"It’s kooky and competent, making exploring the well realised settings enjoyable and, though Pax doesn’t bring anything new to the plate, he’s still a fun addition to anyone‘s library."
Pax’s fate-enforced pilgrimage away from his doomed clan is presented to players through a wonderfully kitsch-heavy War of the Worlds-esque monologue that revels in its 1980’s B-movie brilliance, showing still frames of a disaster Pax doesn’t know about and can’t understand. He’s just a simple mushroom, after all, given sentient life by a mysterious alien comet that’s played havoc with the wildlife and given rise to a brutal civil war between the fungus men. The war is relentless, many have perished and Pax is all on his own.
It’s a rather sobering start to a game centred around a mushroom protagonist, and it’s a prevalent theme throughout Pax’s adventure. There’s a comic-book darkness that lends itself to the presentation; day-glo, pupil-less eyes and radioactive green veins characterise the mutated mushrooms that do battle with crazed moles and scattering rodents driven long insane by otherworldly measures while the atypical soundtrack makes great employment of unusual and jarring noise for commendable atmospheric effect.
Carrying on the trend, the environments are cleverly constructed from everyday items that would appear more grand if you’re only three inches tall. Entire towns are made from objects you’ll see in a whole new light; a city abuses the supporting strength of a gumball machine with catwalks constructed from scrap wood and rusting political campaign badges while others make their homes from cereal boxes, bits of glass bottle and anything that can be salvaged and recycled into a house, encampment, or a cunning catapult trap designed to smash in the skull of a hulking boss mole who hurls boulders while his dreadlocked mane bushels around his snarling snout during his numerous bellows.
Acquire your first real taste of action (right after the obligatory tutorial housed in a nomad village) and you find yourself travelling through a series of claustrophobic underground tunnels in search for a replaced meteorite shard Pax unknowing absorbed. Here, you’ll find your little mushroom has all kinds of little tricks up his sleeve. Attacking is clumsy, thanks to an almost obligatory effort to tie it in to the wiimote, so you slash and smash whatever lies ahead with frantic pad waving, which often leads combat into panic-fuelled pad-flopping as Pax prods and pokes his makeshift weapon in a sometimes fruitless attempt to ward off foes. Should he try to take them out from afar with his clever spore-kinesis, which allows him to telepathically control any object with a fungal growth residing on it, then the lack of lock on and further emphases on inaccurate waggling ensures that hitting the target is more luck than judgment.
The twisting mine tunnels are far from linear, offering numerous pathways to explore and hidden allies that might lead to a chunk of strength-boosting meteor hidden behind a holding cell made of pencils or a gumball egg that, when smashed, can grant you a simple prize like gum or thread which, in turn, can be used to construct one of many weapons like a bladed staff, a warhammer or a fuel-guzzling circular saw. Carts made from hollowed-out tin cans line home-made tracks that can be ridden over scatty mice with a telekinetic nudge and Pax’s ability to use his mushroom cap to glide is put to the test should you want to reach every hidden corner and secret cranny. As he progresses and takes damages, instead of a life bar, the same cap will start to deteriorate, exposing his soft, squishy brain for even the weakest of attacks to deliver a finishing blow to. You need new organic substance from dying plants or animal corpses to regrow you fungus helmet and bolster back your armour.
With insane rodents driven homicidal by the meteor fragments running wild within the mines, it’s a shame your biggest threat is a dodgy camera, but Pax will still claw his way above ground and make his way towards the second location. Then marvel at just how much bigger it is.
Inside a dilapidated house, he searches for a sage to guide him, Pax is made prisoner by sentient vines that bar his exit and will not allow him back into the world until he disposes of the mammoth rabbits nibbling constantly with cracked and rotting yellow teeth at their roots. These can be seen off with clumsy attacks and a quickly-offered prayer, or by tricking them into certain locations and dropping something heavy on their heads like a fan balanced on a soggy pile of books or a shovel hanging from a ceiling hook. All the while he needs to avoid skittering spiders who move with arachnid speed and attack with dangerous spindly legs, or performing precise jumps and using a new-found power to hurl a silly putty hand around the scenery, using it as a grappling hook to reach headier heights. The house is a huge open stage, allowing you access from anywhere from the floor to the interlinking shelves to the rotting rafters and beyond. Nudge a well out-of-date bag of peas aside, and explore the frozen innards of an abandoned chest freezer or try to avoid the contents of a split box of rotten eggs as the roll down a series of wooden slopes designed to give you as little room to manoeuvre as they can. Items pedestrian to us, a steel-backed chair, a forgotten lawnmower, become mountains to Pax. Lost baseballs, dishevelled Wellington boots; these things become potential weapons. The unwieldy kinesis can be made more employable by a second player taking exclusive control of that skill on a second pad in an appreciated inclusion.
Then the game ends just as it begins. Mushroom Men: Spore Wars is not a big game, nor is it a perfect one. It has its fair share of flaws, most of these tie in to the genre, the rest depressingly common on its gaming platform of choice, but it enjoys a fantastic setting carried out with commendable attention to detail. It’s kooky and competent, making exploring the well realised settings enjoyable and, though Pax doesn’t bring anything new to the plate, he’s still a fun addition to anyone‘s library.
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