The time between the end-of-year holiday rush and the new slew of first quarter releases is normally a dark one, where gamers wait for their wallets to fatten once again in order to greedily attack the next wave of fun. That’s not the case this year though, as SouthPeak games released “Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars” in December, priming it for status as a sleeper hit.

A meteor has hit Earth, and the dust released from it has brought much of the plant life to a new level of living where they can now walk, talk and think. As the title implies, you are concerned mostly with mushrooms; those that are safe for humans to eat are the good guys, while the ones who are poisonous are your enemies.

Dec. 2, 2008

You play as Pax, and your story begins with you training in a village of Bolete ‘shrooms. You accidentally absorb a piece of the meteor that hit, and go on a quest to find a piece of meteor that you will not absorb. Since collecting meteor pieces is an objective, it’s clear from the outset that you will not find a piece like that for a long time.

The gameplay in Spore Wars is simple, as it’s a 3D platformer with basic running and jumping. There are occasional puzzles that you need to solve, whether it’s clearing a room of enemies, dealing with the environment or fixing broken machinery, and much of your time will also be spent in battle. If you are not into flicking your Wii Remote, then you might not enjoy the combat that much, though the controls do work effectively.

The camera control could have been better, but it’s not a problem in battles-especially not boss battles, where the action is often zoomed out for a better view-and is instead the kind of thing that will make you fall off of a platform. Thankfully, the areas you traverse are not bottomless pits where lives are wasted, and if you do happen to die, you just respawn at the closest checkpoint. You may also get lost on occasion, as the game does not give you explicit directions on what your objectives are. Some players may not mind this, but for those who like a bit more structure in their missions, they may get annoyed.

You do get to build all of your weaponry based off of parts that you find strewn across the levels. Not all of these pieces are in broad daylight either, as many require exploration of every nook and cranny in a room. The rooms are huge too; remember, you’re a mushroom in a man’s world. The game lets you know when you have collected all of the parts for a weapon, and then you can use it. There are different weapon types, each with its own specialty and group of enemies that are weak to it. Some weapons also need ammunition, whether it’s something to keep your flamethrower going or batteries for your saw blades.

The weapons you find at first are weak, but you will build stronger ones as the game progresses, and you will need them. Boss fights in Mushroom Men are incredible, and may be the highlight of the gameplay. Though much of the running and jumping platforming elements won’t offer anything new that you haven’t played in old-school 3D games, the boss fights will make you pleased with your purchase. They require thought and some strategy, which is nice in an age where many boss fights take an uninspired “bigger = better” approach.

There’s a glue that holds Mushroom Men together outside of the gameplay, and it’s a strong one. The art style and presentation are on a level that beats out many games from this generation. Sure, as a Wii game, the graphics are not on par with something from the more powerful boxes, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

The concept art you unlock is amazing to look at, and captures the essence of what Mushroom Men is about. The levels are crafted with love and infused with the idea of Mushroom Men, the game universe. The little touches are everywhere, such as when Pax takes damage and his mushroom cap begins to fall off, revealing his sentient ‘shroom brain below. You have to play it to see what I’m going on about, but you will understand once you experience it yourself.

Les Claypool composed much of the game’s soundtrack, and if you are familiar with his work with Primus (or any number of side-projects) you know you’re in for something that’s both incredibly catchy and appropriately weird. In addition to that, the music and sound design group Gl33k developed a metronome based audio system that turns your environment into one giant instrument. This sound is much like Claypool’s work, and keeps the Mushroom Men mood going throughout the game whenever his tunes are missing.

Essentially, what you have is a standard 3D platformer with solid gameplay, great boss battles, incredible art direction, and sound that will pull you deeper into the experience. Those last three items are enough to lift this from an average platformer into the realm of something better; though not quite the best platformer on the system this year, it’s up there, and should be experienced by all Wii owners.

About The Author

Marc Normandin was gaming editor of Blast from 2008 to mid-2010. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @Marc_Normandin

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