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Mushroom Men Attack Giant Bomb!

Ryan gets funky with fungus with his first look at Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars.

Mushroom mayhem!
Mushroom mayhem!
Of the handful of games that indie publisher Gamecock unveiled upon its initial launch, Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars was of most immediate interest to me, largely because of the game's striking concept art. The look was gloomy-yet-playful, but without the self-serious Tim Burton pretense. I hadn't heard much about the game following its initial announcement, but upon recently learning that Les Claypool of Primus would be providing some of the music in the game, my interest was renewed. The Gamecock guys rolled through the Giant Bomb offices yesterday, and in between beers, they gave me my first actual look at this Wii title.

There's a hint of 1950s sci-fi influence throughout Mushroom Men, starting with its story, which sees mushrooms and other lower life forms gaining sentience and some anthropomorphic qualities in the wake of a passing comet. While humans are oblivious to this development, the mushrooms start forming tribes, which leads to conflict between the different fungal factions. This is where you, as a mushroom man named Pax, come in.

As bizarre as it might sound to play as a newly self-aware mushroom, the gameplay doesn't seem quite as out-there. This is a third-person action adventure game that will feature what appears to be a fairly even blend of simple combat, platforming, and environmental puzzle-solving. You can flick the Wii remote about to perform some three-hit combo attacks, though what's most interesting about the combat is the weapons you'll arm Pax with. As you explore your environments, you'll collect all variety of human-made junk, from dog collars to razor blades, that you can combine in different ways. As a clever little nod, your starting weapon will be a DS stylus. Combine that with, say, a wad of gum and a thimble, and you've got yourself a decent weapon to bludgeon unfriendly spiders with.

The level I spent the most time exploring involved a sprawling kudzu vine being attacked by a pack of ruthless rabbits. A mushroom man on his own might not stand a chance in a head-on fight with a bloodshot bunny, so it's a good thing that Pax also has some telekinetic powers that he can use to manipulate specific objects in the environment. Using this skill I was able to dispatch the bunnies by knocking over a box fan, rolling a bowling ball off a high ledge, and dropping some weights onto them. Gamecock is aiming for a sub-T-for-Teen rating with Mushroom Men, though there's little question that the fates of these bunnies were permanent.

There's a fungus among us.
There's a fungus among us.
What I played of Mushroom Men felt competent, if a little familiar, but I think what's really going to make or break this game is how well it realizes the atmosphere established by that initial concept art. Being on the Wii, I had no illusions that the game would match that level of fidelity, but it still evokes a dark and fuzzy feel, they way a game about fungi ought to. Still, the Gamecock guys wanted to be clear that developer Red Fly is still working hard on fine-tuning the game's visuals. It was much easier to appreciate Mushroom Men's soundtrack at this point in development, and Les Claypool's brand of pinched, backwoods peculiarity seems like an excellent fit.

While the Gamecock guys stressed that they really felt this was a good match for a Nintendo console--a point I kind of agree with--they also didn't rule out the possibility of bringing the game to platforms like the Xbox 360. The game doesn't appear to do anything so radical with the Wii controls that it couldn't be handled by a standard gamepad, and I know I'd certainly like to see some of this game's assets presented at a higher resolution.

After the demo, Gamecock CEO Mike Wilson also gave us a sneak peek at an upcoming trailer for Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi for the DS, which will be an entirely different game from its Wii counterpart. From the trailer, it seemed that Rise of the Fungi maintained the same look and feel as The Spore Wars, sporting some good-for-the-DS polygonal graphics, though the action looked strictly 2D. I see some good potential in both of these titles, and will be curious to see how they turn out with a little more time in a dark, humid room.