IGN Review of Mushroom Men: Spore Wars
After decades of being stomped on and devoured for their valuable growth vitamins in videogames, mushrooms are finally getting a shot at stardom. Red Fly's Mushroom Men has a lot going for it, being a visually unique action/adventure game on a system underrepresented by the genre. The gameplay is a bit less inspired than the art, though, resulting in a rather straightforward platformer that recycles a lot of genre cliches. There is fun to be had with the game, but it's not, as the box quote claims, "the best game for the Wii since Mario Galaxy." Whoever wrote that was definitely playing with some type of mushrooms.
Players control a mushroom man named Pax who finds himself engulfed in the first war for these newly sentient creatures, The Spore Wars. It's a linear adventure, shuffling us through a series of locations designed for platforming and exploration. At Pax's disposal are a bunch of weapons cobbled together from junk strewn about, the ability to glide, and some rather handy psychic powers for manipulating the environment.
Many will be drawn in by the game's artistic sensibilities. The world of Mushroom Men is highly stylized, borrowing much from 1950s sci-fi flicks. It really looks great on the Wii and serves as a showcase title for what kinds of visuals are possible on the console when developers put in the effort. The game also has a fun, dark sense of humor. When Pax takes damage his mushroom cap will piece away revealing his brain beneath.
The environments encourage exploration. When you enter a new room and gaze upon a clutter of everyday objects that dwarf our mushroom hero, your mind sets to work planning the best route by which to investigate every nook and cranny. This is, of course, the effect any good platformer should have on us. Mushroom Men is set in our world, yet it feels very alien when viewed from a couple inches off the floor. As you set about meeting the challenges of each location, you'll often be surprised that the bridge you are crossing is a discarded television remote or that the hot air balloon you're riding is just an inner tube tied to an empty sardine can.
While most of the controls feel good (jumping, manipulating the camera, using your spore powers), combat has unfortunately been relegated to the waggle world. No human being should suffer the indignity of being forced to wildly flail their arm about when all they want to do is relax and play a game. This method robs us of the ability to use any skill or coordination to best an opponent. And while there are tons of items, or "scav," to be found and pieced together into weapons, there isn't much incentive to use anything but your newest tools since they are always incrementally more powerful than the last. An opportunity was missed to allow players to make strategic choices with their weaponry.
Mushroom Men's sound design is exceptional. Les Claypool (of Primus fame) contributes his own brand of quirky, funky bass lines that suit this world perfectly. Props also go to audio company Gl33k which brings the game's environments to life through clever use of sound effects. Walk past an exposed wire and you'll soon notice the buzz it is emitting has its own hypnotizing rhythm which eventually crescendos into a full soundtrack.
A couple more coats of polish would have been nice here and there. Pax can fall from any height without receiving damage, but doesn't land with any sort of tactile satisfaction. I realize our hero is very light, but he does have some mass and that should be reflected in his landings. Some of the cinematic cut scenes would also have been more effective if they made better use of sound. A fan dropping onto a rabbit and pureeing it should be a rather noisy affair, but it is understated here.
©2008-12-08, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved