Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars Wii Review
Did you know that fungi are more closely related to animals than plants? The characters in Mushroom Men take that one step further, thanks to a strange meteor shower that grants them sentience, as well as deforming some of the woodland creatures into hideous angry mutants.
You play as Pax, the sole survivor of his village after a horrific tribal war. He wanders into a village of some fellow Bolete-species mushrooms and ends up absorbing their sacred meteorite. He is banished until he can find a meteor that he won’t absorb, with which to replace it. Of course, along the way he uncovers a larger plot that threatens the whole of Mushroom-kind.
Pax is a pretty nimble fellow right from the get-go. He can jump, block and roll, and glide by clutching his mushroom cap. Initially his only weapon is a stylus, which considering he’s a mere three inches tall, is wielded like club.
I’m not usually a fan of waggle-control for combat, as even the most enthusiastic masturbator can begin to feel some wrist strain after a few hours, but Mushroom Men executes this control method better than most. You feel like you have some real control over the timing of combat, and the tempo of combos. Animations can also be cancelled, so you’re always able to roll out of the way or block if things go bad.
One of the most enjoyable parts of Mushroom Men is building new weapons from the various pieces of junk that you manage to scavenge. These weapons are excellently designed, as is the screen that tells you what components are found within the current level.
There are four types of weapons, each effective in different situations. Slashing weapons are great when swarmed by enemies, bashing is good when a big creature is coming straight at you, thrusting helps kill those hard-to-catch flying enemies, and the radical weapons can pretty much destroy anything in your path, but they need ammo and so are only for limited uses. Handily, you can shake the Nunchuk to quickly switch back to the previous weapon.
One of my favourite weapons includes a diamond ring held by tweezers and tied together with thread, so you can stab people with your bling. But the favourite must be a makeshift lightsaber, created with a laser pointer, shining through a marble that is held in place with an unbent paperclip.
Adding to the Jedi feel is that fact that Pax has the power of Sporekinesis, which allows him to lift or move certain plants and objects that have been infected with the glowing green alien spores. As well as being rather useful for flattening enemies with heavy objects during combat, this is also utilised in some interesting puzzles.
The pointer is also used for the devastating Spore Punisher move. When an enemy begins to bleed, Pax can use his Jedi Spore powers to destroy them in an explosive attack that not only guarantees their death, but can damage nearby enemies too. The only real criticism of the combat and platforming is that the camera needs to be adjusted with the d-pad quite often, but at least you are given full control over it, unlike many other Wii games of this type.
Health indication is integrated into the game-world excellently, as sections of Pax’s mushroom cap are knocked off when he takes damage, exposing his fragile little brain beneath. Luckily, death isn’t really a problem for the little fungus, as when he is killed, his spores simply settle down a small distance away, and he re-grows. Although this means there is no real consequence for dying, this does encourage exploration of the well-designed levels, and the player is rewarded with an item for defeating a boss unscathed.
Speaking of bosses, the ones in Mushroom Men are wonderfully varied and interesting. Whether you’re battling an opossum (that obviously ends up playing dead), or finding ways to drop various heavy objects on some angry bunny rabbits, or throwing regurgitated apple cores back at an insane hare with antlers or removing some infected fungus from an angry turtle, they always find a way to test your skills without becoming frustrating.
For defeating a rampaging Mole King, Pax is rewarded with one of those sticky, stretchy hands that you might win from a gumball machine. He can fling this at various surfaces and use it to pull himself up, like some kind of amateur Spiderman. This ability is used to give some of the levels a real sense of verticality and scale, making them a real joy to traverse. However, there are periods where the sticky hand isn’t used for a while, meaning some prompting would have been helpful to remind players to keep on the lookout for objects to grapple onto.
Mushroom Men is a game with an appealing visual design, satisfying combat and platforming, an excellent soundtrack, and a superb variety of challenges, but unfortunately it’s just all over too soon. There are nine levels, which won’t take you more than six hours to complete. Although there are collectibles which increase Pax’s health and strength, and others that unlock some rather good concept art, even playing through the game twice may leave you feeling unfulfilled.
Once the game is completed, several unrelated mini-games are unlocked. These are based on Pipemania, Chinese Chequers, Catapult and Memory, plus a simple Pachinko game that will probably fascinate Peggle fans for a little too long. They are all Mushroom Men-themed but probably won’t hold your attention for more then ten minutes.
Although this is never ever told to the player, Mushroom Men also has a Mario Galaxy-style two player option, which allows a second person to pick up another Wii remote and assist by performing any of the pointer actions that the first player can. They can also tap the A button to replenish Pax’s help. It’s strange that a feature borrowed from such a popular game hasn’t been used as a marketing bullet-point on the back of the box.
It’s excellent to see an action platformer on the Wii that is an original concept, and doesn’t fall prey to many of the routine mistakes of the innumerable other shoddy efforts that have been pushed out onto store shelves. However, I fear that Mushroom Men will fail to find its target audience and be overlooked, as the fact that it failed to make it into the Wii’s top 40 games in its first two weeks on sale appears to prove.
Mushroom Men leaves you wanting more, which is both its biggest triumph and its only failure.