There are certain types of games that strut with a swagger, backing every step up with substance, variety and finesse. Then there are those ‘other’ games that march, chins held up high, but lack the confidence to back up their gaudy walk. They’re called one-trick, all hype, no show ponies.
Mushroom Wars, a cartoony real-time strategy (RTS) title released on the PlayStation Network (PSN), walks a flashy line. While it ostensibly is a game based on strategy, there’s something about Mushroom Wars that makes it more brawn than brains. It’s not spectacular, but that’s not the question. The question is that for the $9.99 price it’s pitching, does it offer enough of a stride?
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mushroom Wars is what you dug from the screenshots; it’s style of art. Despite the differences in gameplay, PixelJunk Monsters and the aforementioned title are aesthetically similar. Menus are simplified to square bubbles, the Campaign map doesn’t exactly spell complexity and the presentation never clutters enough to kill the good vibe Creat Studios has crafted. Mixing bright, primary-coloured paint with an anime-inspired direction, the game never loses its charm while you’re busy slaughtering the other team’s bases.
As you progress through the various battles, you’ll discover that more and more of your bases can be used for multiple purposes. The forts, military bases and typical mushroom housing all look distinct to each other. Whether you’re on the blue, pink, green or (most likely) the orange team, the hubs on each team are all differently designed. Painted with pastel-coloured crayons, Mushroom Wars undoubtedly captures a sense of charm that’s seldom seen on an accessible RTS game these days.
While console-based RTS games naturally suck in the controls department, Creat Studios were geniuses in remedying the problem. Pressing L1 brings up the Upgrades speech bubble, while R1 shoots up the arrow used to command your mushroom army. In the Upgrades mini-menu, the four face buttons represent how you can upgrade your bases, varying from catapult-firing forts to military bases that ‘roid up your army.
Sending your maddening mushrooms off to the fields is also just as intuitive. Hold R1 and (again) using the face buttons, it’ll send a portion of your militia walking, depending on how many percent of them you want to hike. I swear, in regards to the controls, that is it. In the heat of mushroom-on-mushroom genocide, you’ll be surprised to find your fiddly fingers frantically upgrading, reinforcing and pimping out your fungi empire right at the same time. However, despite these blissful, grin-filled memories, Mushroom Wars is not without its deep-seeded (get it?) problems.
One sore thumb that sticks out in particular is the lack of variety in the types of units you can deploy. Upon finishing the first clash of the Campaign mode, you get points based on how you did ‘out there’. Hitting the right notes, such as minimizing your army’s casualty or repeatedly taking over mushroom bases, gives you a title or rank the game labels you as; for example ‘Defender’. To my disappointment, these quirky, quaint characters dressed up as Spartans and Grim Reapers aren’t playable.
Instead of stronger, more badass Spartan mushrooms being unlocked we get our typical, run of the mill grunts. There’s a missed opportunity here, in the fact that so much more could’ve been added to flesh out the single player campaign. As it is, the game’s general lack of depth and tendency to play it safe will put some RTS-goers off.
For its asking price, you can certainly do better. The RTS genre isn’t an easy place to compete in, as you’re pretty much classed with the big boys; and that includes the Age of Empires and StarCraft series. Alright, comparing a PSN title to full-fledged PC beasts isn’t the fairest of comparisons, but that’s no excuse for it to fall behind iPhone’s Galcon either. While the space strategy app pales in comparison in terms of visuals, its gameplay mechanics are, to a certain extent, on par with Mushroom Wars.
For a tenth of the PSN title’s price, Galcon even offers online multiplayer, something which Mushroom Wars was unfortunately unable to implement into the experience. Perhaps this is the most noticeable, gaping disappointment the game has going for it. With a single player campaign that doesn’t have much of a narrative; some sort of three-way battle with other mushroom warriors online could’ve been its saving grace. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with a half-cooked strategy game that leaves much for improvement in the multiplayer department.
When it all comes down to it, Mushroom Wars is underwhelming. It walks a mean routine aesthetically, as there’s no doubt that it looks the part as a triple A PSN title. Unfortunately, behind all the facade, the pastel-coloured artwork, and all the evil mushrooms marching to their inevitable doom, Creat Studios’ latest just doesn’t do enough to warrant the $9.99 for most gamers out there.
While it boasts some of the finest artwork I’ve seen in an online title, the lack of upgrades and absence of an online multiplayer mode is disappointing. This half-baked and half-broiled mushroom isn’t going to prepare any meaty meals, but it certainly does enough to keep it away from being a festering fungus.
The game's art design is bright, bold and possesses brilliant artistic flair. It's definitely one of the most charming titles you'll see this PSN side of the fence.
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The gameplay is sufficient, but it's run-of-the-mill, and there's better RTS titles out there.
Sound effects are barely noticeable, but when you do hear them, you'll feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Unfortunately there's a lack of online multiplayer, but offline battles and a slew of campaign skirmishes help increase longevity.
Mushroom Wars is not the potent magic mushroom we were hoping for, but it does have its charming moments as a game that features evil, ready-to-kill fungi grunts.