Red Fly Studio began in 2005 with a handful of members from other development studios (Ion Storm and Retro Studios, to name a couple), all of whom wanted to step out of the norm of creating games for someone else and develop something they wanted to see done. Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars was that brainchild, and now, nearly four years later, Red Fly has released the title . . . with relatively remarkable results.
It's hard to deny that Mushroom Men has killer style. Becoming part of the world Red Fly has created is like stepping into a labyrinthine nightmare landscape complete with wacky takes on everyday objects—is that really the body of a woman built out of household appliances with a televised face strapped on? The issue is not with the wonderful art design or the colorful cast of characters and storyline, but rather the gameplay itself.
You take control of Pax, a good-natured bolete mushroom, in his quest to fight the "poisonous" (read: "bad") mushrooms and recover a meteor to aid his village. That may be easier said than done, however, as you soon discover that every time you come near one of these meteors, you absorb it! You'll have to lead Pax further from his home in an effort to secure a meteor he can actually return to his village in one piece. Fortunately, Pax can harness telekinetic abilities to aid his quest, as well as create a multitude of weapons from "scav" he finds lying about each level. As an example, collecting a PDA pointer, a thimble, and a wad of gum allows Pax to create "The Iron Thumb", a hammer-like weapon that ranks low but still packs a punch. Like any worthy platform game, Mushroom Men includes special items in each level that, when collected, unlock hidden art and other bonuses in the game's main menu screen.
So, where does the hype lose its flavor and the gameplay issues come to light? Well, it's not to say Mushroom Men isn't fun to play, but the quirky combat coupled with the lackluster platform jumping nature of the game don't do it justice. There is nothing wrong with a solid platform game, but Mushroom Men manages nothing more than to ensure the controls are in working order. There are also plenty of cliches to be seen within the levels (like hitting Item A to make it fall on Enemy B). As for the combat, expect to flail the Wii controller wildly about with anyone's guess as to whether you'll hit or miss, and you might as well throw accuracy out the window. The developers could have spent a lot more time ensuring that their mushroom man actually wielded his weapons to some effect, rather than making him fight like a toadstool in a high wind.
Also, the collection of "scav" to create weapons is a nice touch, but you will hardly ever need to worry about mixing and matching weapons, as your most recent creation is probably the strongest. While this is a welcome aspect for the player that would rather not invest time in sorting through the multiple weapons available, it doesn't reward the player that enjoys having varying options. This is an issue that has prevailed in other games (like the recent Too Human for the Xbox 360) and it really detracts from the difficulty of a game. Some may consider this a blessing, but for the hardcore gamer that beats a game in under ten hours and then wonders what to do until his next paycheck, it is a sin.
So besides these few nits, what does Mushroom Men do right? Well, everything. As noted before, the developers have done an astounding job creating a real-world environment that is a composite jumble of everyday objects. The storyline is relevant to the characters and plays out as though it was written to the game rather than being thrown in as a second thought. As an added bonus to the lush environments and kooky level design, the musical score, albeit simple, fits the game like a conjoined twin. You will find that heading through a repeat level to find that long-lost meteor or rabbit's foot is a little easier when all of your senses are being pampered.
There was a lot of hype behind Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars. Whether it was because Red Fly Studio had just come to fruition, or because the game's premise was so unique, may never be known, but gamers can rest assured that it's not all puffed up media or beginner's luck. Mushroom Men lands on the Wii console with some solid ground to back it up, and despite a few hiccups along the way, its platform-hopping debut should not go down without a peek or two from curious bystanders. It's not tomfoolery. Honest.