Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars
They’re everywhere. In your food, at your parties (naughty reader), even in the space between your toes. But mushrooms are more than just something that is grown to later be eaten or picked at – they breathe. Not only do they breathe, live and sustain normal lives (thanks to the dust of an earth-bound meteorite no less), they also like to dabble in the odd war with each other. Differences of opinion? Draconian style rule? Perhaps one village of mushrooms have smaller stems than the rest? It doesn’t matter, there will always be a reason to fight each other so really, they’re no better than us.
Caught in the middle of all this animosity is Pax, a lone drifter who seems to have a special bond with the numerous meteorite chunks spread throughout the game world. One thing naturally leads to another and Pax soon finds himself siding with the peaceful mushroom tribe in an effort to restore peace to the world you didn’t know existed. Cut scenes are handled through the in-game engine with Pax and characters conversing in an unintelligible slur as you read through text boxes. It’s standard ‘good guys overcome all evil’ fare that has come to be expected from platformers and truth be told, you’ll struggle to recall any significant events once you’ve finished the very short single player.
But what sets Mushroom Men apart from the outset is its art style, which is a superb mix of archetypal Tim Burton films and cult hit, Psychonauts. For a game perhaps targeted to the younger demographic, Spore Wars is surprisingly dark in its execution, seemingly more magic mushroom than mushroom kingdom. With every hit, Pax’s brain will become exposed (removing the need for a HUD), putrid rat corpses fester in dark corners and mutated bunny rabbits gesticulate involuntarily across levels. Any real potential adult content is stripped away from underneath the player’s feet in place of suggestion through imagination, and it’s disappointing that SouthPeak didn’t go all out to fully flesh this sometimes morbid, cartoon stylised world. Couple this with an oddly compelling soundtrack and Mushroom Men is a welcome assault on the senses.
Unfortunately, the gameplay struggles to match the presentation. For the most part, players must move through large rooms, collecting pieces of meteorite and disposing of any bad looking mushrooms giving you a more than second’s stare. Engaging the enemy is a simple matter of flinging the wrist nonsensically and Mushroom Men rarely steps out of its comfort zone. To mix it up, players can pick up random items to create weapons of varying power, although it’s not quite as robust as it could have been. Pax can also use telekinesis to pick up items to launch at hostile mushrooms and more pertinently, solve puzzles, which is a great idea terribly underused.
This insipid gameplay is just about forgivable thanks to how fresh Mushroom Men looks and sounds, but what is indefensible is the camera that goes from being barely stable to apparently having a bad trip. You’ll constantly find yourself moving it around to try and get an acceptable viewpoint (a nightmare considering where the d-pad is on the Wii controller), but for some reason, the game will punish you for such temerity and move it somewhere far more undesirable. It’s an unshakable blotch on proceedings, which only goes to further demonstrate how unexciting and formulaic the combat is.
It’s a testament to what Mushroom Men does right, however, that its shortcomings can be sidestepped for a platformer that will pander to the nostalgia and loving memories players have of games like Crash Bandicoot and Spryo from generations gone by. If you’re in the market for a bog standard platformer that exceeds itself visually and aurally, then Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is a worthwhile head spin without the legal repercussions.