Poison in Your Pocket
With the fourth quarter of every year typically being dominated by high profile sequels, it’s sometimes nice to see companies trying something new and different during this time.
Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars turned out to be a fairly quirky and original third-party title that garnered some positive attention when it was released for the Wii. Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi hit the DS and store shelves a little later and served as a prequel to its recently released console counterpart. Although both Nintendo consoles received a unique title in the Mushroom Men series, the DS certainly got the short end of the stick.
Whereas the platforming in The Spore Wars took place in a 3D world, Rise of the Fungi’s action can best be described as being 2.5D. All of the characters, objects, and environments in the game are polygonal models that commonly lack all but the most basic of details. However, just being rendered in 3D doesn’t help to distract players from the game’s completely linear level design and gameplay.
Much of this title’s gameplay will require you to endlessly trek from left to right and often back again, with some vertical movement, combat, item collection, and slight puzzle solving elements thrown in for good measure. The core platform jumping gameplay employed in the game feels awkward at almost all times. Whether it’s because the game utilizes the shoulder buttons to jump, the backgrounds and platforms are incredibly dark and hard to distinguish from one another, or because the screen will often not include your jumping destination, just navigating through the environment is a painful chore nearly every step of the way. You are given the ability to look slightly up and down to get a better view of where to jump but this doesn’t always guarantee success and usually slows your progression to a crawl.
Far from a fun platforming experience, Rise of the Fungi actually seems to delight in your recurring failures. As I already mentioned, it can be incredibly difficult to even find where you are supposed to be jumping to, requiring frequent leaps of faith. The best part of this is that falling more than a few feet in the game will result in either taking severe amounts of damage or typically, just in your death. This trial and error jumping to your death in an attempt to find your way through most levels is frustrating and helps to ruin any enjoyment you may manage to squeeze from this title.
Things only get worse when you also factor in the game’s grappling hook. Oftentimes, after you’ve tried to make certain jumps several times, you’ll eventually realize that it just isn’t possible. In these cases, you’ll need to use the touch screen to attach your grappling hook to an overhead object so that you can continue with your adventure. Since you can rarely tell where said object actually is, this devolves into moving your stylus around the screen until the hook icon turns from red to green, signifying that it will hold. Of course, once you start swinging from your hook’s rope, death is almost assured. It can be extremely difficult to make jumps from this rope because of the precise timing and momentum required, minor differences in elevation, or the fact that the ropes will often just give way for no reason and with absolutely no notice.
The other major component of Rise of the Fungi’s gameplay, combat, is also handled very poorly. Throughout your journey, you’ll need to battle a plethora of insects and other mushrooms to survive. This is mostly accomplished by just mindlessly mashing away on one button and occasionally holding down on the D-pad to block. Timing and hit detection in melee combat are inaccurate at best, resulting in some pretty sloppy and haphazard encounters, especially when battling flying enemies. Players also have ranged attacks in the form of spore powers and ranged weapons. Unfortunately, both are rendered fairly useless due to limited ammo/spore power supplies and their reliance on using the touch screen to aim and activate them.
Tapping the screen to fire a makeshift crossbow isn’t too bad, at least until you factor in that you are also jumping around for your life while doing so. The same goes for spore powers, although they are even more difficult to use, requiring you to draw specific shapes on the screen while trying to avoid death.
These are just a few examples of how cumbersome controlling this game actually is. Because of some extremely poor design choices, almost everything in this game is more difficult and annoying than it should be. Players will need to use buttons to move, jump, attack, and block but will need to use the stylus and the touch screen for everything else. The game’s many menus and dialogue exchanges can’t be navigated through using buttons. Want to make or equip a different weapon? First you’ll need to tap an icon with your stylus, tap another to swap the top screen with the bottom, find and drag whichever weapon you desire to your character’s hand, and then tap the icon to swap the screens again. It’s so amazingly awkward and unwieldy having to constantly switch between using buttons, stylus taps, and even swapping screens endlessly (note the game doesn’t pause during this either) that it is hard to imagine that this is how the game is actually supposed to work.
However, even though the controls and gameplay are basically broken, the game isn’t entirely without merit. The scav system found in The Spore Wars is included in Rise of the Fungi, allowing you to create makeshift weapons from random items you’ll find during your travels such as sticks or broken glass. While it isn’t incredibly deep, it does manage to create some variety in your available weaponry. The story in the game is, surprisingly, quite decent, chronicling the emergence of different factions of newly formed mushroom men and their struggles for dominance/peace. The quirky and offbeat world created in this title is also perfectly paired with this game’s strange, yet incredibly satisfying soundtrack. If only the game didn’t play so terribly, this could have been a great experience to go along with its console counterpart. Unfortunately, the potentially enjoyable aspects of Rise of the Fungi are far outweighed by poor decisions, clunky controls, and constant frustrations.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.7 Graphics
Rise of the Fungi doesn’t look bad for a DS game but its relative darkness and difficult to distinguish platforms make playing needlessly annoying. 1.5 Control
Poor hit detection, constant stylus/button control switching, awkward screen swapping and menu navigation, a poor camera, and an iffy grappling hook make playing through this game beyond frustrating. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
If nothing else, the music is very well done and fits the funky vibe that exudes from this title. 1.8
While there is a decent amount of content in the game, its pervasive issues will keep you from enjoying almost all of it.
2.0 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.