms and walls clashes more than we'd like.
A great soundtrack that sounds earthy and tribalistic. It really comes into its own as environmental sound effects add into the mix. Funny voice samples, too.
You can go back to levels, you can do a New Game+ so that you can use your powers in areas you couldn't before, there's a bunch to collect, you can get a second player to do some co-op with you...but ultimately, the game's only about six hours long on the first playthrough. Really disappointing.
For a first effort on Wii, Red Fly Studio have put forward a great little title. It has a number of things that could be improved upon - camera, combat controls and extended continuance, if you want three Cs - which we'd like to see addressed in future Wii games from the developer, but if you're after a platformer or just a game that's a bit different, Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is worth a taste.
Well we've always tried to keep with that system, so boo to other reviewers.
It's a nice little title that you should definitely have a go of if you're a fan of platformers. You just need to be aware that it has faults going into it.
Hmmm I was really interested in this, still am, I need to give it a go since I love platformers! Mason, where do you think this game stands, like would you say it's better/worse than say Spyro, Crash or Rachet and clank? Just asking to see what can I expect in terms of quality compared to other games of the same genre. Great review though, if I looked at the score solely, I would've lost interest in this game. Good work!
I\'d put it above Spyro and Crash, but I wouldn\'t say it\'s as good as Ratchet and Clank.
As for not being interested if you\'d just seen the scores, it\'s worth noting that we try to use the full scale of the 1 - 10 system as touched upon above, so anything above a 5 is usually worth a look if you\'re a fan of the genre or series.
Thanks for the comments!
( Edited 12.04.2009 20:04 by Mason )
Errrr i went to a retailer's last week who told me the game is not due for launch before April the 24th (i saw March the 20th in a few places before).
Sooo, when will it be released ? I, too, have been following this game since its first trailer. I'm a fan of platformers, and weird looking games too, so i definitely want to pick this one up, but to do that, i must find it in stores first !
I'd put it above Spyro and Crash, but I wouldn't say it's as good as Ratchet and Clank.
As for not being interested if you'd just seen the scores, it's worth noting that we try to use the full scale of the 1 - 10 system as touched upon above, so anything above a 5 is usually worth a look if you're a fan of the genre or series.
Thanks for the comments!
That's exactly right for a 7. I've never been a fan of Crash in any of its iterations, personally. It's a bit N64-esque platformer in its execution, this.
Kafei, it should already be out as far as I know. It was originally down for a March 20th release in the UK and then got pushed back to the 27th, so it should be languishing...somewhere. You can purchase it online in the UK at the very least.
Mason>I'm not a resident of the UK, but thanks for the info, it's supposed to be released all over Europe at the same time anyway .