Inside Pulse 12

Review: Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi (Nintendo DS)

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Developer: Red Fly Studios
Publisher: South Peak Games
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 12/02/2008

I’m a sucker for a good concept. Even though I had been burned by Insecticide, I decided to give publisher Gamecock Media another chance when I saw that they were going to release Mushroom Men. This game seems a lot simpler in practice. It was going to be a 2D action platformer that takes place in a world where fungi and various other floras have been granted life and now eke out a life by creating tools out of various human artifacts.

Flash forward to this month, and Gamecock is now a part of South Peak. Mushroom Men is out for both the Wii and DS. I got my greedy mitts on the DS game when it came out and now I can say with confidence that it isn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped, but it is better than I feared.

Story

After a strange comet passed over earth, several previously un-sentient species became self aware. As the game starts off, you’ll play a member of the Bolette tribe of mushrooms. Your tribe is merely trying to eke out an existence when it is attacked by a large swarm of mutated insects. While trying to chase them off, you come across members of the Amanita tribe. These mushrooms are militaristic in nature and offer to be the protectors of your village…..for a price. As often happens in these situations, a skirmish breaks out and you, the village’s only true warrior, are left without a home. The story then follow your character as he explores this newly mutated world and tries to figure out a way to save his village.

The setup of the world is very well done. The newly sentient creatures fashion homes and weapons out of various human artifacts. A razor and a match can be fashioned together to form a deadly pick axe. A shoe can become a mosquito hive. You get the idea. These little touches are all throughout the game and thanks to the plethora of species you encounter, the world is given a very immersive feel compared to other games of this type.
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The story is told mostly through text boxes and character portraits. Most of the time, these will occur while your character is on the field. However, several scenes happen between levels and some poor design choices make it hard to tell what’s going on. Most of the characters aren’t given names and it can be nearly impossible to tell who’s speaking at any given time. Your own character is nameless throughout the game and isn’t given the kind of attention he needs to flourish as a protagonist.

Still, the world is so well done that the story succeeds because of it. With some tweaks, it could have been truly great. As is, you’ll still be interested enough to see the game through to the end.

Graphics

This is one of those games that goes for 2D gameplay on a 3D field. Here, it actually works out for it. Environments are well colored and convey a sense of danger and intrigue. When you see the giant rabbit in the middle of a field with no cover and darkness all around, you’ll see what I mean. My favorite bit in the game would be the Evil Chamber. Here you fight an overgrown insect queen who lives in a pool of acid. The place actually looks like a throne room and was almost good enough to look at so that I would get distracted.

The character models aren’t the best I’ve seen. I guess you can’t really do that much with mushrooms. You can tell the concept was solid, but the main character just doesn’t look interesting. The Amanitas are the exception, as they are designed to carry weapons and they look pretty great. There’s nothing bad here, but it’s not enough to really stand out.

The animation is where it falls apart. If you use a normal three hit combo, it looks ok. If you attack in the air or use ranged attacks, the character doesn’t move right at all. In fact, after using a long range weapon, the character will freeze. I think this was supposed to represent him reloading, but instead he just stood there. I wasn’t impressed.

The backgrounds are great and really stand out on the DS. The art design helps carry the tone of the game. The art design is great and these are some of the best 3D graphics on the system. I can easily forgive the animation because of this. From a thematic point of view, there aren’t many better looking games on the DS.

Audio

The music has a really nice feel to it. The track that plays at the menu is particularly catchy. There isn’t a lot of variety to the music as a whole, but it never reaches the point where it becomes annoying.

However, the sound effects are suspect. There just aren’t enough of them. Combat is surprisingly quiet. I’ve hit enemies more times than I can count, but there often wasn’t a sound associated with a hit. When you’re hit, you get the same kind of “oof” sound that has been in just about every action game since the dawn of time.

There isn’t any voice acting at any point of the game. Everything is done with text. This isn’t really a problem, as I’d imagine trying to give voices to mushrooms might turn out a bit weird.

On the whole, the audio experience is adequate, if nothing spectacular.

