Considering the influx of titles to the Nintendo Switch, one genre that is very under-represented so far is real-time strategy. Normally associated with PC and popularised recently on mobile devices, the balance of depth and accessibility to attract both veterans and newcomers is a lucrative combination and one that’s arguably even more tricky to achieve on consoles. Despite its quirky subject matter, Mushroom Wars 2 offers a solid interpretation and an ideal fit for Switch.
While it might seem a little strange to witness an epic story full of valour, nobility, betrayal and honour played out in paintings that feature heavily-armoured mushrooms and an increasingly dishevelled mosquito (sorry, there is no dialogue so we took some creative liberties), there's still an affable charm to it as you progress through the two campaigns on offer. With nearly 200 hundred stars to collect, spread across four difficulty settings, there's certainly a lot of content on offer (even if it does get a little repetitive after a while).
Presentation-wise, Mushroom Wars 2 is a pleasant experience, as the aforementioned exposition has a nice painted art style to it, but in-game it’s more a case of focusing on your massive armies and their progress than marvelling at the scenery or spectacular explosions. That's not to say Mushroom Wars 2 is an ugly game - because it isn't - it's just that the single screen stages are a bit flat, and there's a lack of dynamic cutscenes or set-pieces. Thankfully, there are environmental obstacles such as rivers, slopes and even more deadly traps later on to keep things fresh in both the looks and gameplay department.
For those who are in the dark about Mushroom Wars’ style of RTS action, here's a little taster. Your main task in each and every conquest (stage) is to defeat your enemy by taking over all of their houses. Moving the left analog stick around will highlight one of your little villages, which will also have a cloud above it indicating the number of troops inside. Holding ’R’ will bring up an arrow for you to direct your troops across the map. Grey huts are available from the outset to grow your army before trying to take on the other team(s).
Sometimes during the campaign, you'll be severely outnumbered from the off, which will require a lot of groundwork before you make a more attack-orientated plan of action. It can be a balancing act between moving around a percentage of troops from place to place (mapped to the four face buttons) or changing/reinforcing existing buildings by holding ’L’. There is also a coloured bar at the top of the screen that shows how the two (or three or four, depending on the mode) armies are matched.
Depleting your rival army can be done in a combination of ways, from simply generating more troops, to taking over more important buildings like forges (which strengthen your army) or forts (which launch cannonball at the enemy within a certain radius). This is equally important when attempting to invade enemy strongholds from a distance and keeping an eye on your numbers, as hazards and bosses can wipe out waves of both teams ruthlessly and understaffed huts will send out an ’SOS’ to avoid being overthrown.
There's a reasonable attempt at mixing up mission objectives by including bosses or prioritising special buildings but their implementation and variety are underwhelming. It's a real shame that bosses are merely static hazards which take out teams equally, rather than anticipating their next position or requiring a radical change in strategy. In some instances, there may be a bit of a waiting game to see where your rival armies will go next, but for the most part, everything transpires at a brisk pace, and you’ll constantly be multitasking. Balancing resources, territory and timing is at the heart of Mushroom Wars 2, and for the most part, it is an enjoyable and satisfying experience. Matches are designed to be quite brief, and you’ll probably not exceed a match time of more than 10 minutes.
This is both a positive and a negative, as once the ball is rolling regarding the upper hand, you’ll rarely be in a position to dramatically increase your chances of a comeback. Things can go from under to out of control very quickly, and while this is exciting and gratifying on the winning side, it can feel unfair on the other. Matches can be a war of patient attrition and preparation one minute, only for things to go spectacularly wrong the next.
Stemming away from the single-player is where Mushroom Wars 2 grows into a very robust and enjoyable package. On the competitive side, there is a league system, ranked matches along with replay/spectator features for newcomers to learn the ropes and nuances of the game. There are both individual and team-based setups available for up to four players locally, allowing for either 2v2 cooperative or free-for-all competitive matches. There's a wealth of options, such as nearly 50 different maps and 12 races of warrior to choose from, each with their own moveset and special abilities. Whether you stick with protagonists Rudo and Kenor or opt for someone more exotic like the alien Cree, who possess teleportation and invisibility, there’s plenty to experiment with.
A sumptuous feast in multiplayer, but a bit bland and monotonous when going solo, Mushroom Wars 2 is nonetheless an accessible and deep and enjoyable real-time strategy experience. There is plenty to dig into, especially if you enter the online competitive arena. Although the game does show it's mobile roots on occasion as the single-player campaign is ironically ’by the numbers’, Mushroom Wars 2 is definitely a dish best served cold, and with a group of fun guys or gals.