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TVG travels to dark damp places to cross examine The Mushroom Men...
- Fun building weapons
- Responsive control scheme
- Interesting artwork
- No consequence of dying
- Short gameplay time
- Negligible replay value
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars marks a slightly more quirky offering on the Nintendo Wii from newly formed development house Red Fly Studio. The obvious quirk about this game is it's setting - mutated mushrooms springing to life and engaging in war. But its also quirky because it's a 3D platformer, a more traditional game genre obscured on a console famously flooded with casual gaming titles.
Following the events of a meteorite crash landing on Earth, it transpires that it has mutated local signs of life, creating four tribes of 'Mushroom Men' and turning nearby larger creatures like rabbits and moles into twisted versions of their former selves. You play as Pax, a member of the Boleto mushroom tribe as he travels through the mutated areas that have been affected by the meteorite crash.
Initially, aside from the usual gravity defying jumping abilities of platform gaming protagonists, Pax can only glide using the cap of his mushroom head. Along the course of the game, Pax develops abilities to use telekinesis and a grappling hook. These abilities are used to move around the decorated levels as you solve basic puzzles and collect items. Pax begins his journey wielding a stick, but with thorough exploring you can gather lots of components to gradually fashion an impressive inventory of weapons. The weapons themselves are made from discarded everyday items such as pencils, can openers, paper clips and other seemingly innocent objects.
The encouragement to explore the levels is bolstered by the sheer attention to detail lovingly crafted by Red Fly Studio. Everyday objects are now towering obstacles for our 3 inch high protagonist, and there is a level of satire on the fictional packaging to keep you amused on your travels. A burgundy soft drink can is called "Dr Salt", a cute obese anime cat is branded "Jello Kitty" and a Chinese takeaway menu offers "Rick Roll".
Sadly, the dark, damp areas where you'd find Mushroom Men all seem to be comprised of murky green, brown and pink colour palette. This muted colour scheme is maintained throughout the game, despite you travelling through a back garden, garden shed, a motor-home, as well as other recognisable environments. Still, there is a good level of detail on the actual character models and the dramatic boss battles show that the Wii is capable of some pretty visuals. Even when you pause the game, hand drawn artwork becomes gradually revealed as you progress through that level's objectives.
Musically, Mushroom Men is worthy of special mention. Depending on where you go has a direct effect on it. As you progress through a level, you'll discover the soundtrack becoming more elaborate, building to a crescendo as you get closer to finishing that section. This is a fantastic feature that adds lots of immersion to the game. Unfortunately, the music itself is not as inspired and is often comprised of irregular beats and growling electronic synth bass lines.
The gameplay itself in Mushroom Men is very fluid and fun. For a third party platform adventure, its very well produced and has a nostalgic feel of games like N64's Banjo Kazooie. The control scheme feels very natural as you use the analogue stick of the nunchuk to move Pax, point the Wiimote to use telekinesis and grappling hook and swing the Wiimote to have Pax use the weapon he's brandishing. Mushroom Men would be a very special game indeed if it wasn't for some unforgivable flaws.
Probably the biggest issue with this game is the fact that it feels like you can't die. When Pax sustains enough damage, he'll simply respawn with full health a very short distance away ready to pick up right where he left off. There is no set amount of lives; you can do this as often as you see fit. A generous but game breaking mechanic such as this effectively renders most of the in-game combat void, including the grand boss battles.
On top of all this the game is rather brief, weighing in at about only 5-6 hours of play time. There is also questionable replay value, as the collectable items mostly make for a larger health meter or more powerful weapons - both of which are not essential for survival due to the generous respawning system mentioned above. The option to replay the levels means that for true obsessives you can go back and collect weapon parts you may have missed first time round and also collect unlockable concept art.
Bizarrely enough there's a small selection of board games which are tucked away in the options menu. These are also well produced and quite varied - from pachinko to a chequers-esque board game. While these are a pleasant diversion, they're simply not enough to remedy the game's larger setbacks.
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