Gameplay

Mushroom Men follows a bad trend that has plagued many a good DS game. It tries to use both the touch screen AND the fact buttons. The directional pad is for movement whereas the L button is used for jumping. The face buttons are used for both ranged and melee attacks. The stylus is used for special spore attacks. The spore attacks are actually pretty necessary if you want any hope of beating certain enemies, so you’re going to need to take your hand away from the attack buttons in order to use them. If you don’t already have the stylus ready in your hand, you’ll lose precious seconds as you struggle to switch how you hold the system. mushroommen2

Seriously, it’s nice that developers want to use the touch screen in their games, but if you’re going to do that, either make the whole game touch screen based or use those controls in concert with the D-pad. The player should never have to struggle between control schemes to use basic and required mechanics.

The game is best described as a 2D action platformer. Your goal is to traverse each level and defeat baddies while interaction with the environment. You have a map screen that shows you where you’ll need to go next at any given time. You can bring the map down to the bottom screen by tapping on an arrow. From there, you can interact with the map or any other part of the menu. You’ll be able to check your status, read up on enemies you’ve fought, upgrade your character, and manage your equipment. The latter part is the most interesting. You’ll pick up items in each level called scavs. Scavs can be combined together to create new weapons. For instance, the glass shard you picked up will be useless. However, if you combine it with a stick you can create an axe. The best weapons in the game can be acquired only through picking up scavs, so it’s important to keep tabs on what you have and what you can create at any given time. This isn’t as good as it sounds though. By the end of the game, I had dozens of items, but most were useless and created only weapons far weaker than the ones I had.

One thing that really ticked me off about the game was the flying enemies. If you didn’t have any ammo for a long ranged weapon, you would need to jump in the air and swipe at them. However, the enemies would often be in your way and you wouldn’t be able to jump very far. One time, I was literally stuck under about three bees that decided to follow me around. I couldn’t hit them at all thanks to the wonky hit detection, and they would hit me before I could use any spore powers. This kind of thing happened way too often.

Another problem comes when you have to ride on the back of a dragonfly. You have one attack and there is seemingly no way to hit anything with it. Standing still, the shot will fire at a downward trajectory. If you push down, you can shoot upwards, but there is no way to shoot straight in any direction. Fighting enemies during these sequences is a chore and often leads you to run back to get health half a dozen times.

Yet another concern comes into play whenever you try to use the grappling hook. What you’re supposed to do is tap the icon and then drag the stylus to wherever you want to grab onto. However, you can’t see what you need to attach the hook most of the time. That, and if you bump anything (ANYTHING), you will fall. This aspect of the game really needed more time to be fleshed out.mushroommen3

For the most part, the controls do work as advertised. Jumping around place to place and attacking usually gets the job done. Since everything has HP, you’re going to need to use strategy to attack. If you just run up and start wailing on an enemy, chances are you’re going to take more damage then him. You need to use your block, spore power, and ranged attacks in tandem to beat the toughest enemies. Having to switch between the stylus and face buttons is the game’s biggest problem. I really wish they wouldn’t have done that.

Replayability

Surprisingly enough, this game has pretty high replay value. You can play the game using one of three classes. There’s no difference in terms of story, but heavy, sage, and scout play very differently from each other. Heavies are very good at melee combat but are slow and cumbersome. Sages are more agile and use powerful spore attacks. Scouts can’t take a hit, but are incredibly fast and much better for the platforming sections.

Also, the scav system is set up so that you more than likely will end up with different weapons each time you play. So, while the levels will be the same, how you play through them will change each time.

The biggest addition is the multiplayer. Two players will be able to traverse the levels simultaneously. While you’ll have to wait for your partner to scroll through text, there is almost no slowdown. This can make beating some of the game’s tougher enemies much easier. If one player dies, he’ll respawn at the last save point, but only one player need reach the end to finish the level.

Each play through the main story will take you upwards of six hours. Play through with each class and a couple of times using Co-Op, and you’ll get a pretty good bang for your buck. Having three different classes to choose from definitely helps the game out here.

Balance

Woo boy. The review has been mostly positive until now.

