I never really took notice of Mushroom Men until I saw the announcement stating bassist Les Claypool would be providing music tracks for the game. I was intrigued to say the least, and I finally got a chance to get some hands-on time with it over the weekend. Lead Programmer James Clarendon of Red Fly Studios was also on hand to talk a bit about the development process. The main point he hammered home to me was how much this game was intent on bringing back the hardcore Wii audience.
This first thing this game reminded me of was the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Since the main character, Pax, is a tiny mushroom, the environments consist of giant-sized household objects, like Popsicle sticks and bottle caps. It certainly added uniqueness to the levels and, at times, even provided a good chuckle. All the structures and houses are made from some type of garbage.
There's a solid mix of platforming and exploration going on here. There are times when you'll be directed down a linear path, or given a bit more freedom in some open, sandbox-y type areas. There's also a levitation ability Pax can use to move objects out the way that are blocking paths, or use the Lost Planet-like grappling hook to get to higher ground. It's surprisingly deep with the amount of abilities you get.
Something Clarendon highlighted was the game's use of synesthesia, which links visual elements to the music. For example, water dripping will be in sync with the background drum beat. I couldn't actually confirm how awesome this was because the only thing I could hear at the time were loud, annoying people and Daft Punk over the loudspeaker. Here's word of advice: Don't ever try to demo games at a press party.
The one thing that didn't sit well with me was the combat. The game, unfortunately, suffers from the same problem I think a lot of action Wii games have when it comes to motion controls. To swing one of your many available weapons in the game requires you to randomly waggle the Wii-mote left and right. It's not precise and it's certainly not 1:1. For me, I'd rather just have a button to push to swing my weapon, in this case, a toothpick with bent paperclips tied to it.
Mushroom Men also has a good game length. Clarendon said it will take between 12-15 hours to complete everything your first time through. He said it takes him around seven nowadays, but that's coming from someone who, you know, made the game.
I'm sure there's plenty of Wii owners out there looking for a solid, original IP, so I think this game will be one you'll want to at least rent and give it a try. No, this isn't the next Super Mario Galaxy, but there's a lot of depth here and I think fans looking for an excuse to dust off their Wii might finally have one.