Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Piffman2 Reviews- Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars

4 games 1 cup is back!

Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars- Review

Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars for the Wii could have been one of two games: a game where you play exclusively as the Toads from the Mario universe or some sort of perverse narcotic-themed adventure trip into your own neon mind. Actually, I lied, it’s neither of those but considering it’s being published by a company named Gamecock I would have guessed the latter. Instead, Mushroom Men is a pretty traditional platform in the vein of Mario 64 with plenty of large environments to explore. Is it the best Wii game since Mario Galaxy as the box boasts? No. But is it still any good?

It’s obvious that Gamecock is trying to push Mushroom as some sort of franchise what with the simultaneous launch of the Wii and DS versions, the shared gameplay ideas and the single overall narrative. In The Spore Wars, you play as Pax, an orphan bolete mushroom with the ability to absorb strange glowing meteorites. It was the meteorites that gave the flora (like kudzu plants) sentience and the fauna (like rabbits) other abnormalities. Naturally all the mushroom tribes are at war with each other and it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on and prevent a catastrophe that could impact mushrooms and humans alike. It’s an interesting story that’s painfully underused in the game. All of the dialogue is delivered via text and there isn’t much progression of the plot. A title like the Spore Wars implies epic battles between morels and lepiotas in our own backyards. Maybe those are going on but with the exception of the pretty epic fight between a cactus and a giant amanita, Pax never sees any of them.

The story of Mushroom Men may not be interesting but the world sure is. Everything from playing cards to bathtubs is seen from the perspective of a three-inch tall piece of food. Adding to the alien b-movie feel is the color palette consisting of dark greens and browns like the mushrooms themselves. Speaking of the mushrooms, the different tribes are all unique in both appearance and in personality. You won’t confuse the shamanistic boletes with the pale poisonous amanitas with the buff, samurai sword wielding shitakes who live in the Miyamoto museum. The graphic technology is good for a Wii but it’s the art design that carries it. The levels all look similar but the glowing overgrown forests are reminiscent of the final planet of Metroid Prime 3. There’s a gallery full of the moody, weird and novel concept art ready to be unlocked. There’s an almost Nightmare Before Christmas kind of claymation look to it that make the game so visually engrossing. This attention to style also carries over into the music composed by Les Claypool (of South Park theme song fame) that also uses proprietary soft ware from the Gl33k group. It’s supposed to make sound effects sync with the score but the only time I noticed it was in the ice cave with its rhythmic sparkling. The music is still good though. The developers said they were making it sound big to make the player feel smaller in comparison and it works.

Scale is one of the only unique things in Mushroom Men’s actual gameplay however. The environments you platform in are large, open and made of things like boxes of Chinese food or chairs, but the platforming itself nothing special. You move around with the analog stick and attack using fairly unresponsive waggling. With the B trigger you can point and grapple onto quarters and buttons to reach higher places and after jumping with A you can hold onto your cap to glide over chasms. Being so light, Pax’s controls are a little floaty but the platforming does work, it’s not as tight or fun as Mario Galaxy’s. That applies to its handful of 2D sidescrolling sections too. Also the environments, while open, have fairly obvious and linear paths and objectives. Pax’s health is represented by his cap creating an organic HUD-less presentation oddly similar to Dead Space. Mushroom Men tries to shake up it’s gameplay in two ways. First, using the pointer and trigger you can also use your spore powers to vaporize enemies, open doors and manipulate objects with a Star Wars style force grip. The puzzles and boss fights using these abilities are sometimes clever and while it doesn’t always work too well, the feature is a welcome addition. There’s also the Scav system that tries to add some strategy to the otherwise mindless combat. Scattered throughout the levels are containers with random junk inside like tooth picks and rubber bands. However, Pax can combine them into weapons once he gets enough pieces. The controls are the same but there are different categories of weapons like bashing or stabbing. Some weapons even need ammo like the flame thrower made of whistles and lighter fluid. The game tells you what objects are needed to make what weapons and where to find the objects you’re missing. All of the 9 levels are replayable so going back and finding what you missed is a good reason to go back after beating the six hour campaign.

I appreciate Mushroom Men because it’s a creative and interesting exclusive IP for Nintendo systems that a third party obviously put some effort into. But if any of you are thinking about buying it, I suggest you should rent it instead. Good style will only get you so far and after experiencing the gameplay it’s pretty easy to move on.


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