gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars – Wii

Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars - Nintendo Wii - box artReview by Johnus Maximus

When a strange meteor crash lands on Earth a new breed of platform gaming characters are born – the Mushroom Men. Released in March for the Nintendo Wii, The Spore Wars tells the tale of Pax, a small town fungus forced to become an unlikely hero in a civil war.

Developed by Red Fly Studio and published by SouthPeak Games, this game doesn’t really cover any new ground as far as platform gaming is concerned, but is a really enjoyable game with a truly unique style.

When strange meteors hurtle past Earth there is some initial panic, but when scientists declare there to be no threat they were not aware that the world around them was changing. Some plants and animals were becoming mutated by tiny meteor fragments and out of the undergrowth several species of mushroom were gaining consciousness, evolving and forming communities. At first there is peace, but soon a shadowy fungus incites civil war, intending to claim the powerful meteor fragments for himself.

Although the plot in this game sounds like something out of a tacky 1980’s straight-to-video B movie, to Gamecocks credit they have built a world around it that fits the scenario very well, straight away you get to see shanty towns built from human rubbish replete with parodies of real world items that fans of the GTA franchise would be proud of, such as the “Jello Kitty” lunchbox, “Spite lemonade” bottle caps and the “RPG Joe” bubblegum wrappers.

Screenshot - Mushroom Men - Nintendo Wii - Pax and Kudzu
Pax, the bolete hero and Kudzu, the overgrown vine

As with all good games the first level is the tutorial level, where a village elder gives you the lowdown on the controls, which are fairly simple. Movement is controlled by the analogue stick on the nunchuk, the camera is controlled by the wiimote directional buttons, the A button makes you jump and double press with hold lets you float, and waggling the wiimote makes you attack things.

Another power at Pax’s disposal is “sporekinesis”, essentially this games version of “the force” from Star Wars. Aiming at certain onscreen targets with the wiimote and then pressing the B button will allow Pax to interact with them, either by picking up and moving them around (great for killing enemies at a distance) or by activating switches. Probably the best feature is the sticky hand, a very retro toy which allows you to cross great distances.

Screenshot - Mushroom Men - Nintendo Wii - Solving a puzzle with Sporekinesis
Using Sporekinesis, you can solve rudimentary puzzles

Within each level there are objectives you must meet, presented to you as kind of movie poster with each objective silhouetted until you complete them. Doing so involves a certain amount of exploration and problem solving as is the case with most platform games there is nothing really difficult about this, the main problems you will have are controlling both movement and camera as you try to quickly jump from one platform to another that is positioned slightly differently.

The combat in the game is also relatively simple, there are three attack styles you can use depending on the weapon you have equipped – slashing, bashing and thrusting. For each enemy there is a particular style best suited to dispatching them, although there usually isn’t any repercussion when using the “wrong” styles, you can just keep swinging the Wiimote and eventually the enemy will stumble into your attack path anyway.

Screenshot - Mushroom Men - Nintendo Wii - Pax faces a larger foe
Pax faces off against an Amanita brute

The vast range of customisable weaponry does go some way toward alleviating the tediousness of the combat though. Scattered throughout the levels, sometimes in really sneaky places, are what appear to be Kinder eggs, little plastic balls that when opened reveal an irrelevant item such as bubblegum, a corn on the cob holder or a pencil. While each on its own holds little value to your quest, there are several combinations that can be combined to make some fantastic weaponry.

The music in the game needs mentioning as it is quite quirky and unlike any game soundtrack I’ve heard before thanks to its metronomic base. I won’t try to invent a genre for it, but it’s safe to say that it totally fits with the bizarre B-movie scenario. The majority of it was created by Gl33k, a studio based out of Austin, Texas but there was also collaboration with Les Claypool of Primus fame.

Screenshot - Mushroom Men - Nintendo Wii - Pax and the giant rat boss
Where’s a giant mutated piece of cheese when you need one?

The Spore Wars is a relatively short game, I had finished the story in less than five hours, mainly due to the simplistic nature of the puzzle and the combat. However, the game does offer a lot of hidden extras, I had only managed to unlock approximately half of the customisable weaponry and about two thirds of the missing meteor fragments and unlockable artwork. So there is something to warrant replayablility, albeit quite a limited attraction.

There is also the facility to allow a second player to join in, although their contribution is merely limited to another set of crosshairs for the Sporekinesis abilities. If someone is watching you play then this can help to keep their interest, but overall doesn’t add much to the gameplay. Likewise the minigames tacked onto the options menu are just far too short to be interesting.

I think that Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is really worth taking a look at if you like platform games. The commitment by the developers to create a consistent and stylised environment sets this apart from a lot of the shiitake available on the Wii.

The Spore Wars scores three and a half mutated puffballs out of five

Three and a half stars

Saturday, May 9th, 2009, Computer Gaming, Wii.