Back at E3 2008, I had a chance encounter with Gamecock and Red Fly Studios, who graciously let me see what they had been up to. The platform genre of games used to be a staple of the industry and up until about the end of the Nintendo 64 and Playstation era, You could find dozens of different attempts at besting the Mario franchise or at least offering a different take on it. Somewhere along the way this last generation, the genre seemed to all but disappear save for a few notable exceptions, and with the current generation, the traditional 3D platformer has all but dried up. Thankfully, Red Fly remembers the golden days and has delivered Wii one of its better original offerings on the system. You may not know who Red Fly is now, but trust me, you should. Not only do they have a standout debut game, but they are responsible for the Wii version of next summer's highly anticipated "Ghostbusters: The Video Game" .
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars offers a twisted tale of a meteorite crashing into the Texas countryside. Scientists quickly write off any affect of the comet or its green space dust -- luckily for us, science was wrong. The Spore Wars tells the tale of nearby plant life becoming sentient creatures, while infecting the local animal life and driving them mad. As foretold by the DS prequel, the Mushrooms formed tribes based on their species and soon waged war on each other. You play as Pax, the lone survivor of a tarnished tribe wandering the wild lands and discovering you have the ability to absorb meteorite chunks and draw strength from them. Your journey will take you through a myriad of locals based off real life buildings that have become the mines and fortresses of the mushroom tribes. The story and artwork alone sure beat the shit out of similar movies such as "Antz" and "A Bugs life" and you will notice particularly brutal moments of the game such as dropping a box fan onto a rabbit or impaling a star-nosed mole rat with a piece of wood with nails through it.
The graphics of Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars are instantly colorful and reminscent of the cult classic "Psychonauts".The Spore Wars offers even better color and lighting thanks to the added horsepower of the Wii. Although being three inches tall would naturally lead to a distorted perspective, the game eschews a more stylized look of the real world, which works much more in the favor of Wii and really hides the graphical shortcomings the Wii has.
The soundtrack is promoted to be by Les Claypool, but the reality is, The Spore Wars is a collaboration of Les Claypool, Gl33k, and Mike Behrman. Les Claypool composed the main theme as well as the themes for each mushroom tribe and they sound suitably weird as you would want. Gl33k composed much of the level music and has some really nice boss themes. Mike Behrman composed the music for the mini games you encounter and they sound just like classic NES tunes. If you're a fan of the retro sounds of the 80s then Behrman's music will be right up your alley.
Any good platformer can be measured instantly at first by its control. Mushroom Men:The Spore Wars thankfully has a solid control scheme. The gliding move is not only useful but a fun and quick way to travel through the levels. Interestingly enough, the game uses the Phys-X engine when you use your spore powers to lift and throw objects. This adds a whole extra dimension to combat and puzzle solving and feels a lot like you're playing as a three-inch jedi. As you travel through the levels, you will find toy capsules from vending machines. Inside you will find bits and pieces of random junk that can be combined to form one of four different types of weapons. Unlike the DS version, The Spore Wars will instantly let you know when you have enough parts to make a new weapon, and with one click on the weapon screen you can assemble it painlessly. Every so often the game will throw random mini games in that are based of classic titles such as a Donkey Kong inspired game called "Egg Jumper" and turret style shooting galleries. These events are highlighted by awesome-sounding NES era music, as noted earlier. The Spore Wars follows a linear progression instead of a hub world. Thankfully, you can reload past levels and the game has a autosave function within the levels as well. Each level contains special trinkets that can be found to unlock artwork in the gallery which also contains a separate collection of mini games and a juke box. Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is not very long, but it also ends on a high note without wearing out its welcome to soon. It definitely follows the rule of having a good short game rather then watering down the experience by dragging it out to long.
If there is a major downfall in the game, it would be the camera. It feels great to have full control over it at all times, unlike Mario Galaxy; however, it has its drawbacks. The main problem is the fact that the camera isn't dynamic and doesn't follow Pax -- rather it stays wherever the player last left it. This can become a major headache in the heat of battle, especially when using a piercing weapon in the air. Pax will fly forward towards whatever direction he is facing and oftentimes he will fly right out of the view of the screen. If there is one thing a sequel could use, it would be an improved camera system.
Final Verdict - 8/10
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is one of the only bright spots on a dismal second half of 2008 for the Wii. It is exactly the kind of game the Wii needs more of and what people should buy. As far as completely original ground-up third party titles made for the Wii, Mushroom Men is one of the few good titles available. Red Fly Studios has definitely succeeded on its goal to be one of the premiere third party developers on the system and hopefully gamers will be lucky enough to see an encore performance.