The humble mushroom seems like an unlikely protagonist to take the lead in a videogame, but our hero Pax is no ordinary fungus. He seems to have somehow gained the ability to absorb precious meteorites, much to his mushroom tribe’s dismay as they keep the giant moles away. He is quickly banished to a world that perhaps only a mind as creative and twisted as Tim Burton could design in order to find a replacement meteorite chunk that is impervious to Pax’s absorbtion skill; this is the only thing that can restore peace to his tribe’s homeland.
At its core Mushroom Men is a 3D platform adventure where you collect items, defeat enemies, and explore in order to progress. What makes it a bit special compared to other such titles on the Wii is its high quality production values -- the art direction and music are little short of stunning considering the hardware it is running on. Red Fly Studios have done an impressive job in the visuals department with this, their debut title, creating a dark yet wondrous land full of glowing green ooze, constructed from the cast-offs of human society.
In addition to the usual moving about and jumping, our hero Pax can use weapons built out of scavenged items to hit things with a waggle of the Wii Remote, glide in the air, and even use a power called “sporekinesis” which lets him move objects, such as barriers that get in the way, with his mind. There are just enough abilities on offer to make the gameplay fun, without being overcomplicated. If all this wasn’t enough Pax can also block enemy attacks and do a little evasive roll too.
As you are playing as a tiny mushroom traversing a vast, littered environment there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Sometimes a bit of logical thinking is required to figure out the best way forward and the environments do not shy away from making you precision platform jump your way up tall mounds of junk to progress. One of the great successes in Mushroom Men is the creation of a world where everyday items such as empty baked bean cans are turned into mine carts, or bridges are made out of old broken remote controls. It’s just a whole heap of fun to explore.
In addition to wrestling with the environment, Pax will also have to deal with a range of fiends that will attack if he gets too close. You’ll have to face the likes of moles, spiders, mice and even fungi from other tribes. Thankfully using your sporekinesis abilities you can just lob a discarded baseball at them, or alternatively waggle the old Wii Remote to use your weapon to attack. After a time, predictably, the constant need to waggle becomes a chore and you begin to wonder why the developers didn’t offer an alternative option for attacking.
You can power up your weapon by combining items you have scavenged on your travels. Sometimes your opponents can attack you frantically, but you can easily block their attacks. Even if they get the worst of you and kill you, there isn’t really much of a penalty as such: you simply respawn at the last of the frequent checkpoints you crossed. Combined with unlimited lives, this makes for a game lacking challenge, which a more inexperienced gamer could complete with relative ease.
The end of level boss fights are quite good fun and put you up against some enormous foes. Some of the bosses require a bit of thinking to defeat, in addition to using your regular weapon you might also need to use your sporekinesis. None of them are particularly challenging though, as long as you keep your wits about you.
The biggest shortcoming with Mushroom Men has to be the camera, after playing the sublime Super Mario Galaxy with its dynamic camera that follows the player, this feels like a big step backwards. You have to use the awkwardly placed D-pad on the Wii Remote to look around, which feels clunky especially in the heat of battle when you suddenly find yourself facing in the wrong direction. A quick jab of the minus button usually centres the camera, but it doesn’t always work as well as it could.
It can be lonely being a mushroom with the whole world against you, so Red Fly have cleverly added a option to let a second player join in, much like in Super Mario Galaxy. Player two can tap the A button rapidly to help restore Pax’s health and also use his spore powers to help the main player get out of a tight spot. It’s not the most revolutionary form of co-op, admittedly, but it’s better than nothing.
Having touched on the wonderful art direction already, it would be remiss of us not to give credit where it’s due for an excellent soundtrack also. The music in Mushroom Men is provided by none other than Primus’ Les Claypool; as such you can expect to find funky bass-heavy tracks which fit with the environment perfectly. The game also features the clever use of environmentally triggered sound effects provided by audio specialists Gl33k that help to create a quirky, subdued tone throughout the game.
If you don’t spend too much time wandering about aimlessly it is likely you will complete Mushroom Men in around six hours, which is pretty short for this type of game. We should be thankful at least that the levels aren’t too drawn out with lots of pointless collectathon exercises, which we find in so many platformers these days. It is pretty sweet while it lasts. Once the main quest is down you can occupy yourself with some mini-games such as Catapult and a Pachinko game, which are entertaining for a short while at least.
Mushroom Men is an ambitious debut by Red Fly Studio. The art direction and funky audio set the tone perfectly. It bodes really well for the upcoming Wii version of the Ghostbusters game, which is the studio's next project. The platform action works really well and the environments feel huge and are fun to explore, but the awkward in-game camera unfortunately takes the shine off this. Another area with 'shroom for improvement lies with the motion gestures used for combat. It gets tiresome after a while so a more traditional alternative would have been appreciated as a fallback. Despite a few niggles the good outweighs the bad and it is certainly one of the better platformers on the Wii. It will only take you around six hours to complete, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts. If you are in the market to pick up an untaxing platform game with a quirky sense of humour to while away a few hours, this might just be the game for you.