Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars looks great and sounds even better. The unique visual style and catchy music work together to create a quirky world ripe with exciting gaming opportunities. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities are missed, and the disappointingly generic gameplay and poor camera control keep this platformer from fully capitalizing on its distinctive premise.
As the subtitle implies, the world of Mushroom Men is one of war. After being brought to life by the dust of a magical meteorite, the peaceful, edible mushrooms were soon attacked by their aggressive, poisonous cousins. You play as Pax, the last remaining member of a peaceful mushroom sect. Though Pax is just a drifter, he seems to have a special connection with the meteorite chunks spread across the land, and that doesn't sit well with the evil mushrooms. Before he knows it, Pax finds himself pitching in with the remaining peaceful 'shrooms in their fight against the more aggressive fungi. The story is simple and very short, but the dark, distinctive world of the mutant mushrooms is charming and worth exploring while it lasts.
Underneath the eccentric style and attractive atmosphere lies a by-the-numbers action platform game. Those who have been around the block with Rayman, Mario, or Crash Bandicoot won't find much new here in terms of gameplay, though there are a few twists to the standard collection-and-exploration formula. Collectible items come in three varieties: meteorite chunks, "scav" (random junk used to cobble together weapons), and concept art. Although meteorites will make you more durable, the scav is what you'll need to find to survive. There are dozens of weapons to construct among four weapon types, each with their own pros and cons. The system isn't as deep as it initially appears, considering that your newest weapon is almost always the strongest, but the weapon variety and inventiveness (some tweezers and a diamond ring equal a shiny stabbing tool) will keep you searching for more.
The level designs do a lot to make you feel like a tiny mushroom in a giant world. You'll explore a dingy garage infested with rodents, mushroom villages held together with bottle caps and gum, and other offbeat locales oozing with gloomy charisma. Most of the levels are spacious and require you to scale tall structures or investigate hidden tunnels to achieve your goals. Unfortunately, navigating the imaginative landscape can be tough when you have to fight the sluggish camera, which has a tendency to get stuck when in tight corridors and lag behind during jumping sequences. There are a few puzzles to sort out during the adventure that, while not particularly challenging, require a bit of ingenuity and are satisfying to solve.
Aside from an underused telekinesis power that lets you move objects to solve puzzles and interact with the environment, there aren't many features that use the motion controls in meaningful ways. You have to wiggle the remote in any direction to strike with your weapon, but given that your random wiggles trigger the same canned animations, the shaking feels arbitrary. Add to that the fact that adjusting the problematic camera with the D pad on the remote is a chore, and you'll find yourself wishing for an option to use the Classic Controller. A second player can join in with another remote in a supporting role, where they’ll control a cursor of their own that lets them move telekinesis objects, aid in puzzles, or supply Pax with much needed health. It doesn’t add much to the gameplay, but it’s a nice feature for parents who want to assist their kids.
The best part about Mushroom Men is the rich presentation, which is on par with some of the Wii's best games. The muted color palette suits the dank and dreary world of the battling mushrooms well. Although the environments don't look as lush as the concept art that you'll see during the loading screens, the organic art style triumphs over any technical shortcomings. Little things such as the way Pax's bulbous head cuts away to reveal his gooey brain when injured, and the glowing remains of a dead rat (which also serve as a form of energy), help set a unique and darkly funny tone.
The music is just as eccentric and compelling as the visuals, and it really helps bring you in to the strange tribal world of sentient mushrooms. The funky synthesized beats and melodies often build and evolve with the action onscreen, incorporating earthy sound effects from the subjects around you, such as rain drops in a pipe or the buzz of angry insects. Other sound effects, including the gibberish spoken by the mushrooms and the screech of wild rodents, have the same interesting organic/synthesized blend found in the music.
If you don't care to hunt down every last hidden item, you can breeze through Mushroom Men in less than five hours. The short length, poor camera, and mostly generic gameplay prevent this game from reaching the potential that the presentation implies. Nevertheless, Mushroom Men is a promising start to what could be an interesting franchise. If you're in the mood for a stylish platformer, and you don't mind putting up with a few setbacks, you'll have a good time with Mushroom Men.