While not flawless, Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is one of the best 3D platformers on the Wii.
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is set in a dark and vivacious world where mushrooms have become sentient after being sprayed by green dust from a crashed meteor. After becoming conscious, all the different types of mushrooms engage in war. While it is a little short at six hours, Red Fly Studios' inaugural Wii game is a fantastic 3D platformer with amazing music, wonderful art direction, solid puzzles, and a great sense of exploration.
The main character is Pax from the peaceful Bolete tribe who, after accidentally absorbing his tribe's beloved meteorite, goes on a quest to find a replacement meteorite. Much to his dismay, he continues to absorb every meteorite he comes in contact with and gets thrust into the Spore Wars— the ongoing struggle between the aggressive Amanita and the kindly Morels. As Pax goes on his short nine-chapter quest, he runs into the other mushroom tribes (the Morels, the Amanita, the mysterious Lepiota, and the monk-like Shiitake), mutated animals (rabbits, moles, opossums, etc.), and sentient plants (e.g. kudzu and cacti).
As you collect meteorites, you increase your maximum health and spore powers. Pax's spore powers, controlled with the pointer and B button, vary from Sporekinesis, which allows Pax to remove barriers or use items as weapons, to Will of the Spores, which allows him to use plants as moving platforms, among other things. The health meter, much like the recent game Dead Space, uses a visual cue on your character's body to reveal how much health he has. Every time you get hit by an enemy, a slice of your cap is removed. When your mushroom brains are exposed, you've got one hit before you're toast. However, there isn't much of a penalty for dying, as you respawn in the same room.
While the graphics and art direction are a delightful mixture of creepiness and energy, they aren't perfect: the world is a shade too dark in some places, and the locales, save for the final level, look similar. Regardless, the entire game oozes character and style. From the sticky-hand grappling hook to the various man-made appliances (as seen from the perspective of an anthropomorphic mushroom), Mushroom Men is abundant with humorous real-world references. The game's atmosphere harkens back to the Oddworld series, except there are no fart jokes.
The spirited art direction is accentuated by the fantastic music by Primus' Les Claypool and veteran video game music studio, Gl33k. The bass-heavy music fits the game perfectly and even changes as you progress through each level.
An early level explicitly tells the player to explore the environment, and that is where the game shines. Some levels are a bit linear, but the levels with bigger environments are spectacular. Thanks to the phenomenal art direction and music, the levels are a joy to explore— especially the climatic finale in a trailer home.
While The Spore Wars isn't focused on puzzles, there are few fun ones that involve sliding tiles or require you to use Sporekinesis deftly. There are also a few mini-games that show up during the main quest. In one level, you have to take control of a large crossbow and shoot oncoming Amanita forces, while another level has you jumping over eggs as if they were barrels in Donkey Kong. In addition to these, there are also a few mini-games that can only be accessed outside of the main game, such as Pachinko and Catapult. These mini-games are entertaining but lack substance; thankfully, they only show up a few times.
The combat is very straightforward and consists of swinging the Wii remote to use whatever weapon you're carrying. You push the Z button to block and the C button in conjunction with the analog stick to roll. While the combat is simple, it isn’t bad, and what it lacks in depth it makes up in creativity with the weapon designs.
Constructed from household items that you find throughout the levels, the weapons are split into four categories: bashing, slashing, piercing, and radical. Each one sports a humorous name and unique construction. For example, Beat’em Down Scottie is comprised of a smoking pipe, a toy dog figurine, and some rubber cement. Despite that creativity, each weapon in a group shares only one attack pattern. The only disparity is the radical group, in which there are four different weapons: a flamethrower, a bug zapper, and two saw blade weapons. Radical weapons require ammo and limit Pax’s movement, but they are very powerful.
My only real issue with the game is its inconvenient camera. While you can center the camera behind Pax by pushing the minus button, it often doesn't work as it should. You're better off using the D-pad, which rotates the camera around the player. This can get frustrating, since the camera doesn't move quickly enough for the player in some spots. However, thanks to the very forgiving block mechanic (you can hold the Z button indefinitely without any damage being dealt) and the slower pace of the exploration, the camera never becomes a game-breaker: it can always be corrected with minimal effort.
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars proves that interesting level design, great art direction, and superb music can help a game overcome other issues. The camera is tough to manage and combat is a little monotonous, but the rest of the game more than makes up for its miscues.