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They are alive. They are in our gardens. They are in our houses. They are...Mushroom Men? Eh? Following a meteorite crashing into Earth mushrooms came to life! And now four mushroom tribes are at war with each other as well as protecting themselves from animals. It might not sound like the premise for an action/platformer with some puzzle elements, but this is the plot for Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars. You find yourself playing as Pax, a mushroom playing through levels that seem immense to them but naturally regular size to us (such as the interior of a shed) Mushroom Men is very much played as your average platformer, with regular pickup collectables and enemies to attack with, however it does have a trick up its sleeve in the guise of weaponry and building it, which will be assessed later.
Mushroom Men plays like your average platformer, the Wiimote is not used overly much during gameplay, the Nunchuk is used to move Pax and the various buttons used to navigate the area and pick up and use items. The enemies are appropriately sized to a mushroom, including other mushrooms, moles, rabbits, moths and spiders and all can be killed using any weapon but some weapon types are easier to kill certain animals. The levels are generally linear but with the occasional break in path, as well as large areas being very much open plan, allowing you to make your way to the eventual target in whatever way you can, of which there are often multiple paths.
In each level there are two collectable items, as well as collectable items which vary between levels, these unlock bonus content such as concept art and meteorite pieces can also be collected, a certain number increase your health bar and attack power. The other things you can collect is 'scav', which is regular human household material such as matches, thread and a razor blade. It is these pieces which you can make weapons out of, which is a very unusual and interesting feature of the game. Using the 'scav' you find in the level, you can eventually create a weapon, of which there are four types: thrusters, slashers and bashers are all quite self explanatory, and each has numerous different weapons of differing damage potential and as you would expect, the higher damage ones are unlocked much later in the game. The fourth type of weapon slow down Pax and are called 'radical!' weapons, these cause a lot of damage but also consume ammunition which is picked up within levels.
You can also pick up health spores, these can be found on rotting animal carcasses, spore plants and also by defeating enemies. These spores also fill up the spore power meter, which is also slowly filled over time. The meter is depleted by using one of your spore powers, spore punisher attacks enemies against weak or stunned enemies, will of spores can heal damaged leaves as well as moving certain healthy ones and giving some leaves the ability to bounce you upwards. The other power is sporekinesis, which is the coolest power, you can pick up or move objects that have spore growths on them and when picking up an object using this power, you can hurl it at the nearest enemy, occasionally killing them in one hit. These powers are all soon acquired and are put to good use during the game, often being required to get certain collectable items.
The levels themselves are well thought out and played through like the average action platformer, though some puzzle elements are also present as you work through some cryptic signs and wondering where to go next. Some levels end with a boss, who is much larger and more difficult than the regular enemies and often require a fair bit of strategic thinking to beat. Whilst it may be 'another' platformer and it is competing for game sales with the best ever platforming series ever (Mario!), it pulls off its platforming gameplay very well, level design is good and interesting without being repetitive and the weaponry system (along with collecting 'scav') is very unique and does help the game move ahead of other platformers. Though it is not ground breaking in terms of gameplay, it is very good in this respect and puts it only behind Super Mario Galaxy in terms of platforming gameplay.
The graphical content in Mushroom Men is very much detail and volume over quality itself. The environments are very detailed and interesting, everything looks dark and gloomy whilst also being colourful and cartoony. There are various detailed objects strewn across the landscape, very much in the vein of the film 'A Bugs Life' such as the bottle camps, dolls and other various household objects found lying around the level. Pax himself, NPC's and enemies all look very detailed along with being slightly unserious with its cartoony and very slightly exaggerated tone. Some objects in the environment such as leaves and rocks can get pixellated when run past closely and this does let it down slightly along with the slight 'fuzziness/blurriness' encountered throughout the game,. That said however, the graphics are of a good quality, with no slowdown encountered at any point.
The music in Mushroom Men is very good, and for me it reminds me of the music from the early Spyro games with some added drumbeat and electro noises. It is good but it can also get repetitive towards the end of the level (I must add that this does occur in most games) There isn't a huge amount of in game sound effects, talking is visibly done via subtitles so there's only sound effects from movement/attacking, enemies and the environment as well as during cut scenes. These effects are very good and are more detailed and clearer than in many other platforming games. In general, very good sound but some elements can get repetitive during the level.
The game itself unfortunately won't last too long, which is more than a shame due to the fun gameplay. The average gamer should breeze through it and see the ending in 4-5 hours or so. The remaining longevity is down to the unlockable content and replayability value, fortunately both of these stand up in their own right. Following completing the main game, it is certainly feasible for most players to want to play it again as it is fun and luckily the main menu itself has a level replayability option, so you can choose your favourite levels in particular. The collectible items that unlock content are hidden throughout each level, these unlock the gallery of pictures for the game, including concept art and the very cool posters for each level, in a dark and gloomy (but charming!) artistic style which is resonated (in a much toned down way) in the levels themselves. The minigames and music from the game are also available for replay, though the minigames are very, very simple, but then the aim is to get a higher score than previously so I suppose that lets it off. Overall the average gamer should get 6 hours of gameplay, whilst someone who likes the game will want the collectibles and unlockable content and can easily spend over 12 hours playing. Which is not bad at all, but in the current climate of games offering 20 hours easily for the average player, the longevity is not great either.
Value for Money
I personally picked my copy up off Play.com Marketplace for £9 (inc p&p) and I believe most second hand copies are floating about for roughly a tenner. For this price average gamers may only get 6 or so hours out of it (assuming they also do not want to collect all the unlockables and weapons) but these are 6 hours of fun and a unique gaming experience. Those who do like the game a lot will have a lot of replayability value too and thus it would represent even better value for money. Whilst in some way it is your normal platformer, it separates itself from the crowd by its unique 'scav' and weaponry system as well as the level designs being made of regular Human objects and buildings. I have to say it does give good value for money, not because of longevity value, but because it is a very different game to anything else I have played.
Multiplayer mode is much in the same vein than in Super Mario Galaxy, player one controls Pax himself whilst player two aids Pax throughout the level, mostly in the form of health. Pax is not the most robust mushroom, and you can be easily overwhelmed by enemies. If player two repeatedly presses 'A' then Pax will eventually regain some health. Player two can also use some spore powers, sporekinesis and spore punisher as well as the sticky hand tool. It will make the game easier for player one, but it is not exactly absorbing for player two.
Everything about this game shows that the developers (the relatively unknown SouthPeak) put in a lot of effort into making this game stand out from the crowd and in this they succeeded. Mushroom Men has many very good points, but nothing truly special which would make this game a must buy (especially because of the speed the game can be completed in) This in no way means you shouldn't buy it, everything else in the game besides the longevity is very much above average and is worth buying just for the unique experience. I do recommend Mushroom Men for the distinctive gaming experience it offers, it is just a shame such a great game doesn't last all that long.
Thanks for reading, any comments you have will be gratefully received. Also on Ciao.
Time has passed since the 'Rise of the Fungi' and indeed the Amanita and Lepiota societies have brought war to the peaceful Bolete and Morel mushroom tribes. Some among the Mushroom Men believe that the secret to winning the Spore Wars lies in uncovering the facts about the Mushroom's origins. As the Myth states, the mushroom who discovers the truth of their origins is promised the power to change the entire course of evolution, putting the mushroom species at the top of the evolutionary ladder. The tribe that claims this prize can reshape the world any way they see fit. The Amanitas and the Leopiota see the myth as a chance to not only defeat other nations, but also to wipe out all their enemies and put their tribes at the forefront of terrestrial evolution.