In the short time (five to eight hours) that I spent with Red Fly Studio’s Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi for Nintendo DS, I spoke aloud curse words that I didn’t even know I knew, almost broke my console in half, and just about gave up.  I also jammed to some good music, tried out three classes of talking mushrooms, and beat a giant spider to death with a CO2 cartridge attached to a stick.  I’d say it equaled out fairly nicely.

The game starts with a meteoroid crashing to Earth.  Dust from the now meteorite sprinkles onto the ground, giving sentience to some rather surly creatures (wasps, cockroaches, worms), as well as our hero, Pax.  Pax is of the Bolete tribe, and only one of many types of mushrooms who’ve now grown eyes, ears, hands, feet, and vocal cords.  Your first task as a newly coherent mushroom warrior is to gather food for another local tribe, the Amanita Order.  While you are meandering through this level, you are also charged with saving a few of the Amanitas from insect-induced annihilation.  Throughout the game, you will run into a slew of characters affected by the mutating space dust.  These creatures, among many others, include the scientific inventors:  the hermitic Morels.  Using tiny weapons and gadgets, prepare yourself to fight across a multitude of platform levels while you dodge mohawked wasps, heat-driven spiders, and multi-skilled militant mushrooms.

At the beginning of the game, you choose one of three classes: Heavy (Warrior), Sage (Mage), or Scout (Archer).  Heavy will focus on melee combat, while Scout is more proficient in ranged attacks.  The Sage class uses spore powers to fight the baddies.  With a swipe of your stylus on the bottom touch screen, your character produces attacks that can dispense enemies and objects, as well as hurt opponents.  Throughout the game, you collect small canisters of mutagen.  These canisters add skill points that Pax can use to upgrade his abilities.  Each point can be added into one of four sets: health (how much you have), spore power (your mana pool), strength (damage caused), and speed (movement and attack).  Using bits of string, screws, needles, sticks, and various other implements you find from the fallen bodies of your baddie brethren, you craft weapons to also aid you in your quests.  A wrench and a piece of string make a good apparatus for slinging wooden beads at an approaching wasp.  You also have ample opportunity to slay a spider with a CO2 cartridge on a stick.  Thanks to a handy spot next to your inventory screen, you know what that spider’s weaknesses are, and can exploit them.  When this icon is tapped by the stylus, you acquire all of the information you need to know about the enemy.  You see its weakness(es) and attack focus, giving you everything you need to craft the perfect weapon to combat the enemy.  Your only charge after that is deciding how to properly utilize that weapon on a boss.

Boss fights are one thing that MM:RotF does a mediocre job at.  Through one boss fight, you need a good weapon and your sharpest wits.  You use those wits (and a few respawns) to figure out the enemy’s tactics, solve the puzzle, and reign victorious.  In the next battle, however, several respawns are spent just trying to work out the special way to win, only to discover that all you have to do is jump at the right time and mash your buttons to oblivion.

That is only the top of the puzzle list, however.  Periodically throughout the game, a floating jigsaw piece will appear.  By arranging certain parts of an item, you unlock the ability to progress.  For example, by placing the given pieces in perfect order under the time limit provided, Pax is given a leaf to grab onto, thus slowing his descent to the forest floor, avoiding a sure-death experience.

A major draw for me was the game’s soundtrack.  With original music from Les Claypool of Primus, possessing an amassment of funky tunes to cruise around the forest to is not an issue.  The rest of the sounds of the game fall short of spectacular, but thanks to Mr. Claypool, all is forgiven.

The in-game graphics are decent, especially for the original DS, aside from some color issues that I will delve into shortly.  What I like about the visuals are the comic book panels used to tell the main story.  There are no real cinemas, just a gorgeously illustrated, graphic novel-esque story presented in panel form.

The difficulty of this game waivers a little at times, but mostly stays fairly true to its nature.  Unfortunately for most (myself included), though, that means that it is pretty hard.  Fortunately for me, there’s no continue cap.  Part of the difficulty lies in the aforementioned boss puzzles, part lies in level puzzles, and part also lies in the frustratingly (and perhaps strategically) placed save points.  At some spots the save points are plentiful, almost daring you to skip one; but mostly, they are just absent.  This causes enough replay through the levels that you start to memorize the layouts fairly quickly.  I believe the save points to be brilliantly placed, and am making that my X Factor for this game.

There were a few instances throughout the game that left me wishing for brighter colors.  The earthy tones are welcomed, and I understand the meaning behind them (they’re mushrooms from the earth!), however, the colors could have been just a bit louder.  The dullness results too often in a meshing of colors as you’re climbing to the top of a log, via sporadically placed platforms that all look exactly like the back drop.  It usually ends with a missed ledge and a respawn at the last save point.

The other issue I have is the constant use of the stylus to swap between screens to access the inventory, map, and skill screen.  Occasionally you need to tap on each individual screen to accomplish a different task (ranged shots, puzzle pieces, etc…) However, I would have preferred a designated trigger button for the swap, so I could put down my stylus while I played the majority of the game.

That being said, though, there’s really not a lot to complain about in this game.  The controls work pretty responsively, the graphics are decent for a DS game, the music is great, and the RPG elements give you several options to go and experiment with.  Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi is a slightly above average platformer that left me wanting to continue the somewhat unique story in the Nintendo Wii sequel:  Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars.

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