Publisher: Gamecock Media Group
Developer: Red Fly Studio
Release Date: December 2, 2008
Games publisher Gamecock has had a bumbling track record thus far with its releases, with most of their titles not doing well in terms of reviews and unit sales. The latest offering from the publisher includes a mycological action game called Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi for the NDS. Does it manage to set the record straight for Gamecock?
The premise of Rise of the Fungi is fairly original, as I don't recall too many games that feature extraterrestrial mushroom anthropoids. A greenish meteorite has plummeted through the Earth's atmosphere and showered it with space dust that drastically affected the planet's flora and fauna. Plants and insects acquired sentience and began mobilizing tribes and other forms of civilization. The peaceful Bolete tribe of mushroom people has managed to survive in an isolated lifestyle, but as their food supply dwindled, they had no choice but to receive aid from the imperialistic Amanitas tribe. The Boletes are unaware of the Amanita scheme to conquer them, but it's now up to an unnamed Bolete member to unravel the Amanita conspiracy and end their conquest once and for all.
Players will choose one of the three classes for their hero in the adventure. Since you can only be one class per playthrough, you'll have to play through the game three separate times to get the full experience. The first of these classes is the Heavy, who is a melee weapon specialist and really strong, but he lacks agility. Next is the Scout, who isn't quite as strong as the Heavy but compensates with being quick and utilizing long-range weapons, such as bows. Finally, there's the Sage, who is a bit more balanced in terms of strength and agility, but also very adept in the use of magical Spore Powers.
Regardless of which character you choose, Rise of the Fungi plays in the same manner. It's a 2.5-D action game with bits of RPG elements tossed into the mix. Players will navigate through various levels and are given objectives by NPCs scattered throughout the area. The locations of these objectives appear on the map and usually consist of collecting a number of items or killing specific enemies. The other screen displays the in-game action and is always displayed. The screens are interchangeable; a small arrow icon that appears on the far right of the menu bar at the top of the touch-screen switches the screens. The menu bar includes your map, inventory, character attributes, and enemy information, each with icons to switch among.
Another key menu choice is the use of the grappling hook; once selected, you have to drag the stylus in the direction of the point from which you wish to swing. Most of these points can't be viewed from the screen, leading to blind guesses about to where to aim. This is where the problems begin. Since you can't see where you're swinging to, you may miss the jump, or your grappling hook will hit an obstacle and cancel your grapple, causing you to plummet to your death. That's another thing that bothers me about this title: the cheap deaths. Essentially, if you drop down too far, you'll die and have to restart at the last save point you visited. You could be collecting a ton of items, but if you die, you'll have to redo all of that stuff; it certainly doesn't help that the screen doesn't display enough of the area and you'll often find yourself falling and dying more often than you advance the plot.
Adding to the frustration are the extremely clunky combat and movement controls. You'll move your hero with the d-pad and jump with the shoulder button, while the other hand is used for holding the stylus and attacking with the A or Y buttons. The controls flip if you're a lefty. Generally, the controls take some getting used to, and even when you get the hang of it, the results aren't always what you'd intended. Combat consists of mashing the attack button if you're a Heavy, tapping the enemy with the touch-screen if you're a Scout, and drawing various paths and other symbols on the touch-screen to activate Spore Powers if you're a Sage, but all three classes can utilize all three types of attacks.
An interesting feature of Rise of the Fungi is the ability to pick up various objects in levels and combine them with other objects to create new weapons and other helpful items. For example, various sticks, needles, and other pointy objects can be used as melee weapons. A stick and a string will create a bow, and the needles you pick up can be used as arrows. You'll also come across powders and liquids that can be used as poisons and traps on enemies. Most of the time, you'll seek weapons that yield the greatest increase to your attack power.
Other collectibles include mutagen containers that can be used to increase your attributes, including: health, strength for attack power, movement and attack speed, and Spore Powers that unlock new powers and increase the amount of energy you can spend on them. The attributes can be increased multiple times, and for each additional level in a character trait, you'll have to collect more containers to further increase that specific trait. The containers are limited for each stage, and if you happen to be playing cooperatively with a friend, you may find yourselves fighting over it. Co-op play is limited to local multiplayer, and each player must have a copy of the game. Essentially, you're playing through the game with another player, and it can make the game a bit easier in terms of combat, but the clunky controls and cheap deaths are still present.
While the gameplay isn't that great, Rise of the Fungi makes up for it slightly with some interesting visuals. The story is told through static storyboard images with text, the character artwork is decent, and the in-game visuals are OK for the handheld system. The music and sound effects, on the other hand, are a bit lacking. The soundtrack seems to consist of only one song: a tribal, psychedelic theme. This one song plays throughout the title screen and all of the game's levels. It does a good job of representing the civilization of mushroom creatures at the very center of the game's story. The sound effects include your typical attack noises, and no voice work is included. Basically, the presentation doesn't do a whole lot to draw you into the experience.
Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi for the NDS had some potential to be an interesting title and provided some neat concepts, but unfortunately, it stumbles in the execution. The controls are very clunky, and the unfair deaths due to poor platforming make it very difficult to enjoy this title.