First of all, the range of melee weapons sucks. It is incredibly hard to land a hit without taking damage. There are also enemies small enough that they can not be hit with the first swing of your combo. Those little buggers cost me so much life….mushroommen4

Ahem. Boss fights are another weak spot for the game. These guys are insanely powerful and often have a ridiculous amount of health. Most of them don’t have patterns, so they just charge at you and never let up. It’s very easy to get stuck in a corner and watch your life dissipate faster Sarah Palin’s credibility. However, there is usually one spot of the level that you can find if you get lucky. This one spot will be unreachable for the boss. From there, you can spam spore attacks until they’re dead. It was really ridiculous when I hopped over a spectator and the boss couldn’t get through him, but that’s what happens I guess.

Enemy respawn is the biggest problem the game has without a doubt. You can kill an enemy only to have it reappear seconds later if you went back a few steps. If you miss a jump and have to retrace a few steps, prepare to fight your way through a horde of enemies again. One time, I barely made it out of a boss fight only to find that an enemy had spawned right over the only nearby save point. I didn’t have the HP to fight him, so I died and had to fight the boss all over again. This kind of thing shouldn’t happen. What’s worse, sometimes the enemy won’t come back at all. I can’t tell if there is some hidden algorithm that randomly decides to generate enemies or what, but cussed the living hell out of this game multiple times.

There are way too many places where you can fall to your death. I know the game wants to be a platformer, but it seemed for every jump I made I missed another. I’m still trying to figure out how a two foot drop would kill a mushroom instantly.

All in all, the game has some serious balancing issues that hinder the over all experience and initially led me to believe the game was worse than it really was. I believe this was Red Fly’s first game, so I’ll chock it up to inexperience, but it’s something they really need to work on.

Originality

I can’t really give the game too many points for originality. While the world is unique, the premise itself isn’t. We’ve seen plenty of games where you play as something small and the perspective changes. Hell, in Harley’s Humongous Adventure for the SNES, you were a man who had been shrunk and had to go around fighting off insects with marbles.
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The scav system isn’t particularly new either. There are so many RPGs out there that have you combining items that it isn’t funny.

I’m not saying that the game is stealing from anything else. Overall it is still an impressive package that hasn’t been put together quite like this by anybody else.

Addictiveness

This is a hard game to get into. Thanks the awkward control scheme and balancing issues, I found myself disgusted with the game for the first couple of hours. I imagine a lot of players will play this for a while and then drop it. The game doesn’t make a first impression.

Still, once you get past the game’s problems, you’ll find a pretty good action game with more replay value than most in its genre. It’s just a shame that a lot of people won’t be able to get past the game’s opening moments.

Appeal Factor

One thing going against the game is that it seen as just a small cut down version of the Wii game: Spore Wars. In fact, this game leads up directly to that game. You don’t need to play this in order to enjoy the latter.

Still, the DS is home to a few lesser known titles like Mushroom Men. If there is an audience to be found, it is on Nintendo’s little handheld.

If you’re the kind of person who’s looking for a decent action/platformer, you could certainly do worse. If, however, you’ve yet to play games like Castlevania or New Super Mario Bros, those take precedence by far.

Miscellaneous

Much like Mister Slime earlier in the year, my initial impressions of Mushroom Men were very bleak indeed. At first, I thought this game was going to rival the likes of Insecticide and Unsolved Crimes as the worst game I had played all year. Thankfully, I was proven wrong.

It just goes to show you how you should play every game for more than a few minutes before forming a lasting opinion. While this game certainly needed more development times and for someone to play test it, it ended up being not that bad.

If you’re the kind of person who’s looking for a lesser known game to plow through, Mushroom Men should fit the bill.

The Scores

Story: Above Average
Graphics: Very Good
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Great
Balance: Very Poor
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable

Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack2While Rise of the Fungi certainly has more than its fair share of problems, players willing to dig a little deeper will find a challenging action game with far more depth then the usual fare. You’ll have to push past some awkward controls and bizarre balance problems, but Mushroom Men is good enough to warrant the purchase. It also offers more replay value than most games of its ilk on the DS. If you’ve got some extra cash, you might as well give it a try.